Book Review: The Seventh Sense

Based on a recommendation from Tim Arnold, Director of the Jamestown Community College Library, I picked up The Seventh Sense* to read. It would satisfy the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge goal of reading a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller. I am not sure I would have found and read this book otherwise, but I am very glad I did. It is a book I would gladly recommend to others. It helps to explain some of the craziness that has been occurring in our nation and world. 

Have you felt that things are somehow different? There seems to be more chaos in the world than normal. It could be that we are entering a new age. As we move from one age to another, it comes with more turmoil and upheaval. Joshua Coope Ramo explained in his book, The Seventh Sense, that we are entering a new age—the network age. In the network age, new networks are disrupting the old guard. The new networks are working at a speed and agility that the established networks are not able to keep up with. Throughout the book, Ramo provided ample examples how these networks were creating an unstable world because it is a new way to operate.

To outline his case, Ramo wrote 343 pages that are spread across eleven chapters. The chapters are organized into three major sections:

  • The Nature of Our Age
  • The Seventh Sense
  • Gateland

In each of the chapters, Ramo weaved a story. Much of this story was from his first person perspective. He also used events and research to heavily support his position. While writing each chapter, Ramo wrote 7-8 short stories that were all linked together in one cohesive unit.

The Nature of Our Age

In this first section, Ramo set the stage for the rest of the book. In the second part of the first chapter, he outlined the premise of the book.

“This book is the story of a new instinct, what I have called the Seventh Sense. If Nietsche’s Sixth Sense was tuned for a world of changing industrial power, the Seventh Sense is meant for our new age of constant connection. I don’t just mean connection to the Internet, but to the whole world of networks that surrounds and defines us everywhere now. Financial webs. DNA databases. Artificial intelligence meshes. Terror or narcotic networks. Currency platforms. Connection—and ever faster, smarter connection—is transforming our lives just as trains and factories tore into Nietsche’s age. As a result, we live in a world that is both terribly exciting and awfully unsettling. A financial crisis that seems to drag on endlessly, despite the efforts of our best minds and most energetic central banks. A historically expensive decade of war against terrorists that produces more terrorists. A global exosystem that seems beyond repair. New pandemic diseases arriving like clockwork every year. Endless refugee waves. Domestic politics that have been transformed into shouting extremism. The point of this book is that every one of these problems has exactly the same cause: networks.” (Ramo, 2016, p. 11)

As Ramo continued in the first section, he pointed out that networks can be created for virtually any purpose. Today’s networks are setting events in motion faster than ever before. They are having effects of a greater magnitude and speed than ever before. It is difficult to adapt to and contain the effects. Examples that Ramo used include the spread of Ebola and the Zika virus, the 2008 financial collapse, and the Arab Spring. When discussing speed, one of the examples that stood out to me was about WWI. Ramo pointed out that if the diplomatic message of the assassination was transmitted at the speed of horseback rather than the speed of telegraph, the war may have never happened.

Another example that stood out to me was about how our conventional military is fighting the terrorists in the Middleast. The terrorists are building improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and they are sharing what they are learning through their own network. As the military developed methods to counteract the IEDs, the terrorists are learning and spreading the lessons rapidly through their network. The terrorists are more agile in their responsive than our military. The military had to significantly change how they responded to these types of attacks.

The Seventh Sense

In this section, Ramo addressed connections, the development of the internet, and the increased speed of connections. As noted early, the stories all support each other. The first chapter of this section focused on the effect connections make. The example he used was the Arab Spring Uprising in Eygpt. Mubarak was not able to adjust to the speed in which protesters were able to assemble. Because of networks, you really do not need a leader to have a movement. The network amplifies the feelings and opinions of everyone who participates.

Ramo highlighted the development of the internet. I found this to be interesting. I knew part of the history, but what did not don on me was that the internet was designed to survive a nuclear attack. Message traffic is able to find its target even if its main path was disrupted.

Once the internet was created, there had to be rules for allowing access. As Ramo outlined this story, he focused on hackers and their effect on the network. In light of the recent election, one section jumped out at me.

“Constant connection means, unless we’re prepared for it, constant vulnerability… I don’t mean someone hacking a voting machine to change our choice in an election; I mean someone hacking the news and information we use to decide who to vote for.” (Ramo, 2016, p. 151)

Ramo has built upon Priestland’s European caste system by adding network controllers to the merchants, soldiers, and sages. He talked about the power this new caste member wields. We are very dependent on our computers, phones, and network connections; however, a great number do not know how it works and simply trust the process. We are therefore unaware of the massive amount of data collected and analyzed each minute. One of my favorite stories is about a father who learned his daughter was pregnant through Target’s advertising. The question is what is being manipulated without our knowledge? In a recent video, Mark Cuban discusses this concern.

Finally, in this section, Ramo addressed the effect of the network on time and space. In an analogy, Ramo explained, “In a wagon train you might have contemplated the desert with fear; by car you’d merely consider it with care. In a plane it is irrelevant” (Ramo, 2016, p. 203). Because of the internet and its advancement, time and space are all reduced. Borders are meaningless and the sending and receipt of a message are instantaneous. Throughout history, we have been reducing the speed of our networks and connections. But this has unintended consequences.

Gateland

The last section of The Seventh Sense focuses on the future. With each advancement in technology, there are also unintended consequences. The creation of the internet is no different. With all the positive that comes out of the internet, the unintended consequence is that it can be abused. We have not yet come to realize the ramifications of the internet when it is controlled for evil purposes. What happens when the internet is weaponized? As noted earlier, the internet makes borders invisible. The internet creates new borders. There are new gatekeepers. We will have to understand how to navigate this new world. Unfortunately, the majority are unaware of the importance to understand networks and how to navigate them. Gatekeepers control access as well as what we can see.

Ramo also discussed hard gatekeeping. Basically, what protocols and topologies will we need to maintain national security? As I write this, the news is abuzz with information that Russian may have hacked communication networks to influence the US election. I believe this is only the beginning to what is to come.

The Seventh Sense is an eye-opening discussion about the importance of networks to our existence. It will be fascinating to see how the future unfolds as various powers work to control the networks, the information they possess, and the influence they hold. This will become more concerning as artificial intelligence is added to networks. Information will be instantly analyzed and decisions will be made also immediately.

I was spellbound as I read The Seventh Sense I highly recommend this book for anyone who is concerned about the future of our nation. The Seventh Sense outlines opportunities for those who can capitalize on them, and highlights dangers that we must be aware of.


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