Thinking well about technology is hard.
Tech is so many things. It’s the medical device that keeps you alive and the mobile device that keeps you from enjoying the life you have. It’s a trillion-dollar web of corporate interests and a frontier of possibility for dreamers and dropouts. It’s the joy of human connection and the creeping paranoia of inescapable surveillance. In the midst of all this, evaluating the role that tech plays in our world is no easy task. Even harder is determining what role it should play.
As someone who works in tech, I try to maintain a steady diet of thoughtful content that helps me think through the big questions facing the industry today. Here are five must-read recommendations that have shaped my thinking over the past 6 months or so.
1. Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles
This uncommonly thoughtful book explores the intersection of ethics, design, technology, and the future that we’re building every day. Calling on years of industry expertise and careful philosophical analysis, Cennydd tackles thorny topics like algorithmic bias, surveillance capitalism, and autonomous war with clarity and confidence. Many of the practical tools that he shares along the way have worked their way into my practice as a product manager and business designer.
2. Economic Science Fictions, edited by William Davies
I picked up this gem at the MIT Press Bookstore and read it over the subsequent four evenings while enjoying wine and pasta at Juliet in Somerville (which I recommend as highly as anything in this article). It’s a collection of essays that combine the analytical rigor of economics with the boundless imagination of science fiction to explore questions like “can we envisage a viable alternative to money as an instrument for the valuation and distribution of goods?” and “could the divergent utopias of socialism and capitalism eventually converge into a single post-capitalist dystopia of ubiquitous surveillance?.” Those are actual quotes. This book is like the Willy Wonka factory of brain candy.
3. Anything by Nicholas Carr
Carr is a freelance writer and one of the most original thinkers about technology and its effects on society that I’ve encountered. His blog post I Am A Data Factory (And So Are You) is downright paradigm-shifting; if you read one thing on this list, make it this. I haven’t read any of Carr’s books yet, but have been working my way through his many articles and blog posts and enjoying every one.
Founded by tech ethics speaker and researcher Fiona McEvoy, YouTheData explore the effects of emerging technologies on individuals, community, and society at large. The articles here are always thought-provoking, delivering timely, thoughtful analysis on topics that feel relevant to my own day-to-day relationship with technology. This is another good source for original thoughts and commentary that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.
5. The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society I’m a recent subscriber to this quarterly journal, but the one volume that I’ve received was filled with fresh takes on topics like online speech, social media addiction, and genetically modified organisms. The New Atlantis has been at it since 2003, asking the big questions about technology and human nature and the practical questions about tech regulation and governance. Articles from the current issue are available for free online so you can try before you buy.