This week’s #NonFicNov prompt is hosted by Veronica, who has given us a few options: you can be the expert, ask the expert, or become the expert on a topic of your choosing. I informally put out a “ask the expert” call in my previous post, and it was answered! If you also want to learn more about Iceland, look no further. This week, I’m going to be the expert on tech pessimism, or to be more precise, on the many, many ways in which social media is harmful.
I’m not really a tech pessimist, or if I am, I’m deeply in denial, seeing as I tweet an average of 250-300 times per month. And yet I’m drawn to these books. I read them, agree with them, vow to change my ways, take week or month-long social media breaks, and then go right back to where I started. I see my Twitter addiction like my (long dormant, but never really gone) smoking addiction; the only way to beat it is to go cold turkey and to never give it an inroad. But unlike smoking, I can’t fully give up social media and neither can you, probably.
So, join me in a probably futile but always fascinating look at why social media is bad, m’kay? And because I think it’s relevant here, I’ve noted each book’s publication date, and the author’s generation. I note that was a real glut of these books in 2019 (guess we have bigger fish to fry now) and very few are written by digital natives…
For a comprehensive overview
- The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff (2019, Boomer). If you want to read one book and become an expert, make it this one. But make sure you’re committed. I listened to all 40 hours of it on audio during a period of long commutes at the end of 2019. Very serious and academic in tone, covers the myriad ways in which social media companies are making everything worse. If only it were just about attention and clicks.
For a practical guide
- Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier (2019, Boomer). If you want to read one book and be ready to take action, make it this one. Some of his arguments are stated a little strangely (he’s a strange guy!) but he lays out a pretty persuasive case.
For a philosophical view
These books are a little more esoteric. They may not give you a big picture overview, or spur you to action, but they will make you think in new ways about (relatively) old problems.
- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (2019, Millennial): Loved this when I read it, but honestly retained very little.
- The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour (2019, Gen X): Did not love this, but, a rarity that focuses on Twitter rather than Facebook.
- The Age of Earthquakes by Douglas Coupland (2015, invented the concept of Gen X): The absurdity of social media from a very Gen X perspective.
- The Kraus Project by Jonathan Franzen (2013, Boomer, translating Karl Kraus, b. 1874): Franzen’s commentary is mostly about the “blogosphere,” while Mr. Kraus takes aim at proto-blogs called “feuilletons“. Unfortunately, blogs are social media, so this counts.
For some juicy gossip
Yeah, these are both about Facebook. If you want some Zuckerbergian schadenfruede, watch The Social Network and then read these.
- Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe by Roger McNamee (2019, Boomer): An early Facebook investor and tech optimist has second thoughts.
- An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination by Cecilia Kang (I’m guessing elder Millennial) and Sheera Frankel (also guessing Millennial) (2021): Very office-politics gossipy if you’re into that. They had great sources. Made me despair that this guy, who basically made a malignant version of HOTorNOT, has such huge influence over people’s lives and world events.