Author(s): Jaron Lanier
I picked up this book after watching The Social Dilemma from Netflix (highly recommended, by the way) because the author briefly appears in the documentary. After reading the book, which predates Netflix's title, I'd say the film takes more than a few ideas as inspiration from Jaron's book.
The main topic is how private companies and algorithms developed by them (and kept secret) are permanently monitoring us, grabbing our data, and then shaping the window through which we see things inside them. Using an example from the book, everyone who visits Wikipedia (in language X) sees the same content, meanwhile every person who gets a different, "customized" Facebook feed, or a different list of results after a Google search, because the underlying algorithms adapt what we see to the models they have of our behaviours. And those companies, via advertising, are effectively being paid to manipulate those very same behaviours. So the algorithms get tweaked to favour radicalisms, conflicts and mostly negative topics, as they drive more "views", which means more money.
We get multitude of examples of each argument, in fact I really liked that contrary to other titles that simply say sentences without many proofs, here sometimes a single relevant paragraph can easily have three or more footnotes with related researches, news articles and studies.
It is quite blunt, as some arguments like "you are losing your free will" or "social media is making you into an asshole" exemplify. It's also hard against certain political figures and big tech companies, but always with a level of respect and facts that I admire. It would be very easy to write a collection of radical suggestions to induce rage and hate, and instead I found learning about the Theory of Mind, deindividuation effects or the concept of Data as Labor.
One closing sentence that I found interesting, regarding tech giants simply saying that they're sorry when their services are misused: A social media company is in a better position if it doesn’t know what’s going on, because then it makes just as much money, but with less culpability.
A not complex nor long but thought-provoking read, definitely recommended.