In Review: Books for Change-Makers
Every month we’ll be reviewing books we think are important reading for women entrepreneurs + change-makers. The emphasis is on writing that expands our thinking, so it’ll be light on business specifics and focused more on ideas and the bigger picture.
Here’s this month’s selection:
Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
Technically Wrong is an eye-opener! It’s an intelligent and accessible analysis of the values and assumptions behind tech design.
Technology is everywhere, and yet, we don’t usually think too much about how it affects us. In our busy lives, where we’re just trying to get stuff done, we don’t always notice the role that tech plays in upholding cultural stereotypes. Or worse, how it can, and often does, enable racism, sexism, inequality and injustice.
Apps, algorithms and social media platforms are all informed by their designer’s biases, and this is concerning when we realise how lacking in diversity the tech industry is.
As recently as 2014, just eighteen percent of American computer science graduates were women. This translates to an industry that is hugely male-dominated, and these males tend to be privileged too. They come from similar backgrounds with similar life experiences, and their ideas about the world get baked into the products they design. By default, when we use those products, the status quo is reinforced.
Wachter-Boettcher provides plenty of examples of how this privileged mindset is manifested in the design of everything from devices to data-fields, and the difficulties they cause for people, especially women, who don’t fit their narrow worldview.
On the topic of social media, she is particularly insightful. The lack of diversity and the limited worldview of male founders and engineers has caused weaknesses in the design of many of these platforms, and these weaknesses have been exploited as weapons against the vulernable. Think, for example, of the constant trolling and threatening of women online.
Wachter-Boettcher rejects the idea that tech companies should “move fast and break things” a la Mark Zuckerberg. These, she reminds us, are issues that affect real people and there are real consequences to breaking things. Instead, she wants tech designers to slow down and fix things, and I think there’s a lesson in that for all entrepreneurs, whatever industry they’re in.
No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein
In No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein charts the course of how we got to where we are now, which is - assuming you’re the kind of person who cares about justice, equality and looming climate change - in deep trouble.
I’m a fan of Klein’s work, but still, I approached this latest offering with trepidation. Things really do seem pretty gloomy these days, and I was nervous that reading No Is Not Enough would make me feel more helpless, more overwhelmed and more incapable of doing anything to change things for the better.
I needn’t have worried. In fact, it had the complete opposite effect. Sure, Klein spends considerable time dissecting both the causes and impacts of the rampant neoliberalism that has spread across the globe in recent decades. She posits Donald Trump as a predictable outcome of this. We are reminded of his administration’s retreat from science and are taken on a nightmarish tour of the strategic appointments of neoliberals to departments and organisations they ostensibly lead, but in reality are attempting to undermine.
Particularly enlightening is how powerful elites have exploited the sense of shock that occurs after disasters, economic catastrophes and terrorist incidents. Reeling and desperate populations are vulnerable to government direction, to being told what’s needed to protect their safety and well-being. Trump and his ilk know this, and they grab those opportunities to push through agendas at the expense of people, communities and the environment. Might they be even more manipulative and actually engineer the shocks they need in order to achieve their profit-driven objectives? That’s an interesting and, for me anyway, depressing thought.
Klein also reveals how the politics of deliberate separation work to keep the powerful in charge. She shows how they manipulate and promote racial division, gender division, class division and the false division between people and nature, to shore up their power. So yes, it is chilling reading indeed.
It is also a rallying call. Now is the time, Klein says, to go beyond merely rejecting this toxic leadership.
Frightening as the global political climate is right now, it is not hopeless. Importantly, it can be changed. We can change it, and No Is Not Enough finishes with a blueprint - The Leap Manifesto - for how we can do just that.
Although it deals with complex issues, No Is Not Enough is a thoroughly accessible read and one I highly recommend if you’re trying to come to grips on what’s happening in American and global politics right now.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert is a much-loved and widely read author. Her 2006 memoir, Eat Pray Love, has sold more than 12 million copies around the world and was made into a wildly successful feature film to boot. So, when she wrote a book on creativity, I wanted to read it!
In Big Magic, Gilbert shares her creative process, her thoughts about the source of inspiration - truly fascinating - and the habits we need to build in order to live a fulfullingly creative life.
As always, Gilbert is gentle, wise and open; generously sharing experiences from her life. What I liked most is that she turns the idea of the suffering artist/writer on its head and proposes another, easier way to honour our creativity and bring our ideas into the world.
I loved this book when I first read it in 2015, and have returned to it many times since. It’s my go-to when I need writerly inspiration, encouragement or just a dose of common-sense advice.
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