Review: The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks

3 Star, Information Operations, Information Society, Information Technology
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Joshua Cooper Ramo

3.0 out of 5 stars Over-Sold, Dated, Shallow, Not At All Inspiring

Do not trust jacket blurbs from celebrities — most of these blurbs are written without ever reading the book, a form of corruption.

See Instead (a 6 Star Book): Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization

Ramo's intent is to sensitize us to changes we are living through as highly connected networks come to dominate nearly every aspect of society. He does not presume to tell us how it will all turn out, only that institutions will be thoroughly reshaped under relentless pressures. He offers hints of the posture one might develop to make the most of the situation we are in, but there are no guarantees. So while the reader might enjoy the reassurance of a conclusive diagnosis and a sure-fire strategy for success, as so many business books offer, Ramos feels that it would be unwise to offer that sort of satisfaction. His premise is correct, but the alternative satisfaction — of wisdom — sets a high bar. Does he deliver?

The bulk of the book is composed of bursts of about networks, usually composed of an abstract description, a brief listing of commonly known examples, concluding with an analogy from history, biology, or elsewhere. Such bursts are welcome and expected in an opening chapter or two, where the subject matter is delimited and features of interest are surveyed, prior to delving deeper. But the bursts really never stop. It was only well into the text that this reader had the feeling that the introduction was over, and even then Ramo never abandons this trope. If each burst were put on a separate piece of paper, I doubt that a reader would be able to sort them accurately into the chapters where they occurred.

Ramo has plenty of fresh material to work with. This reader would have preferred stories that were well told and told in full, rather than highly repetitive references to abbreviated stories.  Ramo also has a weakness for some very old and very familiar stories whose impact is spent. Do we really need to hear again about Weisenbaum's ELIZA program? Ramo has taken quite some time to write and refine this book, but the emphasis appears to have been on adding literary polish to these bursts.

No doubt I am missing something. It appears that the book is structured to instill mastery, on the order of the near-mystical mastery of a man well-known in China who has inspired Ramo through several strange encounters. In his title, Ramo points to a sense, practice, or insight, that is not fundamentally based on analysis, measurement, theory, or any of the trappings of modern science and management. At the end, Ramo loops us back into our Western tradition of mastery and insight through Plato, who also had a manner of educating — of drawing out the awareness of his pupils — that we find difficult today. Ramo is sympathetic with our plight. Ramos himself must straddle between an emerging world and the world where he makes his living, as a consultant with Kissinger Associates, headquartered in China, working the hard edges of international business and politics.

Despite my inappropriate expectations and resistance to the presentation style, did I emerge wiser for having read the book? Perhaps. While networks and their power were visible to me at the beginning, I now have a sharper awareness of how they corrode institutions, how they increase risks and benefits, and where I need to jump in to get on their right side and, at the margin, shape them.

Since there's really no sustained argument in the book, I can't comment on it. That probably leaves you, the reader of this review, with an empty feeling. You expect to learn from a review what the book is about.  Better that I should just sample of one of the innumerable well-crafted descriptions of the situation we face:

“We'll be torn apart by those new network dynamics and placed on topologies we can hardly understand. Our future fight is not about whether we are going to be enmeshed. It is about the terms of that enmeshment — and it is here that the great questions of politics will be decided. And where the protection of the things you love and care about will be braced against the crashing of an older order.” (p303)

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