Meet the Authors of Snapping, Holy Terror,
and the new Dark Hero of the Information Age —
Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman
As authors, Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman have broken new ground in the study of personal and social change. Their published works offer a compelling blend of first-person testimony, in-depth analysis and tough investigative journalism.
But Conway and Siegelman’s work goes far beyond traditional reporting and social criticism. Their focus is on communication, the lifeblood of modern culture. Their perspective is grounded, not in traditional psychological or sociological frameworks, but in the new communication sciences that form the foundation of today’s global information economy and society.
Conway and Siegelman are two of America’s foremost experts on the mind-altering communication practices of destructive cults, fundamentalist sects, and extremist political movements. In their first, widely acclaimed book, SNAPPING: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change (Lippincott, 1978; Delta, 1979; 2nd Ed., Stillpoint Press, 1995/2005), they decoded the powerful communication practices employed by controversial cults and sects, extremist political groups, popular self-help therapies, and commercial training enterprises to engineer sudden changes of awareness and personality. They unveiled the intimate domain of human communication where the “snapping” phenomenon is occurring, where its unprecedented changes of mind and personality are communicated from one person to another, and where its widening threats to individual thought, belief, and all our freedoms are translated into deadly real-world action.
Their second book, HOLY TERROR: The Fundamentalist War on America’s Freedoms in Religion, Politics, and Our Private Lives (Doubleday, 1982; Delta, 1984), explored the more subtle and sweeping business of manipulating vast populations by means of high-technology mass communications. Conway and Siegelman were the first to expose the messages and machinery used by America’s surging “religious right” crusade to sway people’s beliefs, votes, values and dollars. When the movement was still in its infancy, they laid bare the religious right’s coordinated use of satellite-cable TV, computerized direct-mail, grassroots organizing networks, and other sophisticated propaganda techniques deployed by fundamentalist religious-political movements worldwide. And they warned of far-reaching consequences that would follow from the breakdown of ethics in communication across the spectrum of American life: in our society’s changing personal interactions, religious and political practices, and expanding global use of high-technology communications.
Their latest book takes the authors back to the scientific foundations of their work and our time: to the seminal events that gave birth to the information age and the story of its remarkable founding father. DARK HERO OF THE INFORMATION AGE: In Search of Norbert Wiener, the Father of Cybernetics (Basic Books, 2005/2006), tells the story of Norbert Wiener’s brilliant science of “communication and control in the animal and the machine” and the dazzling new technology it unleashed. In their eight-year undertaking, Conway and Siegelman uncovered the hidden dimensions of Wiener’s personal saga and the human dimensions of his science, which have been largely overlooked amid the frenzy of technological development. They trace the origins of Wiener’s ardent activism for “the human use of human beings” that blazed the way for later generations, and that has informed every aspect of their collaboration, and they give new voice to Wiener’s warnings about the perils posed to humankind by the new machines we have created in our image.
Conway and Siegelman’s work has won praise from educators, mental health professionals, and prominent figures in American politics and culture. In 1979, they testified in Washington at joint U. S. House-Senate hearings on cults and their dangers. Their research and writings have won awards and special recognition from the National Mental Health Association and the International Communication Association. In March 2000, they received the Leo J. Ryan Award, in honor of the U.S. Congressman who was assassinated in Jonestown, Guyana, in November 1978 by members of the Peoples Temple, for their “extraordinary courage, tenacity and perseverance in the battle against tyranny over the mind of man.”
Flo Conway graduated from the University of New Mexico with a B.A. in journalism. She earned her master’s degree and was advanced to doctoral candidacy at the University of Oregon, where she pioneered the first interdisciplinary program in communication. Jim Siegelman graduated with honors in philosophy from Harvard, where he also served as president of the Harvard Lampoon. He conducted graduate study in philosophy, linguistics and semiotics as recipient of the Fiske Fellowship to Trinity College, Cambridge.
Conway and Siegelman’s writings on many timely topics has kept them at the fore of the media. They have appeared on “Good Morning America,” the “Today” show, “The Tonight Show,” “Prime Time Live,” “20/20,” “48 Hours,” “NBC Nightly News,” “CNN Late Edition,” “Larry King,” and more than 300 radio and television programs in the U.S., Canada and Europe. They have lectured at more than 40 colleges and universities, where their books have long been required texts, and addressed numerous professional associations, mainline religious denominations, and civic organizations. Articles by or about them have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, People, Playboy, Science Digest and Yahoo! Internet Life, and have been cited in publications as varied as Time, Forbes, Psychology Today, New Society, Ladies Home Journal, GQ, Connoisseur, and Wired, and in United Press International, Reuters, and Voice of America dispatches.
In November 2005, the Italian edition of Conway and Siegelman’s latest book, L’Eroe Oscuro dell’Età dell’Informazione (Codice Edizioni), premiered at the Genoa Science Festival. They returned to Genoa in 2006 to take part in an international conference on Robotics and Ethics sponsored by the European Union. In May 2006, L’Eroe Oscuro won a Menzione d’Onore in the Premio Letterario Serono, the only international book award for works that “interlace between science and literature.” A French edition of the book, Héros pathétique de l’âge de l’information (Éditions Hermann) was published in 2012 by the company that originally published Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics. A Japanese edition came out in 2005, a Chinese edition in 2021, and a Korean edition will be forthcoming in 2022.
Conway and Siegelman have served as international advisors to the American Society for Cybernetics. They are on the advisory board of The Cult Education Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movements, and they were keynote speakers, conference supporters, and biography specialists for the international Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 2014 Conference on Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century. They appeared in the documentary film, Deprogrammed, which premiered at the Canadian Hot Docs International Documentary Festival, and another documentary feature is currently in development based on their book, Dark Hero of the Information Age.