The books I read in November 2023

Jan 5, 2024

100DaysToOffload Bookclub

Reading time: 4 minutes

I read only two books in November, and I’m a bit late with this post, nevertheless I want to quickly summarize my thoughts about them here.

Cory Docotorow: The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation

Cory Doctorow’s latest book (at least I believe it is his latest, he releases half a dozen books a year it seems) is right up my alley, which is why I bought it immediately when it came out (and straight from his website as an ebook without any encryption or DRM, the way it should be!).

He laments the current state of the internet, which is largely owned and run by a handful of soulless megacorporations whose singular goal is to make as much money for themselves as possible without giving a *** about things like people’s privacy, ethics, morals etc.

They do this largely by locking people into their ecosystem and once they’re in, making it pretty much impossible to leave because the cost of switching is simply too high since for example leaving Facebook would mean losing a way to get in touch with all your contacts there. So you’re stuck on the platform, Facebook is holding you hostage but more importantly, the users are holding themselves hostage, because you can’t leave until everybody else leaves, so you would have to collectively agree on where to go instead, and good luck with that.

The solution he proposes, and the EU is actually starting to implement this this year, is interoperability: forcing the platforms to open their services to third party apps, so you can still talk to your contacts on Facebook messenger without having a Facebook account because the messenger you’re using is interoperable with Facebook’s messenger.

I am a bit sceptical that this will really end the monopolies of the big corporations, but because the EU has legislation for precisely this under way, I guess we will see what happens and if it works soon enough.

Regarding the book, it was well written and had a lot of great examples in it, but if you want a tl;dr of the whole topic you could just watch one of his recent conference talks instead and get a good summary of his ideas this way.

Jonathan Haidt: The Happiness Hypothesis

The first book by Jonathan Haidt, an American Social Psychologist, that I read was “The Righteous Mind: Why good People are divided by Politics and Religion”, and it was truly excellent. Still one of the best books I’ve ever read, it explains the difference in thinking between progressive and liberal people very well.

This book goes in a different direction; in it he explores the question “what makes people truly happy” from different angles, both from a historic perspective (what does ancient wisdom and religion tell us) and from a modern scientific one (what do studies on happiness find).

My brain was a bit foggy when I read it, so I will definitely have to reread it at some point, but rather unsurprisingly, the things that consistently make people the most happy aren’t “worldly” pleasures like money, cars, fame etc., but rather forming strong relationships with other people (both romantic relationships and family/friendships) and feeling a sense of purpose by doing something for others like volunteering in your community, teaching, helping people etc.

In the end, the wisdom in the book isn’t groundbreaking, but it is very well written and gives a very concise and positive answer to the question “what will make me truly happy”. Highly recommended.

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