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MIT Sloan expert insights: 4 books from 2020


What started as a promising new decade quickly turned into one of the most tumultuous and divisive years in modern history.

The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses and shifted workers to remote offices, where our houseplants became colleagues, and the line between work and home blurred into a hazy mix of Zoom calls and sweatpants.

And the fear and uncertainty that threaded its way throughout the pandemic and lead up to the presidential election were fueled by social media and the ongoing battle over freedom of speech and how to define misinformation.

Here are four books from MIT Sloan experts that make some sense of the power of social media, the future of remote work, and more.

The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health — And How We Must Adapt

Sinan Aral, professor of management and director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

This year brought highs and lows for the communication ecosystem created by social media — what MIT Sloan professor Sinan Aral calls the “Hype Machine.” People used digital social networks to stay connected with loved ones during the pandemic, while at the same time misinformation about COVID-19 spread through the same websites. Some businesses used social media to connect with quarantined customers; others joined a boycott of Facebook to protest the way the company handles hate speech. 

Aral lays out the path to achieve the promise of social media, the forces at play and the science behind the Hype Machine, and what social media companies, policymakers, and users need to do to achieve the promise and avoid the peril of this new social order.  

Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It

Erin L. Kelly, professor of work and organization studies, and University of Minnesota sociology professor Phyllis Moen

When the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in mid-March, companies around the world activated remote work policies to balance employee health, government directives, and a need to maintain some semblance of business as usual. But whether there’s a pandemic or not, those policies do more than promote physical well-being for employees. Remote work allows an employee to build their schedule around their personal responsibilities, supporting mental health and a better work-life balance. 

Over the course of about five years, Kelly and Moen and their collaborators in the Work, Family and Health Network studied how an organizational change initiative called STAR [Support. Transform. Achieve. Results.] benefited overloaded employees at a tech-focused company referred to as TOMO.

Creating Good Jobs: An Industry-Based Strategy

edited by Paul Osterman, professor of human resources and management

During the first wave of the pandemic, people became amateur bread bakers and at-home fitness gurus thanks to point-and-click orders on e-commerce sites like Amazon. Outside those personal bubbles, retail businesses like grocery stores struggled to balance the health of essential workers and the needs of customers. And hospitals and long-term nursing facilities saw their gaps in planning and personnel spotlighted by rising infections and fatalities.

In this book edited by Paul Osterman, he and a cadre of experts examine industries like retail, restaurants, manufacturing, and hospitals to learn how workers live paycheck to paycheck, and what can be done to improve these jobs.

Recommendation Engines

Michael Schrage, research fellow at the MIT Sloan School of Management's Initiative on the Digital Economy

It’s not a coincidence that Netflix seems to have such good taste in your tastes. The same goes for Amazon and its “you might also like” options or YouTube’s suggested videos that you can’t seem to stop watching. There’s technology behind those recommendations that seem perfectly tailored to you quarantine-driven impulse purchases.

In his book, Schrage explores the origins of recommendation engines, from the earliest predictors to today’s services that can dress and distract you better than you possibly could yourself.

For more info Meredith Somers News Writer (617) 715-4216