I recently read The Power of Pull by John Hagel III – in short, it’s a hokey book about how the Internet has changed the world.  Usually I’m a complete sucker for this kind of material and I’ve happily read no fewer than 15 books with practically the same exact message (including both of Gary Vaynerchuk’s books, which I loved).  However, there was one thing about this book that really annoyed me: The Power of Pull is absolutely brimming with sweeping generalizations about the human condition.

Allow me to explain exactly what I mean.  If you go to Amazon and request to preview a random page from this book (http://www.amazon.com/Power-Pull-Smartly-Things-Motion/dp/0465019358 if you want to play at home) I guarantee that the page you find will contain some variety of plural pronoun abuse.

On my first try I got page nine and found this sweeping generalization:

“Push programs have dominated our lives from our very earliest years.  We are literally pushed into educational systems that are designed to anticipate our needs…”

On my second try I found this gem on page 169:

We live in personal ‘ecosystems’ – our local communities, our extended networks of friends and associates, and, increasingly, virtual networks and communities that dramatically amplify our reach.”

It’s true that I like to think about all humans as being fundamentally more similar than different – but when it comes to specific aspects of our educational histories or personal networks it’s outright ridiculous to assume any sort of baseline common experience.  It only compounds the issue that these broad statements are presented unqualified – tacitly asserting that anyone who has not been personally affected by new technology is somehow less than human.

Part of me feels that the increase in books about how the Internet has changed the world – and the declining quality of these books – is supporting the inflation of a second Internet bubble.  I suppose the question is: why do I keep buying them?

Sweeping Generalizations
Tagged on:         
  • Hey, it’s easy to write with sweeping generalizations. Certainly beats digging up some kind of research to demonstrate the point.

    I find it difficult to read a lot of that stuff, because (i) I know it isn’t true, (ii) it usually indicates that the author hasn’t done their homework, and (iii) it suggests the book is one small idea expanded far beyond its original confines.

    Malcolm Gladwell does this most successfully: take a book (Blink), and it’s one idea (schema maps (expertise) built up over time can provide accurate snap-judgments that even conscious consideration finds difficult to beat) repeated ad nauseum.

    Frankly, if you’re going to read about, say, how the web is affecting social relationships, you’re better off reading someone like danah boyd (http://www.danah.org/papers/) than picking up a book on the topic.

    The thing I miss most about being a student is the easy access to scholarly databases, with which I could run a quick papers check on some topic.

    Google Scholar is nice, but it’s not quite as nice.

    No idea why you keep buying them, though :-)