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Are you ready for the long weekend? As you pack your beach bags, The Washington Post's growing team of tech reporters and editors has some recommended reading.
Whether you're looking for a memoir about one daughter's relationship with one of the most infamous figures in Silicon Valley, a scholarly deep dive into Big Tech's data collection or a companion to your recent HBO viewing, we've got you covered.
Let us know what you think about our suggestions and recommend some of your recent favorites by sending me a note. You can also follow the team and The Post's tech coverage at @PostTech. I'll include the best responses in The Technology 202 next week.
Happy reading! We'll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.
Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster
"The Library Book” by Susan Orlean
Recommended by Laura Stevens, deputy technology editor: "While the book’s title is accurately rather low-tech in nature, Orlean takes readers on a fascinating nonfiction journey centered around the mysterious fire that burned down the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. She pulls in threads regarding the history of that library, its collection and its building, along with fascinating tales of the first female librarian and other characters who ended up in charge there. It’s a must read for anyone who grew up loving sifting through books at their local library — even if you read this one as an e-book (I am). It also wraps in how the current-day library has become something of a tech mecca for the homeless and other citizens without access to the Internet or computers."
"The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” by David Wallace Wells
From Geoffrey A. Fowler, technology columnist: "[This book] does a remarkable job at humanizing the climate crisis that few of us can really wrap our heads around. The book’s main technique is scaring the pants off you — describing a planet you don’t recognize that’s coming in your lifetime. The first line gives you the gist: 'It is worse, much worse, than you think.' The book has potential to be this generation’s 'Silent Spring.'"
"Small Fry” by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
From Christina Passariello, technology editor: "It's partly an exploration of a very unusual father-daughter relationship, and shows us the private and flawed side of tech's demigod. It's also a great window into what Silicon Valley was like 30 years ago, at a time when it wasn't so overrun with wealth like it is now. It's hard to imagine a single mother artist being able to afford living in Palo Alto these days."
"Circe” by Madeline Miller
From Drew Harwell, national technology reporter covering artificial intelligence: "My favorite recent read is definitely 'Circe,' which pulls the island witch goddess from the mythical fringes and recasts her into this fascinating, feminist heroine's tale. It's Greek fantasy, so something crazy happens every page, but it's the quieter parts about love and loss that end up being the most memorable."
“Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster” by Adam Higginbotham is another one of Drew's recommendations: "Right now, thanks to HBO, I'm totally gripped by 'Midnight in Chernobyl,' which gives this colorful and haunting human dimension to the infamous nuclear disaster, and explores all the paranoia, secrecy and insanity of the Cold War. It's scarily good."
"The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” by Shoshana Zuboff
From Jonathan Baran, video reporter: "I am a few chapters into Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It’s a pretty thorough and scholarly evisceration of technology companies' data-gathering efforts. She’s obviously picking a bone but it’s a sharp pointy one that’s all too relevant these days."
Jonathan also says he's diving into Chinese science fiction and recently picked up “The Three Body Problem” by Liu Cixin and “The Waste Tide” by Chen Qifan. He says: "Waste Tide is more topical of the two: It’s a dystopian future set on an island of electronic waste off the coast of China."
This one is on my own reading list. This book tells the gripping tale of a San Francisco I've never known — one that had not yet been transformed by technology companies. The book focuses on the turbulent years between 1967 and 1982, as the city was revolutionized by the Summer of Love and then grappled with the fallout. Whether you live in San Francisco or just visit for work, this book will help you delve into the city's wild history and understand its resilience. And as a bonus, you can check out the playlist that accompanies the book of the best songs recorded by San Francisco bands between 1965 and 1985.
For more non-fiction, I would also recommend "Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI." As we think about how law enforcement is grappling with new technologies like facial recognition, it was instructive to look back at how the FBI dealt with the rise of early sleuthing techniques like fingerprints. If you're looking for lighter fiction, I'd also suggest "Family Trust," which is set in the Bay Area and includes biting satire of the venture capital industry.
"Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou
From Jay Greene, Seattle technology reporter: "One of the best business books in a long time, written by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter John Carreyrou on the downfall of Theranos, something that Carreyrou’s reporting hastened. The rapid rise and even faster fall of the blood-testing company makes for a great tale, and includes a raft of fascinating and famous characters including former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and, most interesting of all, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. It’s such a riveting read that a Hollywood studio is working on a screenplay that would star Jennifer Lawrence as Holmes."
Jay also recommends “Calypso” by David Sedaris: "I picked up Sedaris’s most recent book to read on a recent flight and promptly embarrassed myself by trying to muffle snorts of laughter so as not to disturb fellow passengers. Sedaris always writes about his family. But in Calypso, his return to the topic is a bit more touching, if not dark, than in previous works. And yet, it’s still laugh-out-loud funny."
“The Reckoning” by David Halberstam
From Faiz Siddiqui, technology reporter covering automation and the future of transportation: "Halberstam’s book contrasts two great auto industry giants — Ford and Nissan — and the differing approaches they took to car manufacturing as the 70s oil crisis bore down on the global economy. Innovation-starved Ford was caught flat-footed with a fleet of big, gas guzzling heaps of sheet metal just as Americans were turning toward fuel-efficient compact cars. And Nissan, then known as Datsun, capitalized on that desire with smaller, gas-saving front-wheel-drive cars that were lighter and fun to drive, eliminating the hefty drive shaft that traditionally sent power to the back wheels. The finance gurus at Ford — cost-cutting experts who deliberately shortened the life spans of their products — were blindsided by their falling profits, having arrogantly dismissing the Japanese automakers in the decades before. The book concludes with the rise of South Korea’s auto industry. Today, you’ll recognize, Ford is eliminating sedans, preferring to focus on bigger SUVs that Americans have shown a preference for. The Big Three automakers are focused on their profits but innovation is coming out of unexpected places: South Korea, the Silicon Valley, China. Is history doomed to repeat itself?"
Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster
"Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight
From Craig Timberg, national reporter covering technology: "It won the Pulitzer Prize, but more importantly it captured how a single man, imperfect but fueled by a passionate quest for justice for African Americans, changed the way 19th Century Americans thought about race and power. Douglass's life was sweeping and astonishing — starting on a Maryland plantation and bringing him to the White House and beyond — and so is this book."
BITS: Videos that have been manipulated to make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear drunk were ricocheting across social media — highlighting the rampant proliferation of political disinformation, my colleague Drew Harwell writes.
Pelosi's onstage speech this week at a Center for American Progress event was subtly edited to make her voice sound garbled and warped, as if she were drunkenly slurring her words. The video then spread quickly across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
One version — posted by the conservative Facebook page Politics WatchDog — garnered more than 1.4 million views, was shared more than 32,000 times and attracted 16,000 comments, where people called her “drunk” and “a babbling mess.”
According to analyses of the video by Washington Post journalists and outside researchers, the video editors slowed it to about 75 percent of its initial speed. It also appears to have been altered to change her pitch, possibly to correct for how that slowdown would have deepened her tone.
“The altered video’s spread highlights the subtle way that viral misinformation could shape public understanding in the run-up to the 2020 election,” Drew writes. “Spreaders of misinformation don’t need sophisticated technology to go viral: Even simple, crude manipulations can be used to undermine an opponent or score political points.”
NIBBLES: Facebook removed more than 3 billion accounts during a six-month period between October and March — highlighting the social network's ongoing challenge to clean up its platform, my colleague Tony Romm writes.
The new figure came yesterday as the company unveiled its latest transparency report, which also described the prevalence of hate speech, graphic photos and other abusive content on the network. The company said the billions of accounts it removed were “never considered active” so they didn't count toward the company's tally of monthly active users. The company reported it had 2.3 billion monthly active users in the first quarter of this year and estimated about 5 percent of those are fake accounts.
As the company announced the takedowns, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg doubled down on his defense of the company at a time when people are calling for it to be broken up. In a widely circulated op-ed this month, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes cited the company's failures in dealing with viral disinformation and other ills as he called on regulators to take antitrust action against the company.
Zuckerberg pointed to Facebook’s increased investments in safety and security. “We’re able to do things that are not possible for other companies to do,” he said during a call with reporters to discuss the transparency report. “When you look at it, we really need to decide what issues we think are the most important to address. In some ways, some of the remedies cut against each other.”
But some critics don't buy that line of defense, as I've previously written in The Technology 202.
BYTES: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the policy world has failed when it comes to regulating Facebook.
"Facebook and other companies are having to make--I mean, they are making decisions as a company that amount to public policy decisions, and the reason they are is that the policy world has failed," he said. "We've had the spectacle of legislators making it abundantly clear that they don't even understand what they're regulating. And we can't expect anything different as long as we don't create the boundaries in the policy space for how these tech companies are supposed to behave."
He pushed back on the suggestion that the company should be regulated as a utility, as Sen. Kamala Harris, one of his rivals, has proposed.
“Well, the main thing you do with a regulated utility is control the prices. And you definitely pay a price for using Facebook, but the price is in terms of your attention, your data, and your privacy, not in terms of paying to use the service. And so we do have to regulate it, but in a smart way. Like what does it mean to regulate how much of your attention or how much of your data? A company — I like the metaphor of a utility, but I think the question is a lot deeper than just do we slap the same kinds of controls that we would for — and I run a regulated utility, because we do wastewater and water. I think it's similar in some ways, but it's different in some ways.”
He called for the Federal Trade Commission to be empowered, suggesting that it then could reverse consolidation — stopping short of calling, as Elizabeth Warren has, for the agency to reverse Facebook's acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram.
“The fundamental issue is, first of all, monopolistic behavior, which means the FTC needs to be empowered to block or even perhaps reverse consolidation; and separate but related, what we do with data security and privacy, whether you're a giant company like Facebook or a small one, I still want you to be protecting my data,” he said.
-- President Trump once again took a jab at Twitter last night, criticizing the company for shutting down conservative voices. The company has repeatedly denied that it is biased against conservatives.
When is Twitter going to allow the very popular Conservative Voices that it has so viciously shut down, back into the OPEN? IT IS TIME!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2019
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