Here's some food for thought: 20 years ago, the thought of being able to send each other pictures across this thing called The internet seemed almost incomprehensible. In fact, there is a family video somewhere of my dad and his two brothers sitting down in front of their brand new laptop, and one of them saying, "Pretty soon, we're just going to hit a button, and the picture is going to go sheeeewwmmm, and then it'll appear on your laptop." Then they all laugh, assuming it would be decades before we had that sort of feature.
Ten years ago, if someone said they had 100,000 subscribers on their YouTube channel, they weren't looked at with envy or given praise. They were seen as weird. "Who in their right mind would upload videos of themselves to the internet?" Today, we have names for these kinds of people. They're called Influencers.
It has only been recently that the masses have begun to talk at length about the true impact of technology, specifically on our habits as human beings. Sure, the conversation has been there all along, but we are finally getting to a point where some of the glamor of our devices has worn off. We've become used to them in our lives, and now we're beginning to realize that for every improvement, there is a new distraction.
Technology, we are beginning to learn, has its costs.
These books are tackling the subject:
1. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter
This is easily the best book I've read so far this year--I breezed through it in a matter of days. The introduction alone makes it impossible to put down: one of the first scenes depicts Steve Jobs unveiling the iPad to a drooling audience, only to state in an interview not long after that he heavily restricts his own children's use of the device. The author, Alter, goes on to point out that the very people dreaming up our most used technological devices are simultaneously aware of their impact.
The theme here is even the greatest innovators "don't get high on their own supply." The book picks apart our infatuation with technology--and more important, how our relationship with our screens is deliberately crafted to keep us coming back again and again (more than we think).
2. The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World by Brad Stone
This book is less about our (at times) unhealthy relationship with technology, and more about the impact technology has had on our economy, our communities, and most of all, our trust in one another.
Stone explains that jaw-droppingly successful companies like Uber and Airbnb utilized technology in a way that opened doors for "the sharing economy," but really what it did was welcome everyday people to trust each other. How many times were you told growing up not to get in a car with a stranger, or go to someone's house you didn't know? Those two societal clichés were flipped completely upside-down by these two startups, and they did so by building off the levels of trust established by people on the internet.
3. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind by Jocelyn K. Glei
A personal favorite, this book pulls from some of the world's most well-known creative minds, all of whom seem to share the same fundamental belief: in order to be truly creative, you need silence.
In our busy world of dings, deeps, buzzes, emails and Slack notifications, Glei and company point out that the greatest skill a creative person can have in today's society is focus. The ability to remove yourself from the constant tug to return back to your newsfeed and continue scrolling, in itself, is a make-or-break motion that differentiates the dreamers from the doers.
If you feel like your creativity is being squandered by hours spent refreshing your Instagram feed, this is the book for you.
4. The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
by Tim Wu
Not for the faint of heart here, The Attention Merchants points out exactly what every big brand, major corporation, and technology manufacturer is after: our attention.
Attention has become the commodity of today. It's the driving force behind every single advertising campaign and mobile device launch, app store improvement, and operating system update. Without consumer attention, without us continuing to refresh, check, check again, and rack up another page view or time-on-screen data point, many of the world's largest businesses would no longer survive.
Makes you think, doesn't it?
5. The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind by
Dr. Richard Restak
With so many new devices, there has to have been an impact on the brains of modern day civilization, right? This is the answer Dr. Restak set out to answer. Why is it that with the rise of technology, there has also been a rise in things like Attention Deficit Disorder? How does our brain respond to staring at screens for so many more hours today than in years past?
We tend to think very little about what a bright, glowing screen can do to us: specifically our eyes--and, of course, our brain. Other books examine this point in regards to sleep, and the effect technology can have on getting a good night's rest.
All in all, these books do a marvelous job of taking a fairly objective approach to the pros and cons of technological advancement on our society. Technology has done wonders for us in terms of communication, productivity, and even personal expression. But it's equally important to be aware of the costs that come with that newfound territory.