In case you haven't heard, there's a documentary on Netflix about how social-fabric-shreddingly dangerous social media has become. It's called The Social Dilemma, and it's as alarming as a 3am tweet from Donald Trump about a new coronavirus cure.

We already know the headlines, of course: our phones are giving us insomnia, deadening our self-esteem, ruining our capacity to interact IRL and feeding us ignorance etc. But The Social Dilemma digs deeper towards a far darker reality: we may think of social media as a product we consume, but the truth is, we are the product. And our lives are worth a lot of money to anyone who knows where to peddle them.

“It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product," says tech guru Jaron Lanier in one memorable scene. "That’s the only thing there is for them to make money from. Changing what you do, how you think, who you are.”

That's not to say there hasn't been criticism of the show, particularly of the inherent irony in Netflix releasing a documentary about social media addiction, as if a cigarette company tried to warn you about your alcohol problem.

But that's a story for another day. So, if you're one of the millions of Netflix viewers who's been bowled over by this show, and are twitching to know more, here are some books to take you deeper into the “attention economy”.

Privacy is Power: Why and How You Should Take Back Control of Your Data by Carissa Véliz (2020)

What, really, do big tech firms want with our data? What exactly are they doing with it? And how can we take back control of our privacy? These are some of the questions Carissa Véliz answers in this pitchfork-waving assault on the attention economy, and how the “data vultures” of the Information Age use and abuse our personal information to make themselves rich.

More terrifying is what they actually know about us, from where we live to how fast we drive, our sexual fantasies to political tendencies, how much we drink to when we wake up. And that barely scratches the surface.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel: we can take back control of our lives and choices. Véliz powerfully and clearly explains how.

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier (2018)

If you watched the Social Dilemma, you'll remember Jaron Lanier. He's pretty hard to miss, and very easy to listen to.

The Silicon Valley maverick is one of the most respected voices in tech, a visionary who was there when the internet was born, and has watched it grow into the beast it’s become. Now he’s on a mission to tame the monster he helped create.

The essence of his argument is this: social media makes us sadder, angrier, less empathetic, more tribal and, ironically, more isolated. Companies like Facebook and Google deploy constant surveillance and subconscious manipulation of their users. They monetise our online activity (which, in any other context, could be called labour), for which we get little, if anything, in return. His arguments are compelling and wide-ranging, witty and profound.

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