“A return to some sort of balance, in which the world looks a bit more like the eighteenth century than the twentieth, is likely to be a good thing.”
So says Glenn Reynolds, perhaps better known as InstaPundit, in the conclusion of his new book, An Army of Davids (view it on Amazon.com).
While that may seem a strange statement to make, you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree with it after reading Reynolds’ brisk, yet thoroughly fascinating treatise on the future of life, from blogging to space colonization.
I’ve been a big admirer of Reynolds blog for a few years, yet I always got the sense that blogging was just one of the Tennessee Law professor’s many hobbies. I think I’ve been proven right, in that quite a few of them- from beer brewing, to music, to an interest in space, nanotechnology, and life extension- are on display in Davids, as Reynolds proves to be a likeable and intelligent guide through some pretty far reaches of technology.
Beginning with the tremendous impact that blogging has wrought on top-down institutions such as government and big media, Reynolds uses the “Army of Davids” metaphor repeatedly to advance his theory that loose, decentralized networks of individuals will be the diriving force behind a multitude of amazing changes taking place over the next 30-50 years. When I say “amazing”, there’s not much hyperbole there- the colonization of space (seriously!) is one such dramatic change that Reynolds hopes will be come about thanks to the power of the individual bypassing the beaurocracy of a government.
Reynolds also describes some trends that, rather than being powered by the “Army”, will instead benefit it: If scientists succeed in slowing or even reversing the aging process, Reynolds argues that the single individual will become even more empowered, leading to a dramatic increase in personal productivity, creativity, and the like. These are just two examples- the singularity, space elevators, and artificial intelligence are also discussed.
If you think the topics of the previous paragraphs are the stuff of science fiction, I might’ve agreed with you just a few days ago. But after finishing Army of Davids, I’m excited to learn more about some things I once thought of as fantasy that Reynolds argues are already well underway.
The book is a quick read- I digested it in just a couple hours- but that is far from an insult. Rather, I suspect Reynolds’ conversational, at times swift-moving prose and frequent long-form quotes are designed to assume the reader’s intelligence, rather than condescend to it. Supplementing the wide variety of subject matter are copious citations, especially helpful when Reynolds cuts broad strokes through his often unfamiliar (to many) subject matter.
On his blog, Reynolds has, on at least two occasions, referenced reviewers who met with confusion as the latter half of the book veered away from blog-related topics and moved into more scientific and even sci-fi-esque territory. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the book transitioning into trends of the near future. Because Reynolds is perhaps best known as a blogosphere celebrity, I’m guessing some readers expected the book to remain media-centric. However, I’m pleased that Reynolds guided his book away from a pleasing yet tiring re-hash of recent memory and instead took a risk by exposing readers to a some tip-of-the-iceberg stuff that I, for one, would likely have never learned of otherwise.
So if you’re expecting a light read about the impact of blogging, look elsewhere. But if you’re interested in the extension of trends that blogging is only a small part of, you’ll probably learn a great deal- and become pretty excited- about the future that An Army of Davids foretells.