In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari explores what it means to be human in an age of bewilderment, taking us through today’s most urgent issues. Nuclear war, ecological cataclysms, technological disruptions, fake news, the threat of terrorism, the future of education, understanding ourselves – all topics perfect for dissection in what’s sure to be a memorable book club discussion. Here are some talking points to get you started.
Discussion points and questions:
- Look at the section on ‘Hacking Humans’ (chapter 19, ‘Education’). Do you think we control technology or has technology come to control us? Think about some of the apps and websites that you use. Have you ever consciously felt manipulated by them?
- We ‘trust Netflix to recommend movies and Google Maps to choose whether to turn right or left. But once we begin to count on AI to decide what to study, where to work and who to marry, human life will cease to be a drama of decision-making’. What kind of life would this be? Will human lives and decisions still have meaning?
- ‘If you are willing to pay for high quality food, clothes and cars – why aren’t you willing to pay for high quality information?’ It is commonly said we are living in a ‘post-truth’ era. How do you obtain and verify your information? What sources do you use and do you trust them? Do you agree that we should be willing to pay for truth in the same way we pay for quality products in other areas of our lives?
- In chapter 5, ‘Community’, Harari looks at the ways in which social media, and Facebook in particular, connect people in some ways and disconnect them in others. In sharing experiences, ‘people are encouraged to understand what happens to them in terms of how others see it’ and their ‘gut instinct’ is to share it online via a photo or video. Do you think feelings and experiences have become too determined by online reactions and therefore lessened? Does the online world disconnect us from our bodies too much? Or do the benefits of social media and connections forged or maintained online offer an equalising positive?
- What would you name as the top three lessons for the 21st century so far? Which would you prioritise in passing to the next generation?