Kirkus Reviews "TOO MUCH MAGIC"

An insider’s perceptive look at how digital technology is consuming the consumer.

It’s striking when someone with more than two decades of experience promoting and launching tech products sets out to write a book that is essentially a warning to society about the nasty nature of technology.In fast-moving text replete with engaging ad-like chapter headings, Benlevi traces the rise of digital technology and the manner in which it has been sold to the consumer. The book’s premise can be summed up in the author’s stinging observation that “[t]he core properties of commonality and connectivity that make digital life seem so appealing are exactly the same ones that make it so destructive, invasive, and subject to abuse.”

Indeed, Benlevi spends the majority of the book exploring this notion. He demonstrates how entertainment—primarily video, music and games—is the economic driver of the digital world. Benlevi suggests media labs, the “digerati,” venture capitalists, Internet service providers and “marketeers” comprise an insidious “Cult of Tech” that is first and foremost focused on profit.

In case after case, the author depicts the potentially dangerous downside of a digital life. He discusses, for example, how video gamers become alienated from society, why cell phones can act like “digital cocoons,” how YouTube has turned everyone into a video producer and why social media is fast becoming just another channel to market brands. He adopts the contrarian view that the widely acclaimed iPad is for digital media”—a device designed to feed more entertainment options to the consumer rather than promote effectively “a vending machine creativity.

He makes the intriguing claim that the 2008 economic meltdown “was entirely facilitated by digital technology and computerized models that were either wrong, fraudulent, or both.” This is not entirely new territory; other books have pointed to society’s over-reliance on technology. But Benlevi is especially passionate about the topic, which makes for a good read. In the end, Benlevi offers a compelling case for taking control of one’s digital life, rather than having it control you.

An entertaining, insightful book that a digitally dependent reader won’t soon forget.

San Francisco Book Review - March 2012

Star Rating: 5 out of 5

Too Much Magic combines the best of two worlds: it is written with both passion and journalistic objectivity, in equal measures. That is a tougher path to navigate than it might seem. When an author’s passion for his subject overwhelms his objectivity, the reader quite rightly treats any conclusions reached with suspicion. Objectivity without passion is just dull. Jason Benlevi gets the balance just right.

Benlevi, who has worked in the computer industry as a marketing-communications specialist since personal computing first emerged, clearly knows the nuts and bolts of his subject—the often subversive effects technology has enacted on our lives. This leads to a wide range of sub-topics. You may not immediately know what the relationship is between your ability to share music you’ve bought and paid for and basmati rice, however Benlevi carefully makes the connections (hint: it’s copyright law, patent law, and the U.S. Supreme Court).

There are many, many books published every year and equally as many articles published every day about loss of privacy, the withering of civil rights, and the numbing effects of video violence. These are some of the key issues of our time. Having read many of those many books and articles Too Much Magic might just be the best of the lot. Written in a calm, yet urgent, voice Benlevi gives the reader an indispensable primer, an excellent examination on just what all those nifty, shiny little phones and tablets are actually doing behind their screens. This book is well-deserving of a large audience.

The Visual Science Lab / Kirk Tuck March 2012

TOO MUCH MAGIC. A book that helps explain our inability to stop buying gear. And much more.

I have a book addiction and I'm not ashamed of it. There's a ton of great stuff out there in the book-o-sphere. And the focus it takes to write and produce a great book means that there's more signal and less noise in a book than in most other media. I know from past experience that most of my readers here at VSL love to read. Otherwise they wouldn't trudge through my longer posts. We've pretty much scared off the people who profess to not like reading much...

Today, instead of crooning about the latest cameras or doing another heartfelt post about shooting with your heart instead of your brain, I'm reviewing a book that has absolutely nothing to do with photography and everything to do with why we enjoy photography less, feel as though we have less time to devote to our photography and can't seem to get a foothold onto the steep cliff of creative expression. And why we're spinning our wheels instead of getting stuff done.

Reader, Jason Benlevi, sent me his book entitled, "Too Much Magic: Pulling the Plug on the Cult of Tech." (full disclosure: It is a review copy, paperback, and no other value or exchange of services has occurred to, in any way, influence my reviewing of the book.)

The book is both a history of our entanglement with, and accommodation of, all the devices and programming and social interfaces that the past 100 years of technological advancement brought to the consumer. Benlevi makes a very good case that every new application and device has a useful side and a dark side and that we, as consumers, are being pushed into choices and use patterns without informed consent. And without truthfully acknowledging the dark sides.

I won't go into detail and spoil a great read for you but one of the statements that jumped out at me concerned the shift in our focus of brain and financial resources. At one point, two generations back, we (the U.S.A.) sent men to the moon. Now, with our focus on recreational and sales oriented websites as targets for our joint venture dollars the only way we can get our people to the international space station is to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft. We our the masters of "I'm at Starbucks!" "Do these shoes make me look fat?" and other important social interactions. But at the same time we earn less than we did 20 years ago and work harder.

Benlevi is a good writer and he makes the concepts flow. His time lining of our tech history helps all the concepts fall nicely into place. His ability to show both sides of the tech coin comes from his own long history in the technology world. He is a hardly an outsider.

If you've felt uneasy about the massive intrusion and implied necessity of social networking in your life but you don't understand why you feel uneasy or what to do about it, then this book is for you.