I think this is a nice weekend book. While the book balances dangerously close to clichés most of the time and are not that far from the self-help books it dislikes, there is something in the tone that feels genuinely sympathetic. It is as if Roman really wants to help people to take a small step away from the commercial culture surrounding us into something with a little more quality. So while the book does not present anything particular new or challenging it is nice to see someone that writes a book because they actually cares. At the same time I feel ambivalent as it feels like this kind of book is the best that we get right now even when groups that should be able to look beyond the more simplistic approaches enter into the debate. What we get are short snippets in a YouTube culture where short lists and sound bites are for 10-minute presentations are made for entertainment without actual consequences (TED is probably the best example of simple messages in a simple format). It is all about individuals and very little about society, it is very much about the small steps everyone can take. It feels like the equivalent of environmental organizations that collect money for people to help them feel good by planting trees while the people eat so much meat and drive so big cars that there will be no planet left if they keep up what they doing.
I feel frustrated that so much is focused on the individual’s immediate needs. It is as if we have given up trying to create something more
But maybe this is what is needed to take a first step… ?
Roman is taking the self-help books he feels are shallow and try to put some substance into the personal issues that surrounds us. I admire the attempt and I hope it helps someone.
For all those that started to work, forgot to read, watch too much TV/ read mainstream media and focus on their Facebook updates this could be a great wakeup call. There is world that is out there and that is more interested than the commercial
But maybe Roman has a better understanding of what is needed than I. After I read the book I read the May 19 issue of New Scientist and realize that I hope that the editor reads the Wonderbox. The editorial in New Scientist “a new layer of intrigue”, about augmented reality, is some of the most “un-enlightened” texts I have read in a magazine that I subscribe to. It is sad to see how even bright people (I just assume that an editor at New Scientist is reasonably well educated and well read and there should be capable of thinking beyond the current situation) just take a hyper commercial reality for granted. The fact that communication addressing people only as consumers and not as citizens/humans is everywhere is not seen as a problem is disturbing for me as I think we need to discuss mental pollution. For an editor at New Scientist Roman’s perspective might help to show that cities through most of history have been without most of the PR/advertisement and that mass consumption does not have to be the default way of organizing a city.
I really think we have a problem when a large part of the population live in large “American-like” cities, something that an increasing number of people around the world, including China, India and other Asian cities are doing. This results in a situation where a generation grows up in a hyper commercial environment where everything has a price and nothing value. Adding augmented reality in this situation is not necessarily a good thing, especially when the development is led by companies that want to sell advertisement (like Google).
So while Wonderbox is not something that will change very much it is nice to spend a few hours over a weekend with someone who wants to take a few steps in a more human direction. Hopefully next Roman could look both a little further beyond the obvious as well as discuss possible options for society as well as individuals.
Please have a look at Roman's webpage also, he might have something interesting coming up... and if not you can just have a look and enjoy the fact that he is one of the few out there who is not cynical. Although I just realized that he's got a .com address, how ironic.