Book Review : The Shallows: How the Internet is changing our brains

This is an interesting and very relevant book. It talks about how our use of the internet is changing our brains.
It starts with the argument that our brains aren’t fixed. They change over time depending on how we use them or don’t.
With our use of Internet we are honing the skills that are needed to interact with this medium and losing some other skills. The critical point is that there are tradeoffs. Technological gains aren’t all positive.
The authors contrast this new medium with other changes – like when we started writing or the introduction of radio, the printing press and notes how much more encompassing the Internet is.
The problem with the internet is that, promotes a perfunctory interaction with information. There is a lot of width and not enough depth. There is information overload and we are adapting. We are getting used to skimming and losing our ability for deep thought.
The key takeaway is technological progress can have unintended consequences. We need to consider if all the changes that are happening are desireable.
As for, me, I am taking steps like deleting apps and turning off notifications to gain some sanity. I want to get back what I have lost – the ability to concentrate. I am always looking for distractions. I strongly recommend.

Thoughts on Mindset by Carol Dweck

I was 13 pages in and I already nodding in agreement to everything. Mindset matters. It frames how you approach life.
The more I read, the more I felt like I was in the two camps, the growth and fixed mindset camps. Im in the growth camp, because i believe that I can learn whatever I want to if I put my mind to it. I believe I might take more effort than some people but I will improve. I have shown this in my efforts to learn french, learn maths, learning to draw. I didn’t start out great (or obviously talented) but I improved and got quite good.
On the other hand, I do have traits of the fixed mindset. I fear failure. I have found myself often in the mode where I feel if there is a risk of failure I shouldn’t bother. I find it hard to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone. I sometimes get frustrated with hard stuff. Since reading this book, I realized how much I call myself stupid over little mistakes I make – a key property of the fixed mindset.
The book reinforced a lot of lessons I have been learning lately. I am
beginning to look at everything as a learning experience, to take risks.
I think part of it has to do with trying to leave up to people’s expectations. You mustn’t appear dumb. They say you are smart. Yes, you get confidence boosts from praise and awards but it can also mean you feel the need to keep up with that self-image of being great, perfect even.
The fixed mindset eventually has a negative effect on everyone – both those deemed smart and those not. It means being stuck in a mould with no growth.
A great way to develop the growth mindset is by reading biographies of successful people. It puts all the ingredients required (including effort and luck) for success in perspective. All in all, a great book that I plan to reread.

Book Review : Geek Heresy

Not sure exactly how I heard about this book but I am glad I did. This book addresses the notion that technology on its own can solve our problems. It addresses claims like “All developing countries need is better access to the internet”. “Every child needs access to a laptop and they will be able to learn much better.”. There are people who believe in the power of technology, who believe all problems can be solved with technology alone, this book provides a counter to these narratives by using quite diverse examples and pursuasive arguments.
The key thing is that technology magnifies what is already there, if there are already good teachers it will magnify their efforts, if there are bad teachers it is of no use at all, it might even be detrimental, a distraction. We need to move from  packaged inventions, total solutions, quick fixes to growing and developing human resources.
Social change begins with the individual therefore any lasting and sincere effort must begin with developing people through mentorship. This is hard, time-consuming, difficult with results that might initially be hard to measure. These efforts take a long time to bear fruit and all of these make them much harder than packaged inventions but they are the only way in reality to social change. Good things take time but with our hearts in the right place and our desires transcending the mundane struggles for survival, we can reach out and help other people, fight poverty and provide better education. All of these with long-lasting results! I recommend you read!

Book Review : The Knowledge, How to rebuild our world from scratch

I loved this book! This was the book I had been yearning for ever since I read Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson. I am intensely curious and I have wondered how we got to have so much technology. I want something that could provide some blueprints as to how we got here and how we could recreate it all. If I was marooned on an island , would I be able to survive. To create my own tech?

Truth is, there is soooo much knowledge involved, it is neigh impossible for any material or body to contain it all. This book gives the example that even for something as basic as the pencil, there is no one who understands all the processes involved – how to get wood, how to get graphite, where to get graphite, what woods are best for pencils? There are lots of minute details.

This book starts with the question – how could you recreate civilization if suddenly a large swathe of humankind is whipped out by disease? And answers this question. In doing so, one gains an insight into what is critical to our civilization as we know it. It was this particular knowledge I was after.

It is starts with :

Agriculture – if one is to survive one has to learn how to grow food again. There are so many details and this book makes me appreciate agriculture once more.

Food and clothing – how do we prepare food and begin to make clothes?

Substances – I didn’t realize how important chemistry is! It is important. Absolutely critical!

Materials – how do we create materials like concrete needed for making shelter?

Medicine – what are the keys to good health so we don’t die out? How do we learn anatomy again and perhaps begin to do surgery again?

Power – how do we harness energy resources and create an electrical grid?

Transport – we might have to go back to using animals for transport until we have precise enough machinery to make vehicles.

Communication – how to we begin to make paper and books once again? How do we make radios?

Advanced chemistry – lots of industrial chemistry stuff here.

Time and place – how do we tell the time, mechanical clocks, sundials, hour glass. How do we use the stars to tell the seasons and the date? How do we tell where we are ? How do we navigate the world?
What is the greatest invention? What is that invention that ensures we keep making new discoveries? It is the scientific method!
This book was great as a primer to these topics. It doesnt have all the details and it cannot but I am left with an appreciation of how far we have come from being hunter-gatherers . I strongly recommend!