Reading Time: 2 minutes

My book review is on Kara Swisher’s new book, Burn Book: A Tech Love Story, which I would describe as a memoire of her time reporting on technology from the beginnings of the internet. In it, she details her interactions with many of the tech greats over the last 30+ years. This book has little to do with project management but I’m currently reading other kinds of books right now, and in this review, I’ll share some tidbits that interested me and my reflections.

“Facebook, as well as Twitter and Google’s YouTube and the rest, have become the digital arms dealers of the modern age,” I wrote in one of my first columns after I joined the New York Times as a columnist in 2018. “They have mutated human communication, so that connecting people has too often become about pitting them against one another and turbocharged that discord to an unprecedented and damaging volume. They have weaponized the First Amendment. They have weaponized civic discourse. And they have weaponized, most of all, politics.” (pp. 7-8)

The name Yahoo was an acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle” though according to Jerry Yang and David Filo, founders of Yahoo, it was also a “race of brutish creatures who were rude, unsophisticated and uncouth” in Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. [https://www.yahoo.com/tech/s/yahoo-20th-anniversary-words-165229331.html]. In the Yahoo days, content moderation was also a problem and she reports that the only content that was barred was activity that encouraged illegal actions. Controversial topics were allowed, as were sites that promoted the KKK. (p. 55)

Sillywood was apparently a nickname for the merging of Hollywood and Silicon Valley. George Lucas, of Star Wars fame, was one of the most influential people and was highly accomplished as both a technologist and an artist. “Painting, music, any kind of art form is essentially technological. The most important part is to be able to communicate emotions. That is the key to what we do,” Lucas said. His work paved the way for YouTube. And technologists everywhere now struggle over how to tell their stories. (p. 131)

Swisher spends much of the book calling out the white men who have, in many ways, created a culture that avoids responsibility, is largely sexist and racist, driven by greed, and unaccountable for the damage it has done to society at large. There are exceptions, she notes (Dave Goldberg) and while some company executives got better over time (Gates, Jobs), others worsened (Musk, Zuckerberg).

Yet, Swisher is hopeful about the future and believes that we are approaching another Cambrian explosion, an inflection point that is so important because generative AI is going to change the world in ways we cannot fathom. According to her, we must act now – technology is like water – it flows everywhere. Just like a leaking roof in a rainstorm, technology without regulation will definitely impact, and may ruin our lives.

As I continue to think about the future and the possibility for a new project/work management solution, I am reminded of the work of French philosopher, Paul Virilio, as I ask myself what shipwreck I could create if I try again to build another ship.