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Review 1 - Living in a digital world: Demystifying technology
by Nita Hansen (Reproduced in its entirety, with kind permission)

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At first glance, this book has the look and feel of a classic IT text book, it’s clearly set out, full of pictures, diagrams, self-test sections and each chapter ends with a summary of the key learning points. You can imagine it’s usefulness for subject teachers.

However, once I started to read it, I discovered it is really not like most text books at all! The writer’s voice comes across very strongly, as if he were talking to you aloud; calm, clear and often surprisingly humourous, given the subject matter. He has a light touch when explaining quite complex things and has included many every-day examples and anecdotes that make the technical details so accessible and easy to relate to.

Like most people today, I use technology without fully understanding how it works and why not? We can’t all be experts on every aspect of life after all. However, I was aware that my level of understanding of IT had stopped developing after I’d mastered spreadsheets a couple of decades ago. It could be really embarrassing when trying to talk to people about more recent developments, and using my new smartphone with it’s apps, storage and security issues. I wasn’t even sure exactly what the difference was between the digital camera I use and the old analogue one; obviously it doesn’t use a film but has a memory card instead, but how it all works and what actually makes anything ‘digital’ I couldn’t say. I was also conscious that I didn’t really understand ‘bitcoin’, artificial intelligence and the impact of technology on many aspects of life. Chapter 6 covers all these issues and more in the author’s enthusiastic style, and would provide food for thought and debate even for those people who are already way ahead of me with their technology skills and understanding.  

Unlike most course text books, this book is ideal for picking up and reading any chapter or part of one, in any order you like, as each topic is well defined and explored separately. I approached it very much as I would a magazine or newspaper, flicking through and reading the sections that caught my attention, then occasionally going back to clarify something from an earlier chapter. At the same time, there is an underlying natural evolution of subject matter, as the basics are covered first and very clearly.  If you are already au fait with these concepts, you could happily skip these sections without any impairment to your appreciation of later chapters. I liked the fact that I could educate myself without feeling in any way as if I’d signed up for an IT course!  I enjoyed the feeling that, finally, I have filled in some of the gaps in my understanding of the technology I use everyday.

I would recommend this book to a wide audience as it seems to me to really address the topical issue of our level of technological understanding of the world. We don’t all need to be able to code or programme our devices, nor be capable of physically making or mending them, but we owe it to ourselves to remove some of the mystery of how things we use actually work and some of their implications. The author has succeeded in producing a very accessible, informative and entertaining book for both novices and those who have already mastered many of the topics.

Nita Hansen, Berkshire, 27 April 2018