Humane Tech Reading List

These books explain the concerns that inspire the humane technology movement, which aims to bring about a world in which people are respected and supported by the tech they use instead of being exploited.

“What is the problem?”, the interviewer asked, at the beginning of the 2020 documentary The Social Dilemma. He was met by pauses and gulps by his expert interviewees. “Yeah, I’m trying to give a single, succinct… I’m trying to touch on many different problems” replied one former Facebook employee.

Allow me to rephrase the question with context: What is so harmful about the big tech platforms and the business models behind them? This is the question that The Social Dilemma attempts to answer. The film is intended to shock, and certainly makes an impact, with expert interviews bolstered by a dramatisation that includes personified algorithms. You go away from the film with a sense that something is wrong and needs to change, and you have some idea what that is, but would perhaps struggle to explain it clearly.

If you’re one of the more than 100 million who have seen The Social Dilemma and are ready to learn more, you could do worse than start with the books we’ve curated below. Many of the authors of these books were featured in the film and are advisors or allies of the Center for Humane Technology. Others were not, but their works contribute to an overall understanding of the problems we are facing around distracting and addictive tech.

You’ll learn the meaning of myriad terms like the attention economy, behavioural modification, surveillance capitalism, and persuasive tech. Your understanding of “the problem” will be crystallised and you’ll hopefully be able to explain these harms to your friends. You’ll also understand some of the solutions being proposed to bring about more ethical and humane tech.

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Alternatively, you may find some of these books in your local public library! 📚
Reading List of 12 books
Sorting by:

Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas
by Natasha Dow Schüll

“Addiction by Design is a compelling inquiry into the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance, offering clues to some of the broader anxieties and predicaments of contemporary life. At stake in Schull's account of the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance is a blurring of the line between design and experience, profit and loss, control and compulsion.“
Published
11th May 2014
ISBN
9780691160887
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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
by Shoshana Zuboff

“In this masterwork of original thinking and research, Shoshana Zuboff provides startling insights into the phenomenon that she has named surveillance capitalism. The stakes could not be higher: a global architecture of behavior modification threatens human nature in the twenty-first century just as industrial capitalism disfigured the natural world in the twentieth.“
Published
5th September 2019
ISBN
9781541758001
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Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other
by Sherry Turkle

Third edition of a 2011 book explaining how our relationship with technology is making us spend less time with each other even if we are physically in the same room.
Published
7th November 2017
ISBN
9780465093656
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The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
by Tim Wu

“Feeling attention challenged? Even assaulted? American business depends on it. In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of messaging, advertising enticements, branding, sponsored social media, and other efforts to harvest our attention. Tim Wu argues that this condition is not simply the byproduct of recent technological innovations but the result of more than a century's growth and expansion in the industries that feed on human attention.“
Published
7th September 2017
ISBN
9781782394853
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The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
by Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff

Discusses the problems of the generation born after around 1995 (gen-Z). Particularly of interest, the story of how smart phones and social media use in teens is raising anxiety levels.
Published
20th August 2019
ISBN
9780141986302
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Future Minds: How the Digital Age Is Changing Our Minds, Why This Matters, and What We Can Do About It
by Richard Watson

Written just as smart phones were becoming ubiquitous, a futurologist explains the new challenges of the digital age in changing our minds, and suggests how we can minimise the downsides of this transition.
Published
7th October 2010
ISBN
978-1857884586
mindful.technology review
"Future Minds still manages to be relevant, despite changes in our relationship to technology over the years since its publication."

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked
by Adam Alter

A professor of psychology and marketing explains addictive technology and the business models that depend on keeping us hooked.
Published
7th March 2017
ISBN
9781594206641
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The New Possible: Visions of Our World beyond Crisis
by Justin Rosenstein, Tristan Harris, 26 others

A collection of essays presenting ideas for the post-pandemic world. The book is associated with One Project, a non-profit founded by Justin Rosenstein, who worked on creating the Like button at Facebook but is now a Humane Tech enthusiast as well as co-founder of Asana. Also includes an essay from Tristan Harris, President of Center for Humane Technology.
Published
26th January 2021
ISBN
9781725285835
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Mind Change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains
by Susan Greenfield

Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield compares the changes to our brains in the digital age to the climate change crisis, claiming that “Mind Change, just like climate change, is global, unprecedented, controversial and multifaceted”
Published
21st August 2014
ISBN
978-1846044311
mindful.technology review
"Mind Change is far from the most captivating read, so I would not recommend as an introduction to the topic, but for those wanting to dive deeper and perhaps start exploring the scientific literature, it’s worth a read."

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
by Nicholas Carr

This is the 10th anniversary edition of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist. It explains how, due to neuroplasticity, our use of the internet may be changing our brains, for example to reduce our attention spans.
Published
3rd March 2020
ISBN
9780393357820
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Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
by Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of VR, explains how social media platforms engage in "behavioral modification", why this is a concern, and suggests we disengage from these platforms at least until alternatives emerge that better respect our individuality.
Published
31st May 2018
ISBN
‎ 9781847925398
mindful.technology review
"At just under 150 pages, this is a short and snappy book, which might just convince you to quit social media. As the book’s conclusion says, you do not have to stay quit forever: you can consider it an experiment"

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
by Cathy O'Neil

How algorithms and big data are impacting our lives, are without the human factor, are often uncontestable and lead to discrimination.
Published
6th July 2017
ISBN
9780141985411
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Is there a humane tech book we’ve missed that you would recommend? Let use know in the comments! We plan to keep this list updated, and we’ll be curating other reading lists in future on related topics such as digital wellbeing habits.

Photo of Justin Emery
About the author Justin Emery

Founder and editor of mindful.technology. A software developer by profession, Justin's education and experience in technology may inform his writing, but he writes as an everyday user of technology, just like you.

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