These are three books I recommend we should all read. The strength of the Internet and promise it held to empower individuals has been hobbled considerably. In fact, I’d argue that rather than holding promise as a tool of empowerment, the Internet is causing us harm. Corporate entities have co-oped the Internet turning it into a tool, to monitor our activities and manipulate our behavior, to better sell us things.
These books delve into how corporations are exerting increasing levels of control and how this impact us. Lanier’s, Who Owns the Future, discusses how corporation with the largest servers exert monopolistic ownership over the web making it difficult for individuals to profit from their labor. Turkel’s book, Alone Together, discusses how our constant connectivity through social media leads to a new form of social isolation. Finally, Pariser’s, in his book The Filer Bubble explains why, despite super powerful search technology, we are actually accessing less information.
We have all seen the effects; as we observe a couple, dining out, fully engrossed in their smart phones rather than each other; maybe it is the feeling we have that there are no new perspectives online; or the frustration we experience having our email, browsing habits and social contacts scrutinized so that we can be more effectively bombarded with advertising.
The emergence of social media, the launch of Amazon, Google, even Wikipedia, promised to eliminate barriers to entry and empower individuals with greater connectivity, reach, lower prices and fast access to information. Instead we now have oligarchies abusing their power in pursuit of more and more money.
These three authors address these issues, and more, with far more clarity and completeness than I can:
The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think by Eli Pariser
Penguin Books (Paperback: 304 pages April 24, 2012)
In December 2009, Google began customizing its search results for all users, and we entered a new era of personalization. With little notice or fanfare, our online experience is changing, as the websites we visit are increasingly tailoring themselves to us. In this engaging and visionary book, MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser lays bare the personalization that is already taking place on every major website, from Facebook to AOL to ABC News. As Pariser reveals, this new trend is nothing short of an invisible revolution in how we consume information, one that will shape how we learn, what we know, and even how our democracy works.
The race to collect as much personal data about us as possible, and to tailor our online experience accordingly, is now the defining battle for today’s internet giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Behind the scenes, a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking our personal information to sell to advertisers, from our political leanings to the hiking boots we just browsed on Zappos.
As a result, we will increasingly each live in our own, unique information universe—what Pariser calls “the filter bubble.” We will receive mainly news that is pleasant, familiar and confirms our beliefs—and since these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation and the democratic exchange of ideas.
Drawing on interviews with both cyber-skeptics and cyber-optimists, from the co-founder of OK Cupid, an algorithmically-driven dating website, to one of the chief visionaries of U.S. information warfare, The Filter Bubble tells the story of how the Internet, a medium built around the open flow of ideas, is closing in on itself under the pressure of commerce and “monetization.” It peeks behind the curtain at the server farms, algorithms, and geeky entrepreneurs that have given us this new reality, and investigates the consequences of corporate power in the digital age. Join our online conversation about this book
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle
Basic Books (Paperback: 384 pages, October 2, 2012)
In Alone Together, Turkele argues that we are at a point of decision and opportunity. Technology now invites us to lose ourselves in always-in mobile connections and even in relationships with inanimate creatures that offer to “stand in” for the real. In the face of all this, technology offers us the occasion to reconsider our human values, and reaffirm what they are.
Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. But, as MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle argues, this relentless connection leads to a new solitude. As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down. Alone Together is the result of Turkle’s nearly fifteen-year exploration of our lives on the digital terrain. Based on hundreds of interviews, it describes new unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents, and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy, and solitude. Join our online conversation about this subject.
Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier
Simon & Schuster; (Paperback: 448 pages, March 4, 2014)
Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality and one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. Who Owns the Future? is his visionary reckoning with the most urgent economic and social trend of our age: the poisonous concentration of money and power in our digital networks.
Lanier has predicted how technology will transform our humanity for decades, and his insight has never been more urgently needed. He shows how Siren Servers, which exploit big data and the free sharing of information, led our economy into recession, imperiled personal privacy, and hollowed out the middle class. The networks that define our world—including social media, financial institutions, and intelligence agencies—now threaten to destroy it.
But there is an alternative. In this provocative, poetic, and deeply humane book, Lanier charts a path toward a brighter future: an information economy that rewards ordinary people for what they do and share on the web. Read our review of the hardcover version of this book.
These are just a few of the books I feel are important. I’m sure there are many others. Please share any you think are important in the comments section below or, if you are highly motivated, participate on one of the conversations linked above.