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All Technology Coverage

Four fresh takes on work and life in the digital age.

In Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener chronicles her career at a Silicon Valley startup. After an unrewarding stint in New York publishing, Wiener was ready to give the San Francisco tech world a try, but the behind-the- scenes reality of the industry took her by surprise. Wiener tells of a patriarchal culture of wealth and ambition that left her disenchanted and in search of answers about her own life. Written with humor and intelligence, this briskly paced memoir explores gender in the workplace, the millennial mindset and the uses and abuses of power by influential companies. It’s a tech industry tell-all that’s both riveting and relevant.

Gretchen McCulloch delivers an intriguing study of the terminology, grammar and symbolism that shape online communication in Because Internet. McCulloch is a linguistics whiz who writes clearly and comprehensively for the lay reader about her area of expertise. In Because Internet, she delves into the development and diffusion of online slang, the power of memes and the inspiration behind emoji. Trends in online vocabulary and the progression of language are among the subjects up for debate, providing reading groups with meaty material for discussion.

Jia Tolentino critiques digital-age trends and attitudes in her acclaimed debut essay collection, Trick Mirror. Over the course of the book’s nine pieces, Tolentino examines the impact of social media and the internet, the American dream of perfectionism and other timely topics. She also shares personal stories, including an essay on her brush with reality TV. (She appeared on “Girls v. Boys: Puerto Rico.”) Funny, savvy and insightful, the collection establishes Tolentino as a vital millennial voice. Complex topics including self-image in the era of Instagram and the risks and rewards of social media make this collection a terrific pick for any book club.

Of the moment and utterly fascinating, Victoria Turk’s Kill Reply All explores the unique and multifaceted challenges of digital communication. Turk, who is a features editor at Wired UK, offers valuable advice about how to communicate online with confidence, whether that’s through chatting in a dating app or answering emails at work. Bringing a comic flair to the proceedings, she covers important topics like online friendships, the uses of emoji and the finer points of text messaging. There’s plenty for reading groups to debate and discuss in Turk’s thoughtful yet lighthearted guide to being polite in your online life.

Four fresh takes on work and life in the digital age that are also fantastic conversation starters for your reading group.

As technology disrupts and defines how we live our lives, two nonfiction books explore how it has shaped society up to this point and how it will affect what it means to be human in the future.

In a nondescript building in an office park in Southern California lies the future of human relationships. Or that’s what Abyss Creations founder Matthew McMullen would have us believe. In Sex Robots and Vegan Meat: Adventures at the Frontier of Birth, Food, Sex, and Death, journalist Jenny Kleeman speaks to CEOs like McMullen, as well as scientists, professors and ethicists, to investigate new technologies that are poised to change essential industries and human interactions.

As McMullen competes with other robotics companies to bring the first fully functional, lifelike sex robot to market, the world must contend with the ethical implications of subservient sex robots that are designed to look and act human but that consist of artificial intelligence, silicone and complex circuitry instead of warm flesh and blood. In other chapters, Kleeman investigates the new industry of plant-based, vegan “meat,” which tastes like a burger or steak without the abattoir, animal suffering or impact on global climate change. She then moves on to the future of childbirth (which involves artificial wombs called “biobags”) and a 3D-printed device that could make euthanasia more accessible. Thoroughly entertaining and written with humor and sly intuition, Sex Robots and Vegan Meat is an account of the future that will have you questioning whether technology is helping or hindering human progress.

As current technologies, especially artificial intelligence and robotics, continue to develop, they will force changes in how we structure our work and family lives. One example from history is the plow. It changed humans from egalitarian, freewheeling hunters and gatherers into a society of small families with strict gender roles and private land to cultivate. In Work Mate Marry Love: How Machines Shape Our Human Destiny, Harvard Business School professor Debora L. Spar examines historical links between technology, gender, work and family to imagine what the future might look like.

Starting in 8,000 B.C. and writing all the way into the present, Spar argues that nearly all the decisions we make in our intimate lives, including sex and marriage, are driven by technology. This detailed and deeply researched book lands at the intersection of history, feminist theory and futurism and will enrich your understanding of humanity’s pliant adaptability. Most of all, Work Mate Marry Love lends insight into whether technology can help us live more equal, fulfilling lives in the future.

 

As technology disrupts and defines how we live our lives, two nonfiction books explore how it has shaped society up to this point and how it will affect what it means to be human in the future. In a nondescript building in an office park in Southern California lies the future of human relationships. Or […]

For years, audiobooks have been our constant companions while cooking, cleaning and gardening—and in the age of COVID-19, we’re spending a lot more time doing those things than we used to. A few of the BookPage editors share the audiobooks that have been keeping us company in quarantine.


Cat, Deputy Editor

You Never Forget Your FirstOf all the quarantine reading and listening I’ve done, no audiobook has inspired more people to ask me for more information than You Never Forget Your First, Alexis Coe’s myth-busting biography of George Washington. Coe contextualizes and humanizes Washington’s victories and losses on the battlefield, his many (many) illnesses, his politics and home life in a whole new way, and it’s made all the more accessible by Brittany Pressley’s wry, clear narration. Most importantly, you’ll explore the hypocrisy in Washington’s fight for liberation from British rule while keeping black people enslaved. For readers interested in thinking critically about American history, this is a good start.

How to Do NothingI didn’t think it was possible to be more chained to my phone—and thus, more uncomfortable with my relationship to social media—but here we are in a pandemic, and nearly all our social interactions are now on screens. Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing has helped temper those feelings by providing guidance to resist the guilt of feeling unproductive and the demands on our attention. I find Rebecca Gibel’s narration to be hypnotic in its dryness, allowing me to reprioritize and realign where I give my focus.


Stephanie, Associate Editor

Red White and Royal BlueMy thoughts have increasingly strayed to the week each year my family spends at a condo on the Florida gulf—specifically, to the books I read on last summer’s trip, one of which was Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, which feels like an Aaron Sorkin production with the more melodramatic moments of “The Crown.” When I decided to reexperience it via the audiobook, I’m not sure whether I was motivated by a desire to return to the world McQuiston’s ebullient romance between the president’s son and an English prince, to return to the beach itself or to transport myself to a happy moment in a simpler time. Probably a bit of all three. Regardless, the absorbing and rapid-fire story, paired with Ramón de Ocampo’s warm, exuberant narration (and fantastic British accent, when performing Prince Henry’s lines) made for the perfect, swoonworthy escape.

Ninth HouseNinth House is an addicting mystery set at a magical secret society at Yale University, author Leigh Bardugo’s alma mater. Narrators Lauren Fortgang and Michael David Axtell alternate between Galaxy “Alex” Stern and Daniel “Darlington” Arlington; of the two, Fortgang is the standout. Her performance is as sharp as Alex herself, who’s been through a lot before arriving at Yale. Scenes where Alex lets her rage and trauma surface are riveting as Fortgang snarls and performs through clenched teeth. Fortgang’s visceral performance of Alex’s anger makes the rare moments of genuine affection that Alex permits herself—particularly toward Hellie, a close friend, and Pamela Dawes, the society’s in-house researcher—moving in their tenderness, as Fortgang softens her voice to convey Alex’s vulnerability. Anyone looking to be swept up in a story of dark magic in which nothing is as it seems should give Ninth House a try.


Christy, Associate Editor

Heavy audiobookI read a hard copy of Kiese Laymon’s memoir Heavy when it came out in 2018 and loved it—in that had-to-lie-down-for-two-and-a-half-hours-afterward kind of way. (The book is aptly named.) When my professor assigned it for a graduate class I took this spring, I decided to give the award-winning audiobook a try for my second reading. Hearing Laymon’s words in his own voice was even more affecting than reading them on the page. In the audio version, you get the full playfulness of he and LaThon’s middle school riffing on words like “galore” (gal-low), “meager” (mee-guh) and “y’all don’t even know.” You also hear the full tenderness of Laymon’s conversations with his mother, in which they try to tell each other the truth about addiction, abuse, deception and love. When I finished listening to Heavy this time, I still had to lie down afterward to digest its contents—white supremacy, disordered eating and violence against Black Americans, among other things—but since a late afternoon stress-nap was already a staple in my quarantine routine, it turned out to be a perfect pandemic listen.

Trick Mirror audiobookI was two chapters into my hardcover of Trick Mirror when the audiobook became available to check out from the library. (Apparently, I had placed it on hold during pre-COVID times and then, along with all the other trappings of normal life, forgot about it.) Jia Tolentino’s nuanced essays are the sort of reading you want to absorb every word of, so I wasn’t sure the audiobook would be the best fit. But out of curiosity (and a desire to make good on the library’s monthslong waitlist), I checked it out and grabbed my headphones. Next thing I knew, I was three hours in and plumbing the depths of my to-do list for more things to work on so I could keep listening. With an engaging balance between the personal and the reported, Tolentino’s exacting explorations of feminism, the internet and the self lend themselves nicely to audio, as it turns out. And as for my to-do list, her intellectual, no-frills narration provided the perfect soundtrack for taking a walk, doing the dishes, brushing the cats, making banana bread and mending that tear in my duvet cover.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more of our favorite audiobooks.

For years, audiobooks have been our constant companions while cooking, cleaning and gardening—and in the age of COVID-19, we’re spending a lot more time doing those things than we used to. A few of the BookPage editors share the audiobooks that have been keeping us company in quarantine.

The dial tone. The faxlike robot sounds. The promise of instant connection with someone across the country (or with your crush from math class). This is the way the internet began for most of us. 

For O.G. internet users, the potential for human connection, personal learning and technological growth once stretched beyond the horizon. Enter: trolls, the corporate sale of private information, a false sense of connection and myriad other challenges. Joanne McNeil’s Lurking: How a Person Became a User is a thoughtful exploration of the development of technology, online identity and the essential elements of humanness that make it all possible.

True to McNeil’s style, Lurking poses more questions than answers, giving readers a wide berth to wrestle with their own opinions. The book offers seven different lenses through which readers can examine online identity, and it’s structured around seven corresponding chapters, each with a one-word title as the starting point for discussion. 

For example, the first chapter, “Search,” is a meditation on both internet search engines and human longing. It equates search engine history with pennies in a fountain, the result of “wishes people tossed in the well.” This grouping allows McNeil to transcend literal application and makes space for lines such as, “Real people search, but real desire cannot be identified.” Lurking strikes an impressive balance of insider tech-talk and universal human connection, though true techies will have an obvious leg up with the nuances of internet-specific examples. 

The author proposes concrete safeguards for building a better internet, such as online community members acting as “librarians” to protect and archive their content, along with other practical suggestions. Without these practices, McNeil maintains, “the internet remains imperfect, a hell that is fun, ruled by idiots and thieves, providing users with slingshots for self-expression but no shield from the bile that rebounds.”

The dial tone. The faxlike robot sounds. The promise of instant connection with someone across the country (or with your crush from math class). This is the way the internet began for most of us.  For O.G. internet users, the potential for human connection, personal learning and technological growth once stretched beyond the horizon. Enter: […]

Artificial intelligence. Those words often conjure extreme visions: a shiny techno-future of self-driving cars and hyperefficient production, or a dystopian doomscape of mass unemployment and robot overlords.

In her first book, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, Janelle Shane assures us that AI is more like a toaster than like Skynet from Terminator. It’s a tool—one that is really good at some things and really, really terrible at others. This accessible guide to AI and machine learning cuts through the techno-hype and shows how AI is making the world a stranger place.

You may know Shane from her humor blog, AI Weirdness, where she trains AI to perform all kinds of silly tricks, such as coming up with pick-up lines—the source of the book’s title. You Look Like a Thing follows in the blog’s footsteps, with plenty of hilarious AI fails, neural-net-generated recipes for “Basic Clam Frosting” and robots doing the can-can. But the humor isn’t just a gimmick. Shane, who holds advanced degrees in engineering and physics, unpacks the whack, using incidents of AI weirdness and abject failure to reveal the peculiar logics of machine learning. Why do image-identifying AI obsessively find giraffes everywhere? What made Google Translate interpret nonsense syllables as biblical verses? How could a self-driving car mistake a truck for a road sign? In unraveling all the ways AI can go wrong, Shane illuminates its inner workings.

Where Shane really excels is in spotlighting the social consequences of AI. She explains how an algorithm widely used to decide whether to release prisoners on parole systematically identifies black inmates as higher-risk for reoffending than comparable white inmates. In another example, a resume-screening bot routinely penalized women applicants. The data that AI are trained on are often more important than the design of the neural networks—and these datasets unintentionally reflect the explicit and implicit biases of the cultures that produced them. After reading this book, you’ll never again assume that an algorithm is neutral.

This is why You Look Like a Thing and I Love You should be essential reading, even if you never end up training your own pet neural-net. AI is already busy all around us—determining what we see (and don’t) on the internet, deciding whether we qualify for a loan, finishing our sentences. If AI unleash a dystopia, it won’t be because the algorithms have outwitted us but because they’ve been pigging out on our data, amplifying our worst tendencies and biases.

AI is a tool, not a slippery slope to the singularity. If we don’t understand how this tool works, what it excels at, how it fails, then we can’t use it to shape a better world.

Artificial intelligence. Those words often conjure extreme visions: a shiny techno-future of self-driving cars and hyperefficient production, or a dystopian doomscape of mass unemployment and robot overlords. In her first book, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, Janelle Shane assures us that AI is more like a toaster than like Skynet from […]

Do you worry that the internet and its tools—social media, emojis, memes—are wrecking your kids’ spoken and written language? Or that the same thing might be happening to you? Gretchen McCulloch is here to reassure readers that no, future humans won’t communicate solely by emojis and GIFs. What’s more, the internet has made us all into writers, melding writing and informality. In Because Internet, McCulloch shows how internet language, like any other language, has evolved into its current form and how it continues to change. 

A Montreal-based internet linguist and columnist for Wired, McCulloch begins with a quick primer on linguistics, the study of language. “The continued evolution of language is neither the solution to all our problems nor the cause of them,” she writes. “It simply is. You never truly step into the same English twice.” Since the internet records what people post, tweet and share, it’s a good place to study recent changes in informal language. 

McCulloch is fascinating on emojis, those tiny digital smiley faces, hearts and flamenco dancers that we add to texts. Having studied emojis since 2014, she describes her research into the reasons that emojis caught on, showing why emojis and GIFs serve as gestures rather than as a new language. And McCulloch is convincingly reassuring about teen internet use. “Whether they’re spending hours on the landline telephone, racking up a massive texting bill, or being ‘addicted’ to Facebook or MySpace or Instagram, something that teens want to do in every generation is spend a lot of unstructured time hanging out, flirting, and jockeying for status with their peers.” 

Although the concept of internet linguistics might sound dry, McCulloch takes a sprightly approach. She’s funny as well as informative. Because Internet just might lead you to see the internet, and how you (and your kids) use it, in a whole new way. 

A Montreal-based internet linguist and columnist for Wired, McCulloch begins with a quick primer on linguistics, the study of language. “The continued evolution of language is neither the solution to all our problems nor the cause of them,” she writes. “It simply is. You never truly step into the same English twice.” Since the internet records what people post, tweet and share, it’s a good place to study recent changes in informal language. 

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