Technology Anxiety

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Technology Anxiety

Love it or fear it, writers have something to say about how people have adapted to new tech

"The most important thing about technology is how it changes people"
-- Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

When TIME selected the personal computer as "man/machine" of the year in 1983, the everyday capabilities of data transfer that people take for granted in 2015 seemed like impossible fantasy. But as technology has changed commerce and communication, writers have had to take a step back and examine how it's changed the people who use it.

Do we control it or are we controlled by it?
Does it bring people together or separate them?  

Here are some books that explore the tech Pandora's Box. (More on the topic can be found at the DC Public Library database Science Reference Center.) 

Modern Romance (2015) by Aziz Ansari
Ansari teamed up with NYU sociologist Erik Klinenberg to research and write about contemporary dating. Best known as an actor and comedian, Ansari used his unique platform to access the phones of modern romantics all over the world. The pair spent a year assembling focus groups, opening a forum on Reddit, and sampling audience members at Ansari's stand-up shows.

The book itself is an engaging presentation of the material: Ansari begins and ends with stories of his personal life, and in between takes readers to Doha, Paris, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, New York City, and....Wichita, Kan., to examine tech-assisted dating in pools both large and small.  

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) (2014) by Christian Rudder
Rudder is the co-founder of the online dating site OKCupid and the head of its data analytics team. As such, he has access to the aggregate data and online habits of millions of users, which he would analyze and publish on the site's popular OKTrends blog.

For Dataclysm, Rudder looked at data gathered on OKCupid and other online services with large amounts of users and found strange patterns in large-scale data usage. For the most part, the book stays away from individual cases and is careful to not connect data to individuals. Although Dataclysm is analysis-heavy, it is a witty read that appeals to readers who are not statistically-inclined.  

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (2015) by Jon Ronson
Because anyone can publish anything online, the growth of social media has enabled a new era of public shaming that hasn't been seen since Puritan times. Ronson points to social media as platforms that enable widespread, instantaneous shaming and questions the motives for vigilantism. He begins with a personal example: when he discovered that academics had opened a Twitter account with his name and photo, he confronted them on video and posted it on YouTube. Ronson was gratified when the online pile-on against the academics began, but he soon became uncomfortable when the comments suggested violence. The rest of the book examines other examples of widespread humiliation that have made recent news, with Ronson interviewing both the shamed and the shamers.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011) by Sherry Turkle
In Alone Together, Turkle says that "technology has become the architect of our intimacies." Third in a series, the book interrogates how people's communications and relationships have changed as technology has infiltrated our everyday lives. There has been a decline in face-to-face and voice interactions, with people preferring to text rather than talk, to type rather than meet in person. Everything typed is also saved, and the ramifications of instant archiving are deep. Turkle says that the consequences are greatest for young people, who no longer have the freedom to play with identity because of the digital record.  She also writes about objects that are made to resemble living beings and the ways people blur the notion of "aliveness" in terms of how they relate to these objects.

Who Owns the Future? (2013) by Jaron Lanier
In the digital age, content is king but makes no money for its creators. Online, people share their photos, art, and writing for free, but only a few entities benefit financially. Lanier says that the middle class is being destroyed because creators do not own their content. He coins and advocates for "digital dignity," where every individual is the "commercial owner of any data that can be measured from that person's state or behavior." It's a utopian vision, but can the tide be turned in a world that has become organized and manipulated by the few at the top who run the top servers? There's a lot of food for thought in this follow up to You Are Not a Gadget.  

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (2014)
by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Machine ages drive human progress. The first machine age was when "steam started it all," when industrialization expanded human physical power and made transportation and labor more efficient. Digital technology is the hallmark of the second machine age, when human mental power (information production and communication) is being vastly expanded. One difference between the two machine ages is that in the first, discrete nation-states controlled the economy; in the second, globalization has made systems of exchange far more porous.

A consequence of this shift is a greater and bleaker disparity between the rich and the poor. The lives of the rich are documented online; the lives of the poor are often unconnected and therefore invisible. Brynjolfsson and McAfee analyze where we are now in this new age and what we need to do, both as a society and as individuals, to thrive in it. (DC Public Library has resources for people who want to keep up in the second machine age, including Safari Books Online, an extensive collection of technology and business books.)