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Ian Buckingham

Brand Engaged

Chief Executive

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Book Review: Future minds by Richard Watson


I have to confess that, given the cover and subtitle ‘How the digital age is changing our minds…’, I approached futurist Richard Watson’s second book with the same trepidation that a 12 year old feels when faced with a Winter cross country run.

I expected it to ‘do me good’, but I didn’t expect it to be so enjoyably engaging.
This isn’t a geek’s treatise. I’m pleased to report that Watson is a humanist rather than a techie and a pragmatist rather than a dogmatic zealot, perpetuating the marketing myth that life begins and ends with so-called social media, mobile phone functionality and the whims of Microsoft and Apple.
Watson’s thesis is based on extremely well-researched fact. Here are some of his challenging observations:
  • Gen Y ‘screenagers’ have become better at IQ tests than their predecessors, yet the number one gripe from employers is a lack of basic ability when undertaking reading, writing and arithmetic tests
  • The effectiveness of multi-tasking is largely a myth
  • Online crowds are drowning out individual wisdom
  • The culture of fast change for the sake of it and rapid response (reaction rather than reflection) is perpetuating mistakes and leading to the dissemination of half truths
  • The anonymity of the web is eroding core relationship skills such as empathy and promotes virtual courage over real emotion and accountability
  • As so-called social media grows at the expense of true social interaction, there are progressively fewer opportunities for serendipitous encounters (a great phrase)
  • The next working generation will be less resilient because they have a “re-boot” mentality
  • The increase in on-screen reading at the expense of books and paper may apparently improve pace and volume, but it is already having a detrimental effect on problem-solving and deep thinking
  • Handwritten correspondence is staggeringly more successful at engaging recipients than electronic messages
  • We should try harder to allow children to be childlike for longer
  • Workplaces are very seldom conducive to generating ideas
  • Personalised, intrusive advertising is imminent
  • Mental privacy will become one of the hottest issues in the next 30 years
  • Expect to see a ‘return to the real’ and the growth in localism and crafts.
These are just a few of the well-thought-through and provocative arguments that run through this book. Interestingly, many of Watson’s points echo similar phases in social evolution such as the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement as a reaction to industrialisation and mass production, for example.
A balanced approach
But before the tech-heads start to cry ‘Tolpuddle martyrs’, it’s important to stress that Future Minds makes a plea for balance and for taking a blended approach to technology rather than adopting it wholesale or casting it aside completely.
It’s clear that Watson believes in the power of so-called new media. But what he accomplishes successfully in this book is re-visiting the biology of thinking and the sociology of relationships.
As a result, he calls for people to take individual and collective responsibility and to re-frame how they use machines. The idea is that “technology should sometimes be forced to adapt to us” and not the other way round.
Watson makes his compelling case with the help of a great deal of hard, factual evidence, expert testimonial and provocative, sometimes disturbing, case studies. Perhaps the most shocking is the couple who let their real baby starve because they are so obsessed with caring for a virtual infant online.
Ultimately, this book is a timely reminder that technology should be an enabler rather than an end in and of itself. Actual experiences will always take precedence over virtual ones and we need to set the technology agenda and remain in control of the rules.
“It seems to me that what people seem to want more than ever these days is the opportunity to be touched emotionally by the thinking and experiences of other people ….What should we do if we are concerned about the invasion of screen culture into our everyday lives? Bluntly, we should think,” Watson says.
Far from being a geek-fest, Future Minds is controversial, thought-provoking, easy-to-read (I finished it in one sitting) and most importantly, entertaining. I never expected to be confronted by a chapter concerned with the ‘Sex Life of Ideas’, for example, or the suggestion that “For new ideas to be born, you need two or more old ideas to jump into bed and get frisky”.
In the ever-evolving technological debate, it’s refreshing to see someone straddle the old and new so comfortably, with such a gift for appreciative critique that is balanced by an admirable set of ethics.
I highly recommend that you to pick up a copy of this book as I’ve little doubt you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement as you turn the pages – at least most of the time – even if it may feel a little heretical at times to point to the elephant in the room or acknowledge what it is I’m sure that most of us are thinking.


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Ian Buckingham

Chief Executive

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