Book Review: Always On – Hope and Fear in the Social Smartphone Era by Rory Cellan-Jones

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Book cover.

We live at a time when billions have access to unbelievably powerful technology. The most extraordinary tool that has been invented in the last century, the smartphone, is forcing radical changes in the way we live and work – and unlike previous technologies it is in the hands of just about everyone.
Coupled with the rise of social media, this has ushered in a new era of deeply personal technology, where individuals now have the ability to work, create and communicate on their own terms, rather than wait for permission from giant corporations or governments. At least that is the optimistic view.

This is a deeply personal book. Not just for the author – as he details the way technology has affected his Parkinson’s prognosis – but also for me. At times it feels like Rory has mined my work history for an array of tech anecdotes!

I was in the smartphone industry when the iPhone was launched. Rory perfectly captures the bewilderment of the tech sector, the frenzied reaction, the “this’ll-change-everything” mentality. The world was upended and Rory talks us through the ripples it caused in and beyond the industry.

Similarly, the behind-the-scenes view of the development of the Raspberry Pi is fascinating. I never knew just how tangled a path it took to get launched. We get the scoop on the false-starts and setbacks which, almost inevitably lead to great success. The ride through the explosive rise of social networking is similarly exciting – and he’s honest about where his predictions of success and failure were wide of the mark.

And then, we get the scoop on how it all went wrong. The rise of the web leads to the rise of the scammer. He expertly skewers the con-artists, self-promoting hucksters, and hype-chasers. The chapter on the Spinvox scandal is revelatory. A real insider’s view of the way a story develops and its repercussions for all involved. Musk gets a similar treatment. What starts with a promise to change the world is quickly shown to be hollow words from up with a cruel, ego-driven man.

The inevitable discussion on whether too much screen time is bad for the youth of today (probably not) is well handled. And the bizarre conspiracy theories around 5G are treated with the appropriate sympathy.

There’s a whole chapter on the NHSX Covid tracing app. Obviously I was extremely close to that story, but it’s an extremely fair assessment of its development. It is bizarre to see one’s sleepless nights captured and retold in the media!

And, in a flash, it’s over. I’d happily have read a dozen more chapters.

Thanks to NetGalley for the preview copy. The book is released in a few weeks and can be purchased using the links below.

One thought on “Book Review: Always On – Hope and Fear in the Social Smartphone Era by Rory Cellan-Jones

  1. I am so looking forward to reading @ruskin147 new book. Lovely review!

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