Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.


I've written about my friend Joshua Ramo in the past and mention his new book The Age of the Unthinkable in my blog post about Dubai and the unknowable. I was reading a proof of the book during my trip and it helped spark that post.

Joshua has a background in physics, journalism and foreign affairs. I'm pretty sure he's the only person I know who has interviewed both the head of Israeli intelligence and the CTO of the Hizbollah. He is one of the few people I know who is as crazy about experiencing new cultures as me. Unlike me, Joshua can write and is extremely well read and his new book The Age of the Unthinkable describes through narratives, facts and theory, the framework that describes better than any book I know, the way that I look at the world, current events and my own relationship to this world.

One way of describing the book is Black Swan written in a non-arrogant, more constructive and culturally deep and thoughtful way.

I highly recommend this book. It is available on Amazon. Johsua has a website for the book. (I think Boris did the design. :-) ) You can also see Joshua on the TODAY Show, NPR's All Things Considered, and WNYC Brian Lehrer.


What's interesting about the premise of this book is that it takes for granted things that many academic thinkers take pains to analyse further. For example, he says that one of the things that's new about the world we live in today is that the people and institutions that we previously relied up on to protect us from bad things are either failing to do that, or producing the opposite effect of what was intended by their actions. He cites the war on terror as an example: a war against terrorists that demonstrably increases the amount of terrorist activity around the world. I'm far from sure that's a very defensible position to take. I've not read the book yet. I am certainly curious to see how far anyone can get in proscribing a "new way of thinking about the world" when making such shaky observations about the current state of affairs.

In general, I am always suspicious when journalists turn to this kind of thing. Journalism is the art of looking at events to spin a good story out of them and to sell those stories for money. If you've ever had first hand involvement in a newsworthy event and read it from the perspective of a journalist's report, it's rare that you don't get a sense of distortion, usually in the form of sensationalism or exaggeration. When journalists attempt to be academic about what they are thinking about, that distortion tends to leak in, and I suspect this book is going to be no exception.

Joshua started life as a journalist, but since then he's become an actual player in many of these events and an analyst. While he may not be pure academic, I think he makes up for it in real-life experience in the field. Anyway, read the book. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I did, and recently added the link to the publisher's "The Age of the Unthinkable" site... which I did not design. :)

"One way of describing the book is Black Swan written in a non-arrogant, more constructive and culturally deep and thoughtful way."

Will definitely pick up Ramo's book just for that comment Joi!

Oh how I preface my recommendation of the Black Swan with "only read this if you can tolerate how pompous Taleb is..."

I couldn't agree more with Mohamd Nanabhay - "..if you can tolerate how pompous Taleb is...".

Joi, so well put.. "... Black Swan.. in a non-arrogant...manner"

Heard Taleb in Dubai. Was pleased when he insisted on speaking in Arabic, even though the majority audience was English speaking - but such bad and rusted Arabic that everyone, especially the translator, was apologizing for weeks to come - making the paid session pathetic. His pandering to his local hosts made him look even more pompous than he probably is.. And, remember the local host was Dubai - the target for his curses in his writing !!

When I observed Mr. Ramo on a late night talk show his comments on the people employed in the Mid-East peace talks, whose work seems to drag on indefinitely, reminds of the concept of consultants in the construction industry. When practical the work done in construction is done by hiring one of several contractors who has submitted a bid. Sometimes a pay as one goes situation is necessary (termed "cost plus") and the one paying the bills has to be diligent to insure that the cost plus contractor doesn't deliberately work innefficiently or slowly so as to make more money than the work justifies. Due to the nature of their work consultants in the industry are very often hired on a cost plus basis and; many become very good at dragging out their work to avoid "working themselves out of a job," which is inherent in construction. This is called milking. Question - Are the peace negotiators encouraging the process to drag on in order to protect their employment? Is it becoming a built in tendency in peace talks that participants would tend to fall into without even realizing it. After all there may be only so many sets of peace talks - especially as the learning experience from any successful talks take us to the day when these talks become obsolete as "the lion and the lamb learn to lay down together."