Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Always On: Hope and Fear in the Social Smartphone Era (Rory Cellan-Jones)

The iPhone was introduced to consumers in 2007, heralding the introduction of the smartphone era as we now know it. The iPhone, and other technological advances over the past 25 years, have been both a blessing and a curse for a multitude of reasons. In Always On: Hope and Fear in the Social Smartphone Era, author Rory Cellan-Jones journeys through the evolution of technology within the past couple of decades and how it has profoundly transformed our lives, both in positive and negative ways.

This book touches on a multitude of topics like electric cars, smartphones, computers, and internet apps, showing how each of these has impacted our lives. In the case of apps, Cellan-Jones shows how they have connected us to long lost friends or to celebrities, how they entertained us, and also how they have divided us or served as conduits for misinformation. The early hopes and aspirations of the mobile and social revolution have given way to a host of trolls, hypemongers, bullies, and internet mobs ravaging parts of the landscape. Cellan-Jones spends some time, but probably not enough of it, tackling the social media landscape from this perspective. 

Additionally, the author focuses quite a bit on conspiracy theories - such as the one regarding 5G aiding the development of COVID-19. Seeing some of the conspiracy theory talk play out within the vaccination debate that’s going on now at Facebook is also another log on that fire. Also included in the book are details of the flops of the past 15 years and stories of individuals trying to make a fast buck off the technology revolution, only to fail miserably in the process.

Cellan-Jones offers little advice on how to deal with the flood of misinformation other than a passing reference to Big Tech regulation. It would have been refreshing to offer human pointers on how to filter out crap from quality. That aside, the book is a good showcase into how much technology has evolved over such a short time and that it has been a mixed blessing, mostly good but also with some huge issues that will need to be addressed in the years ahead.