The best tech books to read this Christmas
Struggling for some last-minute present inspiration this Christmas? Wondering what to do with some time off work? Perhaps you will be gifted a voucher and don’t know what to spend it on.
Fret no more, as Tyto is here to guide you through the best books for fans of technology, the future and the unrelenting march of progress. While reading about tech in a book feels a little old-fashioned, until it’s possible to ingest all the information of 300 pages in 30 seconds by plugging into The Matrix, there’s nothing like turning a page of a hardback. Or swiping through an eBook while on the tube. Or skipping back 30 seconds of an audiobook as you had to concentrate on a roundabout.
No matter which way you chose to ‘read’ books in 2019, there is a vast array of excellent work by investigative journalists, philosophic thought-provokers and self-confessed tech-heads which is growing on a daily basis.
Here then, are our recommendations to help you stay up to speed with the digital age.
That will never work – The birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea: Marc Randolph
The year is 1997. Blockbuster is a dominant force. The DVD has been revealed, but no one owns a DVD player and there are a paltry five films available on the burgeoning format.
Yet Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings have a visionary idea about using the internet to rent DVDs and send a CD in the post to see if it will break. I didn’t. What followed is a story of determination, diversification and confused investors. This explains how Netflix was not an overnight success – rather a twenty-year slog through thick and thin, the posting of DVDs and then eventually, watching films via the internet.
Written from Randolph’s perspective, the story of the world’s most popular subscription streaming service keeps you enthralled throughout a tale of two business minds eschewing convention. Going against the established industry and emerging on top, decades later, with a very different service.
Once you’ve finished reading this book, might I recommend watching Marriage Story on Netflix, if only for Adam Driver punching a wall.
Ludicrous – The unvarnished story of Tesla Motors: Edward Niedermeyer
Tesla has undoubtedly changed the automotive market forever. Without Elon Musk’s vision of the future, it’s possible to argue that recent electric vehicles such as the Jaguar I-PACE, Porsche Taycan and Mercedes EQC wouldn’t exist. It has changed the car world into a technology industry by making the electric car desirable.
But, did you know that Elon Musk was not the founder? That at one point both Daimler and Toyota had ownerships takes in the business? That customer down payments are allegedly being used to develop cars that budding owners thought were nearly complete?
The story of Tesla is a fascinating one, and one that is largely glossed over by the cultdom its eponymous figurehead has curated. Not only is this a story of a plucky upstart changing the world, but of uncompromising PR strategies – one newsworthy release per week – and massive challenges.
In Ludicrous, Edward Niedermeyer manages to take you along for the ride with a critical assessment that a lot of Tesla articles seem to overlook, but at the same time, is appreciative that the industry will never be the same again.
Lunch with the FT – A Second Helping: Lionel Barber
Right, yes, bear with me. This isn’t strictly speaking a book about technology. Lunch with the FT – A Second Helping is a collection of interviews with The Financial Times journalistic team. The personalities involved cover a wide range of varying topics, from veganism to European politics.
That means Bernie Ecclestone, Sir Richard Branson and Eric Cantona are all in this book. A very interesting read they are too. So why have I included it in this list?
To show just how far social media has come, and in particular, the power of influencers, one of the guests is YouTube and Instagram beauty sensation Zoe Sugg (a.k.a Zoella). Then there’s Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, who’s role – amongst many other things – is to lead key strategies and be the business’s main spokesperson. Of particular note is Vitalik Buterin talking about the genesis of cryptocurrency Ethereum and the future of digital currencies.
With tech impacting so many elements of our lives, from smartphones to supermarket self-checkout machines, and when potentially so many political and financial factors could affect progress, it pays to be up to speed with the world at large. This compendium of insights from the most authoritative thought leaders for a generation will help you do just that.
Mindf*ck – Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World: Christopher Wylie
If you want to understand the current online-user privacy debate, then you first need to go back and become immersed in the story of Cambridge Analytica. Think of Mindf*ck as your handy guide.
You may remember headlines surrounding this furore back in 2018, where questionably-sourced Facebook data was somehow used to target pro-Trump and pro-Brexit political messages online.
It showed the world that while social media is enjoyable, and continues to be a very powerful and effective tool for communications experts and advertisers alike, it was also completely unregulated for far too long and was wide open for someone to take advantage in a menacing fashion.
I happen to think that this particular case has a wide-reaching impact on social media, online advertising and the perception of how user data could be used.
This book, by the main whistleblower during the debacle, highlights not only how events went down, but brings to your attention the seismic impact this has had – and will continue to have – on the way we use, regulate and develop big tech.
Because Internet – Understanding the New Rules of Language: Gretchen McCulloch
An interesting one, as this isn’t a book about technology per se, but rather how technology has changed language. Meme culture, Twitter, Reddit. They’ve evolved the way we speak not just online, but through books, TV shows, films and conversations IRL.
Expressions such as ‘lol’, ‘ikr’ and ‘idk’ have proliferated everyday informal conversations. As a result, McCulloch argues that we are living through a revolutionary period in linguistic history. Not only has the internet formed the way we speak in this generation, but it has also enabled the clan-like rising of group-related terms thanks to fan-forums and websites related to specific interests.
Dialectology researchers can now look into trends on a bigger, and easier, scale, thanks to public tweets and geo-tagging. One interesting insight is Twitter creating more linguistic innovation than Facebook as you are more likely to follow people you don’t know in real life. Because Internet is intriguing, highlighting the significance of not just how we use tech, but how it has changed the way interact with people on a daily basis.