The Best Tech Books of 2020 Are All About Giving Power to the User
These 21 books about technology and its impact on society are crucial to understanding our fractious future
There was a quiet but serious shift in mainstream thought about technology underway this year, even before everything went to hell. Most years, the release schedule for tech books is brimming with startup hagiographies, founder profiles, tech guru memoirs, and business and management tomes, with a few “critical” titles thrown in — your exposés and polemics and kids-are-using-their-phones-too-much tirades.
This year, which I observed from my high and mighty perch as editor of OneZero’s books department, the ratio seemed to be firmly reversed — the blow-by-blow accounts of tech world goings-on, like Steven Levy’s Facebook: The Inside Story, were considerably outnumbered by works voicing criticism, antagonism, and counternarratives.
Authors have fully metabolized the techlash, in other words. For the last half-decade, the abuses of Silicon Valley giants and the social effects of their products became unignorable to the commentariat, and the catalyzing power of the Bad Election in 2016 ushered in a new era of criticality for an industry that had held onto its halo for most of the new century. It’s obviously not the first year in which plenty of critical tech books were published, but it was one of the first where, en masse, authors who had either thoroughly absorbed that criticism or experienced what inspired it themselves were working in the dominant mode of the genre. (It should be noted, given the tech world’s notoriously masculine makeup, how many of these authors are women.)
2020 marked a turning point in the fight for the user of a platform, not the owner.
Take the nigh-undisputed blockbuster tech book of the year, which was not a rollicking founder bio or a behind-the-scenes tell-all of startup X but a quietly cutting and uniquely lucid memoir about the surrealities and iniquities in the tech industry. It was Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley that made the New York Times top 10 books of the year list and landed on countless others. It was subversive but also nuanced and considered…