Five books about how the Internet is changing us

If I were to pinpoint a specific theme for this blog, and generally what fascinates me, it is how the Internet is changing us, and perhaps making us psychologically weaker. We are only really starting to understand the effect the Internet is having on us, and by now it is perhaps too late. I recently wrote a blog with five of my favourite psychology books, today I wanted to share five books that I think really helps us understand the effect the Internet has on us. They are essentially tech books, but in a lot of ways they are just as much about human nature as the ones in my previous list.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

No book has ever changed my online behaviour more than So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, it is horrifying and would otherwise be a very difficult read were it not for the fact that Ronson is both very empathetic and very funny. The book is all about how Twitter encourages mob mentality and documents a number of cases where normal people have had their lives ruined for relatively minor transgressions on social media.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ll know all about how every day there is a new thing everybody has become outraged about on social media. It is a constant occurrence, one which thankfully I think the world is starting to realise is unhealthy for society. The ‘pile ons’ are more frequent but less devastating these days (in part because everyone moves onto the next one sooner).

Nethertheless, I would be lying if I didn’t say that this book made me incredibly gunshy about posting anything remotely controversial online, as well as making me often stop myself before joining a Twitter ‘pile on’. Like all Ronson’s work it is utterly brilliant and a must read.

The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu

If it’s free, you are the product. Few of us question why so many of these great services we use online are completely free – email, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, most news blogs, and so on. It’s because more often than not we are not the customers, advertisers are, and our attention is being sold to them.

I just finished The Attention Merchants and it is a very thorough history of the media and how it has constantly fought for your attention. It covers everything from the printing press right up to the present day era of clickbait.

It’s worth a read for the history lesson alone, but where it really shines is exploring the many different business models the media use, and how our attention is almost always the commodity.

Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday

If you enjoyed the previous two books, you will love Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Ryan Holiday is a marketer who specialises in using the online media’s business models against them, in particularly by creating outrage they are incentivised to cover.

I’ve written about this before that online media have a vested interested in outrageous stories because they are paid per pageview, they are not incentivised to produce quality work. Holiday’s book is a workbook for hijacking this outrage.

In an era where everyone is talking about fake news, this book will not give you any renewed confidence in the news media. It is, however, essential reading if you want to understand the many vulnerabilities the digital news media has.

Man (Dis)connected by Philip Zimbaro and Nikita Coulombe

This is one of the first great studies I have read on how the Internet is changing the way we evolve. It is mostly about the impact on young boys, but there is plenty of universal stuff in there too.

In particular Man (Dis)connected delves deep into Internet addictions, especially video games and pornography which affect young men greatly. I’ve read a lot about what pornography addiction is doing to boys and it is quite heartbreaking, and it makes me glad grew up before the Internet exploded.

The Internet has created a space where young men can avoid being an adult. They can get their mental stimulation from video games, their social stimulation from social media and their sexual needs taken care of by pornography, all of which is a mouseclick away. This is largely what is fostering a culture of men opting out of society and relationships with women, known as ‘Men Going Their Own Way’, which is not healthy for men or women.

I’d like to see the same book written with girls as the subject too, but until I find such a book this is more than enough to shock you to your core, especially if you are a parent.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

This is the third time plugging this book on my blog and for good reason. Cal Newport is a highly productive author and professor, as well as a real guru of digital minimalism. Deep Work: Rules for Focus in a Distracted World is all about getting out of the habit of what he calls shallow work (emails, Skype etc) and onto the high yield activities that are only done justice by deep, long, uninterrupted concentration.

I’m a very productive person in large part because I have been able to prioritise my most important work and eliminate distractions, at least for part of each day. This book is really a bible for the digital minimalist who wants to do the same, and among the many ways it has helped me it certainly improved my reading speed of all things (this is why I can read so many books to put the best ones in a list).

I include this book in my top 5 because it is essentially a book about the benefit of getting off the Internet, something that seems impossible to do these days, but if you read the other books in this list is no doubt a good thing from time to time.

If you are interested in the psychology of why we are so easily offended these days, I’m writing a book about it. You can get a free copy of an early draft chapter by joining the mailing list below:

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