The Psychology of Silicon Valley is Now Available!

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I am so pleased to be able to announce that my first book, The Psychology of Silicon Valley: Ethical Threats and Emotional Unintelligence in the Tech Industry, hits stores (and the internet) this week!

Since the book has come out, I can’t stop keep thinking back to junior high, when I forcibly dismissed the possibility of being a writer. My favorite teacher suggested I might think about grad school, specifically a PhD in English (she was an English teacher, so perhaps a little biased). I told her I could never do a doctorate; I’d heard you had to write something that was essentially book-length to graduate and for 12-year-old me, that was a hard no.

When I ended up in grad school a decade later, even a 30,000-word thesis felt daunting. The next one seemed a little easier though, and by the time I wrote my doctoral dissertation, length no longer intimidated me. (I know what you’re thinking; I went there too.)

Ultimately, I found I just loved the process of writing – of combining thoughts and ideas from different places, indulging my curiosity, and, mostly, trying to figure out a way to make complex problems more understandable. It made me feel alive, intellectually vulnerable, and more awake to the social problems I found interesting.

I’m so glad my fear of doing something that seemed so hard didn’t win, and that our understanding of ourselves and our abilities evolves as we do. The Psychology of Silicon Valley is the first of what I hope will be many books to come, each of which I hope helps shed a little light on different parts of who we are and where we’re going.

Back to the book! Since it was released just a few days ago I’ve gotten the nicest messages and emails about it, along with some really great questions. In case those questions are your questions too, below is a bit more info about what’s in it, how it came to be, and where to get a copy (for free or in paperback form).

What’s it about?

The Psychology of Silicon Valley is a story about what’s going on in the tech industry and a theory about why that might be.

The book argues that the psychology of the tech industry – in other words, the beliefs, motivations, and mindsets that dominate the industry – has a profound influence on the impacts and social harms of technology.

The first section looks at some of the psychological and cultural commonalities endemic in the industry – from exceptionalism and solutionism, to a lack of diversity, to the motivations that drive Big Tech. The second section looks at the impacts technology has had on society – misinformation, a decline in social civility, employment and economic impacts, mental health effects – and explains how the psychology of the industry may have contributed to or enabled these. The third and final section explores what we might focus on to improve technology as we move forward.

Why did you write this book?

I wanted to read a book about the ethics, emotional intelligence, and psychology of the tech industry, but couldn’t find what I was after. I couldn’t seem to shake the idea that the psychology of the people driving the technology we use was really important.

I also wanted to contextualize what was happening within the industry in a broader way. There are so many great books on different elements of Silicon Valley and deep dives into individual tech companies – Bad Blood about Theranos, Super Pumped about Uber, Brotopia about the homogeny of tech – I wanted to create something that tied the themes of these together in a new way.

How long did it take to research and write the book?

Depends when you start counting! I started researching the impacts of technology in 2012, founded the Centre for Technology Awareness in 2013, and started conducting interviews for the book in 2016. So seven years of research in total, three of which were devoted exclusively to the book.

I sat down to write the book in October 2018 and finished in May 2019, though I took a month off to travel back to the U.K. for conferences, and another month to mend a shattered wrist. (Note: Do not do box jumps after consuming a giant IPA.)

Why does this topic matter?

While there is no one silver bullet that explains everything that’s going on in tech, I think it’s important to understand the psychology of the people we entrust to create something as powerful as our technology. I also think it’s vital to give people the information they need to understand what’s going on, given how far-reaching and confusing the impacts of tech can be.

While I don’t think ethics, values, and emotional intelligence are the only things necessary to mitigate the less-than-ideal effects of Big Tech, I think a conversation about these could go a long way towards re-situating technology to serve us in a more prosocial way.

What is open access and why is the book OA?

Open access means the book is available to all, free of charge.

I made the book open access for a few reasons. When I was a student, I was really grateful to come across open research that wasn’t behind a paywall I couldn’t afford. So my first priority was to students and researchers. Another reason was to contribute to evidence-based, accurate information online. While the internet was originally invented to share research, the modern web can often be a dumpster fire of bad information. I wanted to do my part to offset that in some way.

Mostly though, it just felt like the right thing to do. I would encourage anyone who is able to make their work open access!

Okay, I’m into it. Where can I get a copy?

If you’d like a paperback, you can grab one at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any other bookstore you fancy (some smaller, local stores may not stock it but can order one for you).

If you’re down with an e-book, you can download one directly from my lovely publisher here.

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