Monday, August 24, 2009

Book: Wired for Thought by Jeffrey Stibel

Yesterday I was browsing through the new book table at Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center and found an interesting book entitled Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet by Jeffrey M. Stibel that informs us that "The Internet is more than just a series of interconnected computer networks: it's the first real replication of the human brain outside the human body" and that a "collective consciousness" is being created. Sounds fascinating. The Amazon blurb tells us that:

In this age of hyper competition, the Internet constitutes a powerful tool for inventing radical new business models that will leave your rivals scrambling. But as brain scientist and entrepreneur Jeffrey Stibel explains in "Wired for Thought", you have to understand its true nature. The Internet is more than just a series of interconnected computer networks: it's the first real replication of the human brain outside the human body. To leverage its power, you first need to understand how the Internet has evolved to take on similarities to the brain. This engaging and provocative book provides the answer. Stibel shows how exceptional companies are using their understanding of the Internet's brain like powers to create competitive advantage - such as building more effective Web sites, predicting consumer behavior, leveraging social media, and creating a collective consciousness.

The promise sounded truly compelling, but after five minutes of leafing through the book I was not able to isolate more than a few stray details that had any bearing on fulfilling the promise. There was was too much "pop puff" which may thrill the average reader ignorant of the relevant technology, but I simply was unable to find any substantive justification for the central thesis of the book. It may in fact be there since I did not read the book cover to cover, but if it is so compelling and presumably pervasive, how could I have missed it?

Nonetheless, this book may have a solid position simply as a statement of "the state of the art", telling us not how close we are to real success, but simply where we happen to be today. Yes, we are getting closer to the mountain, but that does not automatically translate into closeness to the peak.

There is a lot that we do not yet deeply compehend about the human brain, mind, consciousness, and intellect, so I am not sure how much mileage we can get out of comparing the Internet to the human brain. In fact, I have a hunch it might be an exercise in futility at this stage. Sure, we can paint a broad-brush picture and draw lots of fuzzy analogies, but none of that will necessarily result in true enlightenment.

By all means, browse the book yourself and make up your own mind whether it meshes with your own expertise and interest levels. The book does have a web site with chapter excerpts.

For me, I put down the book pondering the question 'Where's the beef?".

Oddly, Amazon does not have a picture of the book cover, but I was able to find it on the Harvard Business School Press web site since they are the publisher. Note: I get a small commission if you buy the book by clicking on any of my links to the book on Amazon.

-- Jack Krupansky


At 11:54 AM MDT , Blogger jim said...

Having read the book, the titling is unfortunate. The brain is not shaping the future of the internet. However, the architecture of the brain and that of the internet can be considered analogous, and thus we should be able to extrapolate what the internet will be capable of evolving to. Interestingly, the author explicitly says that the internet will not gain consciousness. But if it is analogous to a brain, I was left unclear why.

You can read my complete review at

At 10:07 PM MDT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack--you should buy this book (or save your money and read more of it in the bookstore)! I really loved the book. It was a fun and easy book to read and that made it deceptively simple in my opinion. It is easy to gloss through the meat but spend some time with it and wow--really interesting stuff. It certainly changed a nuber of my opinions about both the brain and the Internet.


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