The Internet is Not the Answer by Andrew Keen (2015)

, 30 Jul 2015

I am old enough to remember the day that Google, my favourite online site and bunch of ethical geeks at the time, informed the world that the need for funds to keep Google improving was "forcing" them to add advertisements. I was watching the midday news at my parents'. I was utterly disappointed. I felt betrayed in a way because I felt that this was a sugar-coated lie. I thought, they were like everybody else, the same crap. It was not the need for funds, it was the wish to make money.   

***

This book fell in my hands because I have a natural predisposition towards slap-on-the-face books that deal with subjects and approaches that are not mainstream. They grease the wheels of my thinking like no others. I developed a liking for those when I was in my teens and they still are the sort of book that thrill me, no matter the flaws. That is so because having our brain enticed is the most wonderful feeling in the world, and something that we get rarely, rarer and rarer, nowadays.   

***

Equally thought-provoking and irritating, fascinating and annoying, "The Internet is not the Answer" is  a book about the hidden faces of the Internet and its impact in contemporary Economy and Society. We see the Internet not by entering through the main door where a nice bellboy kisses your feet and the hall looks like in a magazine cover, but by entering through the back door where all the sh+t is piled up, nobody is cleaning and the shift worker is going to spit on your face.We can enter that door because Keen is a Silicon Valley boy, even if not golden, and, therefore, an insider.  

Keen knows his trade and his field of expertise and that shows in a book that is well written and referenced and with no typo in sight. Keen channels, like a medium in trance, the voices of myriad critical Internet experts to create a patchwork of a discourse made by stitching together opinions that are not his but, actually,  are his. Keen does not hold his forked tongue a bit and speaks of people (names and all) and facts with irreverence and nausea, irritation and despair, but also with depth, insight and passion.  

Keen does a great job at summarising for us the History of the Internet from its gestation, birth, the arrival of the web 1.0 and the complete reinvention of Internet 2.0 with its different phases. The book explains in simple language the differences between the old and the contemporary Internet, how Internet went from a helpful tool, to an all-free paradise, and ended being a malignant narcissist pubescent monster. We go from the utopian libertarian and equality expectations and dreams of the web 1.0 to the dystopian reality in which everything is for sale, our soul included, and supranational corporations make money out of us but sell us fairy-flossed lies.

Keen highlights the hypocrisy of the Silicon Valley's elite and gurus who preach and sell a revolution, freedom, the power of the commons to create a different world, the value of failure to succeed, openness and transparency, and that they are the anti-establishment. However, de facto, they act as a mutant nastier version of the old rusty capitalists who made their fortunes after the first Industrial Revolution; they make the old capitalists look like the Sisters of Mercy; despite what the new gurus say, they have created opaque, non-egalitarian secretive organisations and groups of power and world domination that disregard governments, get your data without permission and sell it to the best bidder, do not pay or evade taxes, give a dam about work relations or exploitation, disregard the welfare of Society and of their workers, and act worse than the old establishment rich people did. These corporations are ran by white Western sexist males.

The example of what San Francisco has become since the Valley and the Bay were "Siliconed" it is exemplary enough: increased social differences, poorer work conditions and salaries, a ridiculously inflated house market, higher number of homeless people, and the big Internet companies creating a sort of segregated bubble that feeds on their own lies and purpose-created clich├ęs and look at real people as if they did not get the world. What the contrary is true. 

The Internet companies are as hostile to trade unions, taxation and regulation as Rockefeller, Morgan or Carnegie, but these new titans employ less people. have higher margins and are less harassed by governments than their predecessors. 

Sometimes simple items of information work better than lengthy pages. Here some interesting ones:
> General Motors has a market cap of around 55 billion and employs 200.00+ people to manufacture cars in its factories. Google is seven times larger than GM but employs less than a quarter of the number of workers, is not creating many jobs and avoids paying taxes in some of the most developed countries in the world.
> Uber has received a quarter-billion dollar investment from Google Ventures.
>  Tumblr has 300 million users and just 178 employees and was sold for 1.1. billion bucks in 2013.
> WhatsApp employs 55 people and sells for 19 billion.
> Instagram has just 13 full-time employees while Kodak had 13 factories, 130 photo labs and about 47,000 workers. However, people in sharing sites like Instagram don't own their own photos and their Terms & Conditions allow Instagram a perpetual use of your photos and the right to license them to any third party without your permission or knowing.
>  The Internet has created a surreal economy in which we are not only the creator of the networked product, but also the product itself, therefore, the "free" stuff we get from these companies is not really free.

Keen explicitly says that he doesn't deny the value of the Internet or how our lives have changed and the benefits we get from it, (I mean, that would be stupid) but he focuses on the damage that the Economy of Internet Corporations is creating outside the web. 

Chapter 7 "Crystal Man" in perhaps my favourite chapter. Keen compares the ways in which the Eastern Germany's Stasi (the Secret Police and its mastermind Erich Mielk) organised the spying and profiling of the citizens of  the country with Google and Facebook, among others, which are doing the same but a global scale and with more precision. We are being profiled through our use of the Internet in ways that are terrifying, mostly because this is done without our consent and knowledge, or that of our governments at times, and we are being sold, literally, to whomever wants us. Internet Data Collection Companies (Indigogo, Kickstarted, Acxiom, and Palanquir among others) and their mere existence is just a bit scary if you are a normal citizen with no criminal mind and a normal average life and family, and that life is sold by somebody who is not you. 

I agree with Keen's observations and reflections on the narcissist culture that the Internet has exacerbated. Yes, narcissism is not new, but the worrying part is that it has become the new way of being, the new "normal". Like Keen, I hate the obsession with the selfie, the spread of crappola, the mob in social networks, the hyper-obsession with the me and the now, Zuckeberg's idiotic discourse and "necromantic" Facebook; the use of social media by sexist, racist, and terrorist people without that filth being pulped down by anybody; I dislike most social networks out there (I've used most of them and quit them in the blink of an eye). I'm personally worried about a society that is every day more "Googled" and the fact that I rely more than I would like on a Google calendar, a Google blog, a Google phone and a Google tablet. Yet, I love the web.

What Keen describes for us is upsetting and seems not to be heading anywhere good for us, the commoners, the data-producers, the pawns.

I was looking forward to the conclusion and Keen's answer to the gloomy panorama he presents us with. Keen supports the intervention and regulation by individual states and supranational institutions to put a limit to the Internet Masters and force them to pay taxes, to respect anti-trust policies, and not to profile citizens without the consent of their country of origin. I love the idea of a Magna Carta of the Web with Internet rights and duties that protects the web's neutrality against governments and Internet corporations. Yes, it would be great breaking down Google, Apple, Facebook and other big Internet companies by creating legislation against plutocrats. Keen is keen on the elimination of Piracy and Peer-to-Peer as well. I am not that optimistic, though, the corruption of politicians and the political system in most Western countries is nothing I rely on; many of our politicians are corrupt to the bone and love being part of the plutocracy and give a dam about us all.

Yet, what resonates the most with me is "take responsibility for your online actions" because it  is something that I believe in and practice. I deeply believe that we have the tools to change anything, and the tools are our own behaviour and actions. No magic formulas. Thus, is up to us to become a mob or not in the Internet, to allow ourselves to be seduced and abducted by the need to be cool and liked to feel better about ourselves. It is up to us to stop the big companies using our data by simply not being in sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, Yelp or any big corporation. And if we stay, we keep alert about manipulative actions of the site, and do our best to keep our privacy levels high. The way we use our credit card, the way we (don't) use our name not even in our email unpaid address, the browser and adds-on we choose, are little things we can do to hide a bit from Big Brother. There are gazillion things we can do with a click that cost nothing and offer relief and protection. Yet, the Internet has created a monster because the mob wants a monster they are happy to feed.

***

THE BUTS...
There are many things I don't agree with Keen, which justify the polarised reviews this book is getting. Beyond some dialectic strawmen he uses at times, I would like to comment on a few things.

The book reads quite often as an endless series of quotes by other people. Keen is a good writer, so it is difficult to understand why the need to quote ad nauseam. Why not saying what he thinks in his own words and quoting when it is necessary or the quote is really relevant? Aren't editors supposed to control this sort of thing?

Keen's narrative is like one of those mini-me on each shoulder, one is a devil the other an angel. However, the voice of the devil is louder in this book, even though Keen explicitly play devil's advocate with his own approach. Yet, this voice is not as strong. This produces an unbalanced discourse that it is easy to be attacked as biased.

I don't like the tone Keen uses at times when he speaks of some of the Silicon golden boys because it rests power to his discourse. I mean, they behave in disgusting ways, OK, I get it, but I suppose that Keen is not the only Silicon boy with a bit of decency, right? And truly, if he despises these people so much, why does he hang out with them? Talk to them? Go to conventions in which he does not belong and he abhor? Why does he slash Amazon and Jeff Bezos and then go and sells his book in Amazon? 

Many of the things Keen complains about the Economy of the Internet are actually pre-Internet and, even today, year 2015, not linked to the Economy of Internet at all. It is called savage capitalism and unfair competition and monopoly practices. To this very day big supermarket chains are pushing small supermarkets out of business with dirty tactics that have nothing to do with the Internet. Huge book stores forced decades ago the closing down of hundreds of small book stores even before the web 2.0 was invented. 

Yes, the Silicon boys are despicable, they preach one thing and they have super mansions with private beaches closed to the public. Well, you have celebrities and movie stars, whose contribution to Society has been zero, doing the same, or buying whole islands and nobody is complaining.

Yes, it is true that the current web system does not spread good information or good news and is actually misinforming. Yet, before the arrival of the Internet 2.0 TV stations like CNN (where Keen is a contributor) have been unashamedly manipulating international news for the mobs for years. British and Australian newspapers managed and operated by off-line professional journalists regularly spread racist and culturally imperialistic views of the world with a constant vilification of the Mediterranean and its people as a whole selling patent lies to any people who knows some of those countries. And no, I am not talking about Greece.

Keen's view and use of creative disruption is infused in negativity most of the time. The French Revolution was disrupting and bloody and still changed History for good. The invention of the steam machine and the Industrial Revolution created similar gloomy forecasts about humanity, the environment, mechanisation, the destruction of traditional jobs and other issues. Sometimes disruption is needed to get to better places in life, and is not done the rosey way. Other ways disruption is just destruction. Keen's discourse is unbalanced because he does push the negative button too often. Perhaps a simply rephrasing of many of the things he says would have conveyed his message better and more fairly.  

Keen has a sort of romantic vision of what the middle classes and society were in the 50s and 60s. It might be so in the UK and the US. My parents lived the 50s surrounded by misery, hard working conditions, poor salaries and a very hard life.

Regarding the kingdom of the amateur is nothing new, just a exacerbation of things. Why is this kingdom spreading so easily? My answer is because people want to be cool, want to get fame, want to get money with the least possible effort and personal investment. People don't want to be the best in their job, they want to be the best paid, the most popular, the most liked, the most featured, the one in power. People aren't happy being themselves, they want to be more than they are, and they create a life full of lies to fool themselves; not only that, they will do anything and everything to obscure and destroy those who shine without the need of a flash. Have you even met a moron or an ignoramus giving lessons? There you have the new model. That was not born with the Internet. Yet, to balance my own discourse, I have seen amateur artistic photographers and artists on Flickr who were better than many professionals. Some people selling on Etsy sell handmade wonderful stuff at a fraction of the price even some of them are not professionals. Not everything is monochrome.

I don't agree with Keen on Piracy and Peer-to-Peer being the same, Pirate Bay is one thing, sharing music or movies with my best pal for free another thing. Also, Keen does not scratches the surface on the main question. Why  do people download pirated material? Keen replies to it easily, because piracy material is easy to find and not enough is being done to avoid this. Yet, is that the only reason? Are all people downloading for the same reasons? I wonder how people without a job, people who have difficulties making ends meet, or students living on the verge of poverty do to go to the cinema (or pay a paid TV channel) and buy hard copy music regularly. Libraries allow customers who pay nothing to get books, CDS and DVS, and that is legal. People love going to the cinema, I don't know anybody who does not, why don't they go more often? Are the prices demanded by multinational record companies really fair and benefit the artists as much as they deserve? How much is too much for a CD or DVD and why?  There is lots to scratch here before getting my itch comforted.   

***

A NOTE ON THE BOOK COVER
Is there any need to have a dreadful cover for both hard-copy and Kindle? Is plain ugly the new creative? 

Update
The cover of the Kindle Edition has been changed since I wrote this review in Amazon to something decent, but not great yet  =) 

IN SHORT
A great book to munch on, with a bit of crappolina. Read it with care, though.

Update2
I got this video in my Mozilla's front page Funny. It summarises well many of the issues discussed in this book
We are all for sale


The Real History of the End of the World: Apocalyptic Predictions from Revelation and Nostradamus to Y2K and 2012 by Sharan Newman (2010)

, 27 Jul 2015


Medieval Historian turned novelist Sharan Newman takes us in a long journey that goes from the beginning of times to the modern era on an apocalyptic quest. Written just before the end of the year 2012, the book replies to questions that were specially relevant that year: How have humanity, different cultures and civilisations dealt with the impending end of times? Which things do they have in common? Which elements are particular to each culture or religious group? Do all cultures have or had an Armageddon myth?

This a book on popular History, simply written, but with a good reference system and serious research work. A wicked witty sense of humour pervades the entire book, so it is very enjoyable to read and will give you some laughing moments. However, this is a reliable book. 

The introduction and conclusion are simple and focused. Newman explains how she has approached the study, why some things are included and not others, as well as the common denominators or themes in all apocalyptic groups. There have been "gazillion" doomsday groups throughout History, so Newman has chosen the most significant historically, others that intrigued her, and others that are representative of patterns:
movements, such as people who believed their leader to be the Messiah, or a prophet, who would build a heaven on earth or give them a free pass to the real heaven; those who thought that the thousand years of happiness would start if they helped it along with military force; and those who thought that we were at the end of the thousand years and braced themselves in various ways to survive the horrors of the final battles and breakdown of society before the final judgement (location 156).
Then, we are presented with a straightforward chronological study that covers all major religions and areas but heavily sided on the Western Word and Christianity. However there is plenty of information about Muslim and Jews groups as well. Beyond Western Europe and the USA we are given some details about the Middle East, China, Nigeria, India, the Mayans, and some Indigenous people (the Cherokees and Hopi nations in the USA and the Natives of Guinea and Papua-New Guinea). Once we we enter in the modern era, each chapter has details about specific religious movements and groups, the leading figures and their specific views on the end of the world. 

The reference system is good. I always check the footnotes out of professional bias, but also because it is clear to me that a good footnoting/endnoting system are the best indication of the seriousness of any book, especially when controversial or sensitive matters are under discussion.

The period and field covered is vast, so the research work involved is remarkable. Although primary sources are used, most of the book is based on secondary sources, something that is always questionable from a historical point of view especially if you are a doctorate. Yet, this book is addressed to the general public not to the Academia, and Newman does a great job at giving an overall view of the subject and is honest enough to mention some of the shortcomings of her own research when necessary.

One of the things I like the most about Newman is that she contextualises all the movements she discusses, and tries to explain them using the parameters of the cultural and religious humus they fed upon. That very fact is what distinguishes true historians from pseudo-historians, those who are becoming the voice of culturally imperialistic TV shows and documentaries made to manipulate the masses and present an image of the world that is purposely culturally and religiously biased, and obviously superior.

I really enjoyed Newman's explanations on the Mayan Calendar, the Cargo Cults, the somewhat esoteric nerdy computation of  a date for the end of times that obsessed scientists of the 18th and 19th century (Newton included), how the creation of the State of Israel was supported by fundamentalist Christian groups that did want the Jews to disappear, or the utopian happy and peaceful (rare!) end of time envisioned by Joachim de Fiore and  Joseph Priestly, who are the exception to too many Armageddon nightmares. You certainly will find your favourite doomsday group and moment.

I also loved the tables at the end of the book with a short summary of the dates, type, and brief description of the apocalyptic movements mentioned in the book.


THE WEAKEST LINK
The main downside of this book, to me, is that it is a bit linear and one-dimensional as, from the very beginning, Newman  discards going beyond the facts or even considering psychological or sociological theories to give some sort of explanation to the pervading "doomsdayness" in the history of human race. The juice is always in the "why?", as the "why?" is what gives us historical understanding. Therefore, questions that were were in my mind when I purchased this book are replied with lack of seriousness, for example why do humans need of this apocalyptic Armageddon in the modern world? She replies
"among nonreligious people is the same as that with ghosts, mutant ants, vampires, and invasions from space. Most of us don’t really believe in them, but it’s fun to let ourselves be scared for a while" (location 4496).
Other questions are not even posed. For example, which social or psychological function do they have, if any? Why  dreams and visions are so important in millenarian beliefs? Why charisma and not integrity are associated with fundamentalist messianic movements? Why non-religious doomsday beliefs are so widespread in the age of technology beyond being "cool"? What is the Antichrist, specifically?

At times the chapters stretch unnecessarily with details I found superfluous as there is not much information about the beliefs of a given group beyond them being millenarian. Besides, I missed more focus on other areas of the world. India is passed in a few pages. We are not given any details about Indigenous populations in the world, that is, do Indigenous Australian nations have had any end of the times sort of belief? What about African societies before the colonial times? The Inuit? No idea, because they are not even mentioned. Perhaps they never had any belief about the end of the world, but I would have loved being told so, if that is the case!

There are too many "perhaps",  "it is said",  "my guess", "probably", "some say" and other vague language that is not always reference-based. Guessing is not academically valid amongst academics unless you are the specialist on your field of study, and your field of study has a very delimited place, time or social group of study.  

The glossary might have been expanded, easily, with some of other words that the author uses throughout the book. 

WHAT WHAT WHAT?!
I found this statement about Joachim de Fiore and my jaw dropped to the floor: "He was born in 1135 in the Italian town of Calabria" (Kindle's location 1455). Since when is Calabria a town? She means in a town in Calabria.Which town?

Her biography of Nostradamus, footnote number three, states:
 This biography is based on the work of Edgar Leroy in 1972. This book is almost impossible to find, showing that accuracy is not always rewarded. I have compiled this from quotes of his work in other sources. Not my favorite way of doing research. (Location 2098, note no. 3)
  Isn't that what degree students do (and the sort of excuse they present) in end of the year essays?

BAD KINDLE EDITION
I am tired of purchasing books on Kindle, being charged full price and finding that that they are badly rendered in e-book format, out of care, respect and consideration for the e-book reader. Like here.

Look at the mess of the notes system in this book. The book uses endnotes as far as chapter 17, they are not numbered,  but correlative, starting from a to z, then aa, ab, ac, and so on. Then, you get to chapter 18 and the notes start to be numbered, but they are endnotes at the end of each chapter not at the end of the book as the first, and they are not correlative between chapters.

The final index is not paginated or linked, so partially useful. You can check for a specific word, and see if it is there, but if it is there, you won't know where. Ridiculous!

Giralamo should be Girolamo...

***
IN SHORT
Light, entertaining and informative with a good deal of research and written with a great sense of  humour, this History of the End of the World sheds light on the myriad forms that the fear of the end of times has taken among humans from different parts of the world, Christians especially. Yet, the great work is somewhat wasted by a lack of depth in a study that rarely goes beyond the merely factual.

Calatrava by Philip Jodidio (2007)

, 21 Jul 2015


I love Santiago Calatrava's light-filled ethereal futuristic architecture, and this is a good basic introduction to the Spanish artist, civil engineer and architect and his work.

The book has good quality photographs of Calatrava's sculptures, buildings and some of his original sketches and drawings, and a very insightful introduction and comments on what makes him different from other contemporary architects as well as the particularities and innovations of each of the featured buildings.

Calatrava has produced a few stunning pieces of architecture since this book was written, so the book falls a bit short, it is outdated, and has barely 100 pages. This being the case, the pricing, although not high per se, it is a bit high in reality.

This is is not a book on Calatrava's complete works but a good first approach to Calatrava, so good enough for the novice.
A nice book for your coffee table as well. 


1000 Lights by Charlotte & Peter Fiell (2013)

, 20 Jul 2015

Is there anything sexier than a chair? Of course, Lamps and lighting items are absolutely sexier. They have inspired great artists and designers to create marvellous creations that still leave me in awe. I bought this book in my local bookshop, way more expensive that in Amazon, but it is still a very good price for a good quality book.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT IT
> Perfect coffee table or beside table book.
> A good illustrated introduction on the history of electric lighting.
> Decent short explanatory texts accompany every image, right to the point but informative.
> Foot references to the period to which the lamps belong (right beside the page number).
> Good indexes.
> Great visual guide of lamps design with full-colour gorgeous photos.
> Good quality edition with glossy thick paper and hard cover at a great price.
> Great sizing and format, very easy to tuck away or put on your coffee or bedside table.
> Explanations in English, French and German. Great to improve your vocabulary in your non-native languages if you are interested or give it as a gift to an overseas friend.
> Fully orgasmic.


DOWNSIDES
= The books does limit itself to the 20th century so no designs from the 2000s. This being the case, many of the daring innovative contemporary lighting are not included.
= The book is unevenly organised. The 600+ pages covering the 20th century are heavily sided on the first half of the century, so much so that 456 pages are devoted to the period that goes to the 60s, while the rest is devoted to the 70s, 80s and 90s.
= Short in British and Spanish designers, while French and Italian ones are overwhelmingly present.
= If you are looking for a guide with plenty of explanations, a professional approach to lamp design and more details about the designers and the history of each item, or clear design periods go elsewhere.
 = The fact that the explanations are in three languages forces the comments to be shorter and less detailed.


Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck by Amy Alkon (2014)

, 5 Jul 2015

I could not resist the title, and the subject. Any book with the word Fck in the title deserves a bit of attention, especially if good manners is the subject of the book. It is a tantalising or perhaps shocking mix. Rudeness is utterly pathetic. The shop attendant at my grocery shop says, people who don't return your good morning are like animals. Right there lady, they are the new cockroaches.Thank Gosh is not just me:
 I’ll be walking around my neighborhood, see some person walking toward me, and I smile and say hello. People mostly say hello, smile, or give a little nod. But now and then, [MOST OF THE TIME FOR ME] somebody will just walk on, stone-faced,saying nothing. I’m immediately enraged. I continue on my way, but I long to run after the person, get in their face, and jeer, “Oh, was ‘hi’ too big a word for you to squeeze out?! A little civility too much for you, ASSFACE?!” (I do love combining calls for civility with words like “ASSFACE.”)

And yes, I get that my feelings are out of proportion with the actual offense— just some stranger failing to acknowledge my greeting. And who knows— maybe they’re deeply introverted or their dog died and they’re lost in thought. But such a minor offense bites unexpectedly hard because it’s a violation of our dignity— the sense of well-being we have when we’re treated as if we have value. (p. 20).
 
This is not a book on etiquette but on rudeness in general. Alkon is a journalist and blogger  and uses her own (militant) approach to deal with rude people and rudeness in general. Her recipe is a very entertaining cocktail made of good doses of common sense, good upbringing ways of behaving, sprinkled with some reflections on human behaviour from Behavioural and Evolutionary Psychology, and spiced up with a very witty slap on your face sort of writing.The result is sweet and sour and has some hidden cherries in it.

The book's first chapter is terrific, with a reflection on why people are rude or what drives people to be ruder nowadays than in earlier days. In the chapters that follow Alkon deals with manners and rudeness in different areas of daily life: communication, neighbourhood relations, Internet, dating and relationships, driving, using public transport, eating in and eating out, apologising, dealing with friends and family with terminal or life-threatening illnesses. The book's last chapter is a swan chant to care, to care more, to see the others as us, to try to integrate the alienated, to be polite because that connects you with other humans beings, even though you don't know them.

The core of the book is "what really matters isn’t how you set the table or serve the turkey but whether you’re nice to people while you’re doing it". Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Be Civil. Have empathy. That is it, in a nutshell, the core of manners everywhere. I love Alkon's relentless belief in the goodness of humanity, on making a difference to the people you live or work around or with, and how caring and passionate she seems to be.

Alkon not only shares her irritation (which is sometimes very much mine), and does not stop her inner cookie monster (I also have one), but she is also very caring and inquisitive, and there is a mix of serious and funny stuff that makes the book really enjoyable. I found great her advice on how to give an apology, how to deal with very sick friends and how to create a community in your neighbourhood. There is some ideas and practical tips about how to deal with hot-potato sort of situations or convey your clear loud message without offending the other person. I also share her approach to email and phone etiquette and how to deal with seat-hogs. 

However, most of what Alkon says is, or should be, common knowledge. If you don't have manners ore grew up in a family that did not bring you up with rules on how to treat other people, you will get more feed from this book that if the contrary is the case. The book is good for very young people, as modern parents have a tendency not to infuse discipline in their parenting and tend to justify the piggishness of their little piggies no matter what.

Some of the advice Alkon gives is just applicable to the USA, like restaurant tipping and how to proceed when a Police Patrol stops you. They are useful if you are going to travel to the USA, though, but they are not items of manners in most western countries as waiters have the minimum wage guaranteed and Police seems to have a bit of more ethical conduct and tougher rules to comply with in general.

I find most of her enthusiasm and belief in the goodness of human nature a bit naive. I used to be like her, as I have a natural tendency to connect with strangers even though I am an introvert. Unfortunately, life sometimes teaches lessons that we have to learn. I am not saying that what Alkon says is not good or should not be done. Things and people should be that way. But they are not. It takes two to tango. I agree with what Mark Twain once said, you do not mix or discuss with pigs because, if you do, you will find yourself covered by crap and they won't even listen to you. Said differently, pigs are pigs, they are never going to become Birds of Paradise just because you want them to.  

A personal example of this. I was living for 12+ years in a building. I used to greet strangers, newcomers to my building, say good morning to the regulars at the bus stop, be gentle and trying to connect for the sake of connecting and wishing well, and 99% of the time the result was me being avoided, looked down or not replied to. Some people acted as I was a sort of crazy lady... because I was wishing them a good day. Isn't that pathetic? Most of the exceptions were long term strangers, that is, not strangers any more, people over 60 years of age, foreigners, shop attendants and the occasional really good-hearted young person. I had to stop. There was this old composed calm-looking man in my building; I spent 2 years wishing him a good day every single morning and he never replied to me even though he wan not deaf and he would look at me in the eye. Of course I had to stop. He did not deserve my greetings or good wishes. He certainly is an old bitter repressed angry bitter man (that what he showed to be in the few times he decided to utter some words to me), but I found too many people doing the same, people who are way more "normal". I decided that my good wishes would be best spent on people who appreciate them for what they are and who deserve them and want to connect. If a greeting is not replied despite me being seen and heard I will erase that person from my field of view forever until they redeem themselves.


DOWNSIDES
Despite the book being really likeable, there are a few things that rest power to it. Here a few:
> The book shows lack of focus at times, placing in the same bag things I consider way different, even if they are connected: manners, being a caring friend, etiquette, having tact, behaving ethically, writing reviews on Yelp, tipping, and how she loves the Internet and how she met Marlon Brando in a forum.
> Etiquette and manners are not universal. Culture and Language do matter, even if we share being Westerners. Even more when the culture is not Western. However, the essence of good manners does not change much. I think the book needed a bit of more reflection on that, or an approach that also includes that. Some of the behaviours Alkon advises might be seen as rude and manipulative in another parts of the world, and some etiquette "must" are not etiquette elsewhere. Despite living in a globalised world and having the world at our fingertip, literally, people tend to live in their own bubble and consider their own bubble the world. Wake up to the Matrix.
> There are too many references to her blogs, her newspaper column, her TV interviews, her radio shows, her famous friends and her boyfriend, and they are tiring and unnecessary. They are OK in a blog or column. In a book, not so much so.
> Her writing is likeable and enthusiastic but I expected a more polished text and a text that reads less like a blog.
> Alkon has a preachy tone that I dislike. I mean, you can do or believe whatever you want, but if you preach high morals, high manners or whatever and you don't show that with your actions, I will notice that, realise that it is just crappola. For example, her book has as a main aim to be a reminder of how we are all imperfect and make mistakes, that we should have empathy, we should connect with other human beings and treat them well. Right? What she does to face rude people? She takes any opportunity, I mean any, to humiliate and name them publicly or in her blog/column. That is not to say that pigs are birds of paradise, but some acts of rudeness are involuntary or just happened once, where is her empathy gone? Why does she need to destroy Mrs X's reputation just because Mrs X made a mistake that was not even life threatening or affected her directly? If you are rudder than the rude, who might have acted out of ignorance once or due o lack of proper upbringing, and put yourself at their level, who is worse? You never put yourself at the level of the sh+t a friend of mine used to say. If you preach empathy and show none when you have to, you have none.
> The excuses she gives for her being constantly unpunctual are that she is trying, that she is even reading books on it, doing "something". You just need to get your alarm working and get up or get moving when it sounds, sweetie. For what she says, she is still wasting other people's time consistently. That is utterly rude. Is she going to use her anal humiliation approach to combat her rude self?
> She might have manners but she swears too often in the book. I wonder how much more in real life.
> The formatting of the book on Kindle is generous in the margins, so that makes more pages than they should.
> The index in the Kindle edition does not refer to the Kindle edition but to the hard-copy, so it is worthless for Kindle readers.

A enjoyable reminder of the power of connectivity and manners to create a better society. If she had preached less, it had been way better.