Booklist Reviews

Tenner's Why Things Bite Back (1996) talked about the way new technologies can have unexpected downsides. Here, he tackles the same theme—unintended consequences—from a new angle. "This book," he writes, "is a critique of something self-evidently desirable, even wonderful, until it isn't: efficiency." By efficiency, Tenner means, broadly, the production of goods, the business of commerce, the providing of services "with a minimum of waste." But the single-minded pursuit of technological efficiency has brought with it some drastic and unexpected changes, like the 2008 recession and the gutting of the newspaper business, both of which stem, in part, from the replacement of human hands by algorithms. Efficiency, the author says, can make the world a more predictable, orderly place, but it also deprives us of the benefits of random chance. Efficiency keeps us focused on our goals, which is good, but, on the flip side, a narrow focus can make us miss things we might have seen if we weren't so lasered in on our goals. It's a complex subject, but Tenner's smart organization and user-friendly prose style make it entirely accessible to lay readers. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

In his newest book, Tenner (Why Things Bite Back) writes about the paradox of efficiency and of technology in general. He begins by defining different types of efficiency and details ways in which scholars and students may use technology inefficiently. Tenner cites studies indicating that note taking with a pen and paper is more beneficial than on a mobile device; that GPS applications take away important navigational skills for hikers and climbers; and that wearing a fitness tracker can cause overjustification, taking interest out of the intended activity. Later chapters explore algorithms that determine the best journals for publishing and the evolution of algorithms that populate results in web-based search engines. Alongside evidence to support his claims, Tenner often writes in first person, adding a personal touch to otherwise academic prose. The paradoxical aspects are sometimes confusing to follow, but they are always thoroughly explained. VERDICT With a focus on information literacy and scholarly publishing as well as health data, this book's main audience are librarians, educators, and medical professionals. This is not for laypersons; readers with a strong interest in the academic and technological aspects of efficiency will enjoy, as will those who wish to learn more about technology and big data.—Natalie Browning, LongwoodUniv. Lib., Farmville, VA

Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

PW Annex Reviews

Historian Tenner (Why Things Bite Back) argues that supposed advances in technological efficiency can actually be self-subverting in this reasoned antidote to a culture increasingly obsessed with doing more with less. He starts by examining the history of innovations premised on efficiency, first seen in continuous production models such as Ford's assembly line, and more recently in the rise of digital platform companies, which are "based less on the organization of machines and human labor than the gathering, analysis, and exchange of data." The book then segues into hot topics such as rideshare apps, GPS, and self-driving cars. Tenner demonstrates how systems such as these, which are premised on efficiency, reduce serendipity, stifle learning, and limit humans' ability to respond when malfunction occurs; they also, he argues, create substantial lost opportunity cost in the long term. Tenner also addresses the fallacies of big data and how random initial advantages from algorithms (such as Google's PageRank, which attempts to deliver information that people want rather than what they asked for) can hide the long-term codification of systemic bias. Tenner is no luddite; he evaluates the positives and negatives of technology through a strong base of evidence rather than nostalgia or personal anecdote, and debunks some of the most popular concerns about automation. Tenner's insightful study of the effects of information technology on society warrants close attention. (Apr.)

Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly Annex.