Outrage Machine: How Tech Amplifies Discontent, Disrupts Democracy—And What We Can Do About It (Hardcover)
Amazon's Best History Book of the Month for July 2023
An invaluable guide to understanding how the internet has broken our brains—and what we can do to fix it.
The original internet was not designed to make us upset, distracted, confused, and outraged. But something unexpected happened at the turn of the last decade, when a handful of small features were quietly launched at social media companies with little fanfare. Together, they triggered a cascading set of dramatic changes to how media, politics, and society itself operate—inadvertently creating an Outrage Machine we cannot ignore.
Author, designer, and media researcher Tobias Rose-Stockwell shares the defining shifts caused by these technologies, and how they have ignited a society-wide crisis of trust. Drawing from cutting-edge research and vivid personal anecdotes, Rose-Stockwell illustrates how social media has bound us to an unprecedented system of public performance, training us to react rather than reflect, and attack rather than debate.
Outrage Machine reveals the triggers and tactics used to exploit our anger, unpacking how these tools hack our deep tribal instincts and psychological vulnerabilities, and how they have become opportunistic platforms for authoritarians and a threat to democratic norms everywhere.
But this book is not just about the problem. In a story spanning continents and generations, Rose-Stockwell explores how every new media technology disrupts our ability to make sense of the world, from the printing press to the telegraph, from radio to television. Outrage Machine situates social media within a historical cycle of confusion, violence, and emerging tolerance. Using clear language and powerful illustrations, this book reveals the magnitude of the challenges we face, while offering realistic solutions and a promising pathway out.
About the Author
Tobias Rose-Stockwell is a writer, designer, and media researcher whose work has been featured in major outlets such as The Atlantic,WIRED, NPR, the BBC, CNN, and many others. His research has been cited in the adoption of key interventions to reduce toxicity and polarization within leading tech platforms. He previously led humanitarian projects in Southeast Asia focused on civil war reconstruction efforts, work for which he was honored with an award from the 14th Dalai Lama. He lives in New York with his cat, Waffles.
Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. He lives in New York City.
“Tobias is a master of intuition and metaphor. This is a vivid and unforgettable book.”—Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at New York University and #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Righteous Mind
“Based on solid research, this is a disturbing examination of the destructive impact of social media.”—Kirkus
“A masterful appraisal of how social media platforms feed on users’ anger. . . . The historical perspective enlightens, and the author’s sensible suggestions—including recommendations to make algorithms more transparent and to rigorously verify that ‘all users are real humans’—chart a way out of the morass. The result is a superior take on how to tame social media.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred)
“[A] judicious attempt to illuminate social media and its workings from a certain settled, authoritative distance—not easy to achieve at a time roiled with conflict and alarm. Enhancing this educational aura are the many angry-face-emoji-dotted graphics Rose-Stockwell uses to illustrate his points, some of them genuinely helpful and also unwittingly kind of hilarious.”—Slate
“A riveting exploration of the double-edged sword of our time: social media. This book provides a road map of how we got here, what’s really at stake, and how we can find our way out. An absolutely urgent read.” —Ryder Carroll, New York Times bestselling author of The Bullet Journal Method
“With insight and sensitivity, Tobias offers a deep examination of how digital technologies are shaping our perceptions, relationships, and even our sense of personal identity. This book offers a vital perspective that’s needed for us to build a more humane future.”—Tristan Harris, cofounder of Center for Humane Technology, cohost of Your Undivided Attention podcast, as seen in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma
“This book is a true page-turner. It shows how our platforms have inadvertently addicted us to outrage — and how we can sober up. Outrage Machine is an absolute must-read.”—Chloe Valdary, Founder of Theory of Enchantment
“Outrage Machine is a fascinating deep-dive into the way technology affects our minds and our societies. Rose-Stockwell provides badly-needed perspective in an era that feels increasingly confusing and chaotic.”—Tim Urban, Creator of Wait But Why
“The rigor, research, and depth of Tobias’s book is unparalleled and yet it is refreshingly accessible.”—Esther Perel, international and New York Times bestselling author of Mating in Captivity