onsdag 7 december 2011

Books I've read lately

"Books I've read recently" is a recurring topic and here is the previous blog post (same topic, different books). I actually read most of the books below during the early autumn, but I like to gather some books together in these blog posts and for some reason it took a couple of months (again!) to read the last 25 pages of one of the books below. Also, I've had so many other topics to write about lately and writing up a blog post about these books have taken a backseat compared to other topics. All four books below are books that I bought before the summer and that I read primarily in order to prepare for this year's edition of my course on social media (which actually ends this week).

Clay Shirky's new book is called "Cognitive surplus: Creativity and generosity in a connected age" (2010). I read his previous book, "Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations" a few years ago. Both book are easy reads, engaging, full of fun or interesting anecdotes and examples. Both feel less "academic" and are written with larger audiences in mind. This is both a pro and a con. Pro because they are fun to read and full of examples and insights. Con because the books are more story-driven and less driven by some grand underlying structure or idea(s) that are easy to discern and peg down. It's a little of this and a little of that, fun to read but difficult to synthesize. Perhaps the lack of overall structure comes from Clay writing insightful shorter texts at his blog and then putting them together into a book every few years? The "cognitive surplus" that Clay refers to is the leisure time we nowadays have when we "only" work 40 hours per week, and the activities we choose to spend it on; from (only/mostly) watching television to now also spending a sliver of it on collaborative online projects (Wikipedia etc.). What if, Clay asks, we would spend just 1% of the time we (as a society) watch television on Wikipedia-like projects for the betterment of communities and societies?

In contrast to Clay's rosy dreams of the potential of using social media for the betterment of humanity's lot, Evgeny Morozov warns us about a darker vision of the future of the Internet and social media. My copy of his book is called "The net delusion: How not to liberate the world" (2011), but I notice that the subtitle now has been changed to "The dark side of Internet freedom". Evgeny reminds us that Internet and social media can be used not just for emancipatory purposes ("Twitter revolutions" or "Facebook revolutions"), but that it can also be used as effective tools for surveillance and oppression by dictators and authoritarian regimes. In fact, he dislikes the very term "Facebook revolution" as it hypes an American company/tool rather than the real flesh-and-blood Egyptians who risked their lives on the streets of Kairo. In order to further democracy and freedom in the world, so much more is needed in terms of policy an patient support to dissenters and democracy movements than just releasing suits of social media tools that can be used both for good and for bad. Although Evgeny's message is interesting and important, I found him not be the best wordsmith and felt that reading his book was a little like taking medicine; the reading experience wasn't very pleasurable because of his slightly "wooden" writing style, but it's a good book to have read.

Jaron Lanier's "You are not a gadget: A manifesto" (2010) is a book-long rant about everything that is wrong about the Internet (or the direction that the Internet is heading in). What makes the book poignant is that Jaron is a member of the techno elite, having been one of the first persons to explore and commercialize Virtual Reality (VR) technology in the 80's and 90's. But Jaron has also been an avid and longtime musician who also upholds more "spiritual" values and who with his manifesto mercilessly critique some of (the opinions of) his techno elite friends/acquaintances. I found Jaron's book to be a little uneven; some passages are not that easy to understand (having not had long conversations with Jaron, and not being as technically literate as he is) and other parts are rant-ish and sounding like someone who has gout or a bad tooth and who "likes" to complain about both this and that. Still, some passages are brilliant and thoughtful in this book based on Jaron's opinions (I personally prefer research results before opinions, or opinions that are based on research results).

...and that is why I liked Sherry Turkle's new book a lot. In "Alone Together: Why we expect more of technology and less of each other" (2011), she confirms several of Jaron's opinions, but this time around based on her research and on numerous interviews. The book consists of two (very) separate parts; the first half of the book concerns our relationship with robots (robot toys as well as more advanced experimental systems) and our thoughts and dreams about future use of and future human-robot relationships. The second part describes our (incessant) use (and in her opinion, not seldom mis-use) of mobile/social media technologies such as texting (SMS messages), mail, Facebook etc. Where Turkle has been very non-judgemental in her earlier books, this time around she is clearly worried about where we are heading in this hyper-connected world of ours. I could imagine using this book (the second half) as course literature (when the inexpensive paperback edition is available) as there are soo many topics and soo much to discuss with students in these chapter. I very much recommend this book and believe it is pretty much unique in terms of the questions discussed and the perspectives presented.

March 2013. Here's someone who has obviously read Turkle's book and made a YouTube video of the possibly negative consequences of using social media too much.

2 kommentarer:

  1. This is great. It's really a treat to have you recommending books in this way. I'm as a student are really grateful for the tips and I've added Turkle's book and Carrs "The Shallows" to my soon to buy-list.

  2. That's great and I know that you had such a list due to the probing questions (about book recommendations) you posed during the just-finished social media course. Do get back to me (F2F) when you've read one or both of those books Bobby!