Seton Hall University law professor Bernstein skewers the tech industry for endangering minors, invading privacy, and engineering products that “manipulate our deepest human vulnerabilities” in her damning debut. Citing research on how certain features—such as Snapstreaks, Tinder swipes, and infinite scroll—lure users into spending more time online, Bernstein relates horror stories of kids who became addicted to their screens and is candid about her own struggle, as a mother of three, to limit screen time. “My son was not a heavy screen user. Still, many screens and different screen activities dominated his everyday life,” she writes. The author provides recaps of legal battles against the tobacco and processed foods industries, and outlines how similar strategies could be used against tech giants, possibly in class action lawsuits (like those filed against Facebook in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal). Bernstein isn’t short on solutions to curb overuse: she insists that “education policy about integration of technology into the classroom” be given more consideration, that tech companies implement digital warning labels, and that new products be developed with consumer well-being in mind (such as a phone for children that “incorporates some smartphone functions like Google Maps, but does not provide access to social networks and games”). This trenchant clarion call rings loud and clear. (Mar.)
‘Gaia Bernstein’s Unwired offers a compelling roadmap for tackling one of our most pressing problems: the irresistible pull of technology. Over the course of our lives, we and our children will spend between fifteen and twenty years glued to our screens. As Bernstein shows, though, there are regulatory remedies at hand to help us retain our time and our wellbeing.’ Adam Alter, Professor of Marketing and Psychology, NYU Stern School of Business, author of Irresistible and Drunk Tank Pink
‘In this important and powerful book, Gaia Bernstein shows us how to reclaim our power and our humanity from the Big Tech cartel that have intentionally addicted us to their devices and platforms.’ Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., Author of ‘Glow Kids’ and ‘Digital Madness", former Clinical Professor, Stony Brook Medicine
‘Unwired is a compelling, accessible, and vital intervention into the overuse of technology. Instead of offering overly simplistic self-help strategies that are doomed to fail, Professor Bernstein rightly targets the manipulative design of technologies and the need for us to work together to hold the tech industry accountable. This book vividly blends personal stories with the latest research and lessons from history to paint a clear picture of our struggle with screens and what it’s going to take to improve things. Everyone should read this book.’ Woodrow Hartzog, Professor of Law at Boston University and author of Privacy’s Blueprint: The Battle to Control the Design of New Technologies
‘Inviting and intelligent, Gaia Bernstein’s extraordinary book masterfully combines honest personal reflections about her experiences with the creep of digital tech together with a sobering academic account of our collective public struggles to deal with technologies designed to addict, manipulate, and even control our behavior. Throughout, Bernstein maintains a can-do attitude that inspires change.’ Brett Frischmann, The Charles Widger Endowed University Professor in Law, Business and Economics, Villanova University School of Law
‘Unwired is a powerful rejoinder to voices that would seek to minimize the threat technological manipulation poses to human freedom. But Gaia Bernstein goes beyond a mere accounting of the harms and proposes systemic changes that can help us take back control. Comprehensive in its scope and clear-eyed in its analysis, Unwired is an indispensable guide to the landscape of digital technology reform. Anyone who cares about the future of technology should read this book.’ James Williams, author of Stand Out of Our Light
'This trenchant clarion call rings loud and clear.' Publishers Weekly
‘Mixing expertise and passion, the author sets an agenda to rein in the tech behemoths that have run rampant for years.’ Kirkus Reviews
'Bernstein is shrewd about the political maneuvers and public relations options available to industries challenged for doing harm to the general welfare. At the same time, she shows that imposing some control or countermeasures … has been possible in the past, and might be in the future.' Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
'Unwired exists to be used: an agenda for social change through legal action. It is a knife, not a brush. But it’ll be of much more than academic value to those of us whose parenting years were overshadowed by feelings of guilt, frustration and anxiety, as we fought our hopeless battles, and lost our children to TikTok and Fortnite.' Simon Ings, New Statesman
'Bernstein … doubts that addicted users … can will themselves out of their habits. Instead, she argues, regulatory intervention of the supplying corporations will be necessary.' Harvard Magazine, Off the Shelf
A respected legal academic takes aim at the tech giants that are promoting isolation, division, and addiction.
Bernstein is a professor specializing in the laws around privacy and technology, but she notes that the motivation for this book was her experiences as a “mother of three children who grew up in the era of smartphones, screens, and social media.” Online technology, she writes, has metastasized from a public good into a problem threatening to unravel American society. She nominates 2007 as a turning point, when smartphones became ubiquitous and Facebook pushed aside its competitors. For a long time, the author believed that tech abuse was a personal problem (as well as a problem for parents), but as she dug into the research, she realized that tech companies were deliberately fostering addiction to boost their profits. She sees parallels between social media companies and cigarette manufacturers. Both knew that their products were addictive and harmful, but they suppressed evidence of that. Equally, some of the actions taken to combat big tobacco, from class-action suits to regulations requiring warning labels, could be applied to big tech. This has already begun, notes the author, and momentum is building. The tech companies, for their part, argue that the level of use of social media is an individual choice and to restrict it runs against notions of freedom and liberty. Bernstein replies that the tobacco firms used to make the same argument, but eventually the dangers posed by their products became too obvious to ignore. She makes clear that her goal is not to ban social media but to see it used in a balanced, honest, and responsible way, and she presents several workable policy options. But it will be arduous. “The tech industry is unlikely to submit to change without a fight,” writes Bernstein. “But knowing all we know now, neither should we.”
Mixing expertise and passion, the author sets an agenda to rein in the tech behemoths that have run rampant for years.