Silicon Valley is home to the Tech Titans, the mega-corporations that rule over the internet, and increasingly hold sway in the offline world too. Boosted by swarms of well-paid lobbyists in Washington, these companies have successfully resisted any legislative moves to bring them under greater scrutiny, thereby defying oversight and continuing to exert an out-sized influence on our lives from their (heavily protected) boardrooms.
We dug through the current works available on this latter day techno-elite to bring you the our top 9 picks. These books reveal the inner workings of Silicon Valley and its corporate denizens, while also proposing workable solutions to how we as internet users can take back control of our data, and bring back a measure of oversight and democracy, not to mention healthy market forces, to the internet at large.
The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
by Margaret O’Mara
Currently Professor of History at the University of Washington, O’Mara first witnessed the close-knit world of technological innovation when working in the Clinton Administration. Since then, she has gone on to become a leading historian of Silicon Valley and the tech titans that increasingly have access to almost every digitized information about our lives. O’Mara tells the remarkable tale of how the US government, the Pentagon and private enterprise have woven an almost impenetrable web of research interests, collaboration and collusion. Not only analyzing the macro-view of government policy and funding programs, she also explores the founding and evolution of the key corporate players in Silicone Valley today, in the process introducing us to a varied caste of colorful celebrities, and equally larger-than-life unknowns. The Code reveals the real power politics unfolding behind San Francisco’s tech titans, and the doors of power government research and military institutes in Washington. The result is an extraordinary insight into the true origins of modern America’s innovation rocket-engine, and a profound exploration of how Silicon Valley now seeks to mold the rest of the world in its own image.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
by Shoshana Zuboff
Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School, Prof. Zuboff coined the term “surveillance capitalism”. In this work of stunning intellectual originality and perspicacity, Zuboff details the emerging world of behavioral data markets, in which information on our past and anticipated future actions, page views, clicks, posts and purchases is sold between corporate entities. As a result of this marketplace, new methods and programs of behavioral modification are sought after, developed and implemented without the conscious knowledge of the end-line consumer. Big Brother has metamorphosed into Big Other, a hyper-networked cybernetic brain that guarantees profit while eroding democratic practices, and even undermining the idea of free will itself. Zuboff’s multi-award winning work is a daring wake-up call to every internet user; virtually the entire population of the planet. Demand the right to control your own data today, before you are enslaved by it tomorrow.
Too Smart: How Digital Capitalism is Extracting Data, Controlling Our Lives, and Taking Over the World
by Jathan Sadowski
What Zadoff refers to as surveillance capitalism, Sadowski calls digital capitalism. A Research Fellow at Monash, Sadowski begins his analysis of the new digital economy by investigating the phenomenon of smart-ification. From your smart fridge to you FitBit to your Tesla parked in your driveway, almost every household item that can be micro-chipped is being micro-chipped today; even your umbrella. The author contends that the assumed benefits to the consumer of convenience and comfort are mere foils for the real game; digitizing and harvesting as much of your data as possible. The possibilities are endless; from the smart home that understands more about its occupants than they do, to the smart city which can alter inter-state traffic flows in real-time to accommodate peak surges or emergency shutdowns of highways and bridges. Who ultimately wins from the spread of this technology? Too Smart is under no delusions; it’s certainly not the user, and the whole model of democratic society itself is under threat.
Don’t Be Evil: How Big Tech Betrayed Its Founding Principles — and All of Us
by Rana Foroohar
Taking her title from Google’s former slogan (forgotten already?), Foroohar, an associate editor for the Financial Times and economic analyst for CNN, delves deep into the engrossing story of how the paradisical vision of a better, fairer and more equitable society that lay behind the founding of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players has morphed into today’s dystopian reality. From the spread of online hate speech, fake news, vulture-like algorithms circling overhead in cyberspace while your 4-year old jabs at the next YouTube offering; today’s internet seems more like a doom machine than any harbinger of utopia. Don’t Be Evil is a soul-crushing account of how Big Tech shrugged off its original teenage idealism and embraced corporate maleficence. Foroohar is no mindless of prophet of destruction; she ends her work by laying out the foundations for how we can resist the encroachment of Big Tech into our lives, and win back digital autonomy while protecting the innovation engine that has driven American technological supremacy for half a century.
Silicon States: The Power and Politics of Big Tech and What It Means for Our Future
by Lucie Greene
Greene is an experienced business consultant to Fortune500 companies specializing in future consumer trends. She has been briefing the corporate world’s most influential CEOs for many years about what the future means for their organizations, and now she has finally put pen to paper to enable the public at large to gain access to her insights. Silicon States takes the reader deep into Silicon Valley’s most hallowed halls, featuring in-depth interviews with the individuals who are busily shaping the future of the Valley’s biggest tech giants, and in turn the entire world. Greene’s work will leave you marveling at the breadth of influence Silicon Valley’s developers and research scientists have over fields as diverse as biological sciences, early-years education and Artificial Intelligence. To understand the direction we’re heading in, and who will guide us there, Silicon States has no superior.
The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball
by Noam Cohen
Cohen, former technology correspondent for the New York Times, has produced a work that can plausibly be described as ‘history of ideas’ for Silicon Valley. Going right back to the first generation of technology innovators in the Valley, starting in the 1950s, Cohen charts the rise and fall of some of the internet revolution’s most closely-held ideologies. This narrative is partnered by profiles of some of the Bay Area’s most powerful CEO founders, from Zuckerberg to Thiel, Bezos, Brin, Page and so on. The sharp contrast between the idealistic visionaries of the initial decades of Silicon Valley, and the increasingly ruthless harbingers of societal collapse that now appear to control the industry’s research and investment ecosystem could not be more staggering, and thought-provoking. The Know-It-Alls will leave the reader with a deeper appreciation of Silicon Valley’s origins, and possibly even deeper concerns for its, and our, future.
Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe
by Roger McNamee
Ah…….the redemption tale. McNamee is tech venture capitalist extraordinaire. An early mentor to Zuckerberg, and investor in Facebook, McNamee for years was amongst the most vocal supporters of the company. Until reality started to slowly creep in. As McNamee became increasingly aware of the ways in which Facebook’s platform was being manipulated by nefarious actors, and even more alarmed by the company’s CEO to do anything about it, he fell out of love. In a righteous act of rebellion, he threw in the towel and went turncoat, becoming an impassioned preacher against the evils of social media. You’ll have to excuse us if we don’t buy it 100%. It’s all very well to have your crisis of conscience AFTER you’ve made countless millions, but we’re left wondering how things might have played out if McNamee hadn’t made such incredible returns on his initial investment.
Doubts aside, if you’re looking for an insider’s account of Facebook, and Zuckerberg’s, rise to the jeweled throne of Overlord of Silicon Valley, you could do no better than Zucked. Just take it all with a pinch of salt.
LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media
by P. W. Singer, Emerson T. Brooking
Singer and Brooking are both experts in the future of warfare. In LikeWar, they delve deep into the internet’s darkest recesses to uncover both state and non-state actors working to weaponize social networks in the digital age. Whether it’s livestreamed terrorist attacks, viral fake news memes, or ISIS propaganda, an unholy amalgamation of war, politics and propaganda has laid claim to our attention through the innocuous screens of our smartphones. LikeWar’s cast of characters is almost beyond belief, and the implications for our own mental health, much less that of society at large, of their co-opting of social networking for their own murky ends are profound. Singer and Brooking aren’t just engaging in a macabre trawl through an account of the internet’s most unseemly dark corners though; LikeWar ends with a radical plan for how internet users can take back control of their data, and resist the relentless assault of networked madness.
The Curse of Bigness: How Corporate Giants Came to Rule the World
by Tim Wu
Professor at Columbia Law School, and coiner of the term Net Neutrality in 2002, Wu explores the consequences of capitalism unleashed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The resulting monopolization of key industries by vast global behemoths has increasingly come to threaten basic freedoms and radically alter people’s way of life. The competition that lies at the heart of a healthy market has been replaced by backroom deals between business oligarchs. The consequences are severe; reduced productivity, lacklustre entrepreneurship, decreased consumer choice, and the rise of tech titans such as Facebook and Google. Having previously been a member of the Obama Administration, and a Silicon Valley veteran, Tim Wu’s proposed remedy to break-up these monopolies marks a new frontier in anti-trust not seen since the break-up of Standard Oil at the beginning of the last century.
Give yourself a pat on the back! You made it through our top 9 books on Silicon Valley and the Tech Titans who rule our networked world. Got a book you think deserves to be on our list? Let us know in the comments below.
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