Technically Wrong
Buying groceries, tracking our health, finding a date: whatever we want to do, odds are that we can now do it online. But few of us ask why all these digital products are designed the way they are. It’s time we change that. Many of the services we rely on are full of oversights, biases, and downright ethical nightmares: Chatbots that harass women. Signup forms that fail anyone who’s not straight. Social media sites that send peppy messages about dead relatives. Algorithms that put more black people behind bars.Sara Wachter-Boettcher takes an unflinching look at the values, processes, and assumptions that lead to these and other problems. Technically Wrong demystifies the tech industry, leaving those of us on the other side of the screen better prepared to make informed choices about the services we use—and demand more from the companies behind them.

Technically Wrong Details

TitleTechnically Wrong
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 10th, 2017
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
ISBN-139780393634631
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Feminism, Science, Computer Science, Technology

Technically Wrong Review

  • Mira
    January 1, 1970
    I'm so grateful to have received a free ARC of Technically Wrong! The 3-star rating was hard to decide and isn't reflective of my full range of feelings. That's why the review that follows will be massively long. First off, the minor typos and technical errors, likely due to it being a prerelease copy, created some confusion. The description reads:Chatbots that harass women.If this refers to computer-generated bots, I either completely missed it or it's nowhere in the book. A shame, since it sou I'm so grateful to have received a free ARC of Technically Wrong! The 3-star rating was hard to decide and isn't reflective of my full range of feelings. That's why the review that follows will be massively long. First off, the minor typos and technical errors, likely due to it being a prerelease copy, created some confusion. The description reads:Chatbots that harass women.If this refers to computer-generated bots, I either completely missed it or it's nowhere in the book. A shame, since it sounds like it would have been interesting to read about. And the repetitive structure, such as "x, something we'll take a closer look/look more closely at in chapter y", quickly became a cliche. Moving on: I like how it combined anecdotal and statistical evidence so that you're not reading a collection of individual stories that could be dismissed as, like those in the tech industry put it, "edge cases," nor a barrage of impersonal numbers that don't provide insight into the inner workings above. Instead of data dumping and concluding that women and black people are underrepresented in STEM (really, now?) the author fully analyzes why and how these problems arise, leaving readers fully informed and motivated to take action rather than confused and discouraged after reading yet another article on sexism and racism in the tech industry that oh-so-artfully attributes to, ya know, uh, sexism and racism. (I'm looking at you, Huffington Post.) She does go full data dump a few times, but she almost always uses statistics to support her analysis and add true value than stand for themselves. It was excellent to read about the success stories such as Slack in the last chapters. I'd have liked for the author to write more and how it built itself up, and more about the other diversity benefits-reaping companies she references. Were they startups that focused on inclusivity from the start; did they turn around a history of FB-Google-Uber-style chaos; what suggestions do they have for other businesses in clearly urgent need of diversity? The reader is most certainly frustrated and needing positivity by the end. It's just as important to learn in depth about moving forward as it is to learn about everything that's wrong. Actually, "most certainly frustrated" doesn't even consider. The "Meritocracy" chapter was the most laugh-or-cry situation I've come across in a long time. Meritocracy is originally term for England divided into classes based on IQ in a 1958 satirical piece, The Rise of the Meritocracy. Since americans missed the point entirely, it's now the bootstraps battle cry of the tech industry: I, a white man, got to the top of tech by my merit. Privilege? What?? If women just worked hard enough, they'd totally be as great as us.And as for learning in depth about moving forward, I'd love to read more from the author about how to succeed in tech as a marginalized person or how to support them as a privileged one. As a web consultant, she must have experience with this. Maybe the main goal of Technically Wrong is to identify the problem, not solve it. Then, a list of digital/literary resources on succeeding as a gender or racial minority in tech, or supporting change without being in tech oneself, would have been useful to add at the end. Now that the reader is informed of the hot mess that is Silicon Valley's social justice standpoint, they would like to know how to break barriers, perhaps beyond this part of a paragraph of advice:It's time to turn on the pressure, and keep it on until things change. Send customer service complaints. Tell the media. Write your congressperson. Support an alternate product.Wait, how can congresspeople be relevant to tech? And I'd like to know what exactly these alternate products are; the author professes in the first page her Twitter and Facebook habits, two companies she goes on to epically roast. Come on, I'm sure there's more advice out there, and for the marginalized STEM workers who, as she explains, clearly need it. Finally, perhaps this is a result of too much socialism lately, but the inherent nature of capitalism seemed to me a glaring issue in the sections on ads that the author doesn't appear to criticize. Money is the driving force between generating ad revenue, and subsequently behind everything wrong with how Facebook and Google show ads based on gender manipulation. Yes, it's unhelpful to trans people and enforces gender stereotyping, but it's because of their capitalism in the first place. Why wouldn't they be trying to amass ad revenue, even through such shocking practices?Despite my criticisms, I'm glad to have read this book and think that everyone interested in social justice absolutely needs to check it out. I knew that the STEM scene suffers from homogeny, but I didn't know how historically ingrained and multifaceted the problem is. It's not as simple as "society is systemically against women and people of color so there's a leaky pipeline in STEM, blah blah." I don't think I'll ever look at tech in the same way again.
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  • Jill
    January 1, 1970
    I won this book in a giveaway. I work in the tech sector and was interested in this book because I am leading a digital transformation effort at my job and wanted to make sure i didn't fall into any of these traps. The book was not what I was thinking it was but boy were my eyes opened. I have worked in tech for 35 years. I'm a woman and have experienced the discrimination the book describes early in my career developing software for a utility. While I was raising my kids, I taught computers in I won this book in a giveaway. I work in the tech sector and was interested in this book because I am leading a digital transformation effort at my job and wanted to make sure i didn't fall into any of these traps. The book was not what I was thinking it was but boy were my eyes opened. I have worked in tech for 35 years. I'm a woman and have experienced the discrimination the book describes early in my career developing software for a utility. While I was raising my kids, I taught computers in college part-time then returned to the workforce when they were driving. I thought my days of discrimination were behind me but just last year it happened again. I was being groomed for a position to take over for my boss, the IT Director, when he retired. When he announced his retirement date, I was expecting the promotion but I didn't get it. Even though my boss was progressive, the good ol' boy network of the company, choose otherwise and now I report to someone who not only has never managed IT but has never worked in it. So I am training my boss. Toxic!I didn't realize that software meant for the general public had such a narrow view of "normal". This book opened my eyes tremendously. I am ashamed of my industry. This should be required reading for anyone studying in the tech field in college. I have forwarded this title to the college at which I taught.
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  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    Must read for anyone who creates tech products - any product, really. Wachter-Boettcher tells story after story of how tech is only as inclusive, useful, and fair as the ideas behind it. "Because, no matter how much tech companies talk about algorithms like they’re nothing but advanced math, they always reflect the values of their creators: the programmers and product teams working in tech. And as we’ve seen time and again, the values that tech culture holds aren’t neutral."I would love to see m Must read for anyone who creates tech products - any product, really. Wachter-Boettcher tells story after story of how tech is only as inclusive, useful, and fair as the ideas behind it. "Because, no matter how much tech companies talk about algorithms like they’re nothing but advanced math, they always reflect the values of their creators: the programmers and product teams working in tech. And as we’ve seen time and again, the values that tech culture holds aren’t neutral."I would love to see more concrete and specific solutions, but the stories are sticky enough to help me keep inclusivity, privacy, and other needs at the front of my mind when designing and using products. My personal biggest takeaways - beware demographic data in personas, look for stress cases instead of edge cases, don't trust Facebook, and read the fine print.
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  • Emily Finke
    January 1, 1970
    This book doesn't really cover anything new, if you've been following conversations about bias in technology in recent years. However, that really isn't a mark against it, since it's trying to be an introduction to the topic rather than an expansive deep dive. It's a really great primer on the topic, and I'll be recommending it to people who aren't necessarily conversant on inequality in technology, but are curious about where to start. I can't think of any other book that would suit that purpos This book doesn't really cover anything new, if you've been following conversations about bias in technology in recent years. However, that really isn't a mark against it, since it's trying to be an introduction to the topic rather than an expansive deep dive. It's a really great primer on the topic, and I'll be recommending it to people who aren't necessarily conversant on inequality in technology, but are curious about where to start. I can't think of any other book that would suit that purpose quite as well.
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  • Katie Kovalcin
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a must read for anyone who uses technology in their daily lives. Sara's writing is so approachable and demystifies tech with examples of how biases in applications affect all of us. It was refreshing to read such an honest critique of the tech-focused world we live in. I couldn't put it down, I read it in one sitting!
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  • Tahlia
    January 1, 1970
    I received this an an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a review. Exactly as the title says, this book outlines everything wrong with technology in today's society - namely our most used apps and social networking websites.There is so much relevant information in this book - how Facebook and fake news impacted the 2016 US Election and how the quirky-cute approach you often see in apps can have a negative impact on some users.However, the most pressing problem is the lack of diversity in big tec I received this an an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a review. Exactly as the title says, this book outlines everything wrong with technology in today's society - namely our most used apps and social networking websites.There is so much relevant information in this book - how Facebook and fake news impacted the 2016 US Election and how the quirky-cute approach you often see in apps can have a negative impact on some users.However, the most pressing problem is the lack of diversity in big tech companies - especially Facebook and Twitter. They may release diversity reports claiming otherwise, but do they ever release solid numbers? No.These tech companies are mainly young, white men. And what do these young, white men create? Products for the "average human" - products that reflect themselves.For example: Snapchat releasing whitewashing photo filters and filters that embrace "yellow-face" - you know the onesGoogle Photo's algorithm tagging black people as "gorilla"Twitter and Facebook's "report abuse" method being very difficult and annoying to put into practice. These white men would never need to use this function. Why is this so?Because the people at these companies have not thought to cater to the whole population and when caught out, blame it on these being "extreme cases". Is being black an "extreme case"? Hell no.Until tech companies start hiring those in minority groups, new products and releases are going to be designed the exact same way.But, these companies use the excuse that there are not enough minorities in the "pipeline" (graduating in this area) to actually hire them - although this may be the case sometimes, it is just another excuse."Potential employers spend their time looking for a culture fit - someone who neatly matches employees already in the company."I highly recommend this book - especially for those who feel underrepresented and ignored by big companies. It is very important that people see why these products are designed in such a way and how we change possibly change that."Every detail can add to the culture we want - can make people a little safer, a little calmer, a little more hopeful."
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  • Sequoia M
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be a chatty, personable approach to the major issues intersecting the tech industry and ethics. Although I was familiar with many of the examples presented, most of them having made headlines and been the subject of hot takes, it was interesting to hear issues fleshed out by women in the industry, as well as a strong argument about what to do. Starting with easy to understand examples of the toxicity, racism, and bias in our technology, and then deepenin I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be a chatty, personable approach to the major issues intersecting the tech industry and ethics. Although I was familiar with many of the examples presented, most of them having made headlines and been the subject of hot takes, it was interesting to hear issues fleshed out by women in the industry, as well as a strong argument about what to do. Starting with easy to understand examples of the toxicity, racism, and bias in our technology, and then deepening understanding into how that has been built in, while presenting how this can and must be challenged for everyone's sake. Wachter-Boettcher has written a book that is for the lay person from the perspective of an expert who effortlessly translates complex systems and cultures for the outsider, while arguing that we outsiders have a great stake in what happens in the tech industry and with technology itself. She posits that tech is not an untouchable industry, but we can challenge our lawmakers to push back and create regulations and oversight, demand that the individual companies change behaviors and practices, and question their assertions and assumptions why things are the way they are and that they are unchangeable. I started this book resigned to the topic, and finished it motivated and hopeful that a sea change is possible.
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  • Jen Naughton
    January 1, 1970
    Technically Wrong demystifies the tech industry and shows the innards of how the information that we freely give is used against us. Well, maybe not against us- but not for us It is primarily utilized for the tech companies to make money and secondly to sell to other companies for profit and our (the consumers) benefit last.Sara paints a depressing picture of a woman's career prospects in the tech industry detailing workplace bias and discriminatory practices. Alongside social media practices th Technically Wrong demystifies the tech industry and shows the innards of how the information that we freely give is used against us. Well, maybe not against us- but not for us It is primarily utilized for the tech companies to make money and secondly to sell to other companies for profit and our (the consumers) benefit last.Sara paints a depressing picture of a woman's career prospects in the tech industry detailing workplace bias and discriminatory practices. Alongside social media practices that ignore people who don't fit into neat boxes, this was a thought provoking read. Pick it up and see if you don't think twice about the next form you fill out and even your social media presence in total.
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  • Anna Livingston
    January 1, 1970
    Left me filled with rage to the point where I had to spend a good hour calming down after I hit about 80% of the way through the book. I didn't learn much I didn't already know about the biased algorithms and toxic, male-dominated Silicon Valley culture that perpetuates them, but Wachter-Boettcher lays out her damning case so lucidly and concisely that even for people like me who were already infuriated by the problem, this is an upsetting read -- especially so if you realize how unlikely it is Left me filled with rage to the point where I had to spend a good hour calming down after I hit about 80% of the way through the book. I didn't learn much I didn't already know about the biased algorithms and toxic, male-dominated Silicon Valley culture that perpetuates them, but Wachter-Boettcher lays out her damning case so lucidly and concisely that even for people like me who were already infuriated by the problem, this is an upsetting read -- especially so if you realize how unlikely it is this appalling culture will change anytime soon. You can spout "diversity improves the bottom line" studies and statistics all day long, but the white men running the show don't want to hear them, don't believe them, and don't care in the first place.I need to go read something cheerful next.
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  • Suzy
    January 1, 1970
    I read this in one sitting during a long plane ride. I work in tech and have a keen interest in ethical design and related issues. I would say that I already knew most of this, but I'm glad that this book exists, as Watcher-Boettcher has laid it all out so clearly and eloquently. It was interesting to glean some new details, hear from a few voices I hadn't encountered before, and find a book recommendation or two along the way. I also really enjoyed the section about user personas; the author's I read this in one sitting during a long plane ride. I work in tech and have a keen interest in ethical design and related issues. I would say that I already knew most of this, but I'm glad that this book exists, as Watcher-Boettcher has laid it all out so clearly and eloquently. It was interesting to glean some new details, hear from a few voices I hadn't encountered before, and find a book recommendation or two along the way. I also really enjoyed the section about user personas; the author's personal design and strategy expertise shines through in a number of spots with educational anecdotes. I'll be picking up Design for Real Life next.
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  • Eileen
    January 1, 1970
    A great rundown of ALL the ways apps and websites and startups are making terrible decisions that alienate people. Sara lays all the details out clearly and gives the reader the kind of background info necessary to have smart conversations about tech culture and the ways it fails us. Throughout, she emphasizes that she wants regular people to feel comfortable *criticizing* tech, because that's the only way things will improve.This is written for a non-tech audience, which means I skimmed some of A great rundown of ALL the ways apps and websites and startups are making terrible decisions that alienate people. Sara lays all the details out clearly and gives the reader the kind of background info necessary to have smart conversations about tech culture and the ways it fails us. Throughout, she emphasizes that she wants regular people to feel comfortable *criticizing* tech, because that's the only way things will improve.This is written for a non-tech audience, which means I skimmed some of the more basic explanations, but also means I feel comfortable giving it to family and friends who are interested in this stuff but don't work in the industry.
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  • Jenn
    January 1, 1970
    I won a copy of this book.This book talks about how technology can be biased because it is dominated by white males who write the code and rules. This is nothing new for people who keep up on what's going on in the industry, but could be quite eye-opening for the outsider. While Watcher-Boettcher doesn't have many answers as to how to rid ourselves of this issue fully (aside from hiring a more diverse group of people), perhaps just making light of it will help people to become aware of the probl I won a copy of this book.This book talks about how technology can be biased because it is dominated by white males who write the code and rules. This is nothing new for people who keep up on what's going on in the industry, but could be quite eye-opening for the outsider. While Watcher-Boettcher doesn't have many answers as to how to rid ourselves of this issue fully (aside from hiring a more diverse group of people), perhaps just making light of it will help people to become aware of the problem and then help them to change it.
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  • Ang
    January 1, 1970
    If you use products created by tech companies (and please, let's start thinking of them as products. Twitter is not just a communication tool, it's a product. As is Uber and Facebook and Lyft and Slack and every single damn app you use), you absolutely must read this. It's essential reading.And if you work in tech and you don't read this? You're falling down on the job.
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  • xdroot
    January 1, 1970
    While the book describes in detail the state of affairs - lack of diversity, sexism, harassment etc - there's no clear plan on how make systemic changes or on how an individual can take action to improve the situation.
  • Kelsie
    January 1, 1970
    This book really makes you think! It's amazing how the vast majority of people rely on technology and they don't realize what goes the production. There are so many issues that people aren't aware of if the issue doesn't pertain specifically to them.
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  • Kerry
    January 1, 1970
    This is an important book, with thoughtful criticism of the industries that control our technology. It might just make you rethink the way you want your internet to work.
  • Coral Rose
    January 1, 1970
    This was amazing and timely.
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