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21May

Books to bring us together: Jennifer Egan, Howard Jacobson, Monica Ali and more share their picks

Can books unite us in divided times? Writers appearing at this year’s Hay Festival recommend the best reading to reconnect us

Lanier’s provocatively titled book may in itself appear divisive, but the tools for unity are abundant within this brief and lucid volume. Chief among them is Lanier’s reminder that strife and division –– conflict, in other words –– are encouraged, incited, stoked and rewarded by the online platforms that many of us use to communicate. Lanier is a longtime tech insider (he coined the phrase “virtual reality” in the 1980s) who still works for Microsoft, but he pulls no punches when it comes to indicting his industry. Insisting that we call “engagement” by its true name, “behaviour modification”, Lanier argues that we are being nudged into discord by the seemingly neutral conduits of our online communities – all to the profit of data-gathering systems in which we, the users, are actually the products. There is a silver lining to this frightening vision: we are not as far apart as we may think. Walking away is possible, and awareness itself is a useful tool. Lanier’s book provides that.

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