The New Digital Age
Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen explore the 21st century, in which they see technology reshaping everything from the lives of individuals to the destinies of nations.
Reviewed by Andrew Keen for Barnes & Noble ReviewSkip to next paragraph
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Not content to just invent the future, the technology barons of Silicon Valley are now turning their formidable minds to authoring books about this future. First there was LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman's bestselling self-help manual, "The Start-Up of You." Then Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg provoked a national debate with her feminist polemic, "Lean In." And now, with The New Digital Age, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google Direct of Ideas Jared Cohen have written a book that, in just under 300 pages, attempts to map out the entire future of our networked century.
With chapters on everything from the future of our selves and our identities to the future of states, revolutions, and terrorism, Schmidt and Cohen certainly can't be accused of thinking small. Indeed, their book, subtitled "Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," contains the breathtaking ambition of a start-up with a particularly disruptive technology – a play that, inside Google, is known as a "moon shot."
"The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history," Schmidt and Cohen write. But it's "among the few things humans have built that they don't truly understand."
Their goal is to repair that failure and make sense of this anarchy, to actually understand the Internet. So is this the book that successfully imagines the destination of this historic collaboration? Have Schmidt and Cohen succeeded with their moon shot?
The answer, I'm happy to report, is mostly yes. I was impressed with both the conceptual scope and empirical research packed into "The New Digital Age." Schmidt and Cohen make a formidable intellectual duo, combining Schmidt's encyclopedic knowledge of digital technology with Cohen's equally impressive grasp of international diplomacy and politics. And as a co-authored effort, "The New Digital Age" reads with surprising clarity, verve, and even occasional wit – a consequence, I suspect, of the admirable editorial skills of Schmidt's daughter, Sophie, the book's "internal editor," to whom the authors acknowledge "a huge debt of gratitude."
As executives at Silicon Valley's most aggressively cheerful company, Schmidt and Cohen's version of the future is, of course, mostly optimistic. The central theme in "The New Digital Age" is the shift in power from traditional 20th-century political, economic, and cultural institutions to the 21st-century individual. The authors certainly aren't the first to note this great transformation, but they do examine it with subtlety and intelligence, particularly their focus on the ways in which digital technology potentially empowers the citizen.