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John Fahy is the Professor of Marketing in the University of Limerick and Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Adelaide. He is an award winning author and speaker on marketing issues around the world.

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Monday
Sep052011

Book Review: Future Minds

Future Minds is the latest book by futurologist Richard Watson and it is both stimulating and interesting while at the same time being frustrating and even somewhat misleading. Let’s begin with the misleading bit. The book’s subtitle says that it is about ‘how the digital age is changing our minds’ or as Watson puts it – rewiring our brains, all of which is very interesting except that this is not what it is about at all. Instead it is largely a discussion of the problems of information overload caused by the digital age and a call for a return to a slower pace and deeper thinking.

To claim that our brains are being rewired is also problematic and emotive. Brains are characterised by plasticity and unlike plugs cannot be wired but rather adapt to the stimuli that they are exposed to. The book cites some evidence that neural patterns maybe changing due constant exposure to digital stimuli but it is insufficient to provide a compelling argument and anyway changes in stimuli will provoke further changes in the future. Equally brains and minds are not interchangeable – they are two different things! Furthermore, a potpourri of issues is covered in this book ranging from creativity to artificial intelligence to open plan offices and so on. This, along with a penchant for randomly including box exhibits on all sorts of issues such as ‘gardening as a metaphor for business’ is where the book gets frustrating. And comments like ‘if you want creative thinking in your organisation, you need to attract and retain overtly creative people’ are hardly insightful.

However, the book does raise some fascinating issues. The early chapters provide some details on the pervasiveness of digital media in life and work. For example, it is estimated that the average British child aged 10-11 spends 900 hours at school, 1,300 hours with their family but also 2,000 hours in front of some form of screen such as computer, phone or television. Inevitably this is going to have an impact on development. How can education cope most effectively with these changing mindsets? What will be the role of books in the future? Will convergent or divergent thinking be favoured in the future? Are we no longer getting enough sleep? These are some of the range of interesting questions that are generated in the book. However, the important issue of how all this exposure to digital technology is impacting on our brains and/or minds is a subject that will be worthy of more of deep thinking that Watson cherishes. His book is valuable in initiating this process. 

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