Michael Lewis Next
I read Michael Lewis' new book, Next, on a plane ride from the Midwest to the Southeast and back. I never read the touted The New New Thing, but, with no substantiation, I had thought of Lewis as a shuckster: slick as Kurt Anderson, tedious as Nicholas Negroponte, and bandwagonesque as Douglas Rushkoff -- and, in the ellusive world of superstar media, being married to Tabitha Soren seemed to both score and detract points. But his new book, sub-titled The Future Just Happened, really is, in addition to being a great screed on the social implications of the internet, a great piece of prose.
The structure is simple: short portraits of individuals who, through an equal mix of lucky circumstance and acute circumspection, ended up typifying how the Internet has changed our lives without us even seeing it. (The basic presumption of the book is McLuhan's old dictum that as technologies become more important they become invisible.) The first story, about a teenager named Jonathan Lebed who was charged by the SEC with inflating stock prices to his gain, is difficult to summarize in a sentence, but the amazing discovery comes when you realize the kid really appears to have done nothing more than stock financiers on CNBC try to do all the time -- it's just that he wasn't sanctioned to do it.
There's also the story about another teenager whose legal opinions elevated him to the top viewer-rated "legal expert" on Askme.com -- until he admitted that he was 15.
The book's future rides so close to the present that you can feel where Lewis is hedging his bets. For this book, Gnutella will be the next big revolution, which only months later seems a hopeful prospect, but not a utopian absolute. And I'm not sure TiVo is really a social revolution that Lewis predicts.
Nonetheless, I'll end the staid review format and jump to the Future Just Happened Random Quote Generator, which will hopefully give you a better impression of the book.