Culture and Technology Book Club: A Year in Review

March 9, 2022 | margaux s

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In January 2021 my colleague Naomi and I launched a new virtual Culture and Technology Book Club. We get together once a month to discuss books that explore how technology transforms our cultural, political and cultural lives. We've found a great deal of meaning and enjoyment through our conversations with fascinating people who've attended from across the city. To celebrate our first year anniversary of the book club, here are the books we've read so far with a brief review, and titles we are thinking about reading in 2022.

Join our book club by registering for each book of interest on Eventbrite! You can also email Margaux (msmith@tpl.ca) or Naomi (ndavies@tpl.ca) to join our monthly mailing list for updates on books and discussion questions or join our Goodreads group.

Permanent record

February: Permanent Record by Edward Snowden 

Edward Snowden worked with author Joshua Cohen to develop this compelling autobiography. Snowden became famous as the young CIA worker who brazenly leaked documents that exposed the unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans in 2010. The book is equal parts action, information and love story. The immense personal risk Snowden took on is compellingly described, culminating with Snowden anxiously awaiting journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, in his Hong Kong Hotel Room, who filmed the event making "Citizenfour".

 

You are not a gadget

March: You are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier 

The author of this book is a Microsoft worker, technology activist and musician. The book was written over a decade ago but remains relevant. 

 

 Information Doesn't want to be free

April: Information Doesn't Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow

This book discusses copyright in the digital age, and what adaptations artists need to make to thrive today. Doctorow is realistic and optimistic, explaining his own approach. He is living proof that one can have a successful writing career while publishing his new books online for free.

 

Digital Minimalism

May: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport 

This title offers readers an argument for practical steps to establish better boundaries around technology, with the goal of focusing on what really matters in life. The book's popularity speaks to growing concerns about technology addiction, amplified by the pandemic. 

 

Weapons of math destruction

June: Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil 

Mathematician and data scientist writer uncovers underlying systems of oppression and inequality that exist in bureaucratic operations. She finds three major problems with algorithmic systems that control our day-to-day life: they are opaque, unregulated, and difficult to contest.

 

Alone together

July: Alone Together by Sherry Turkle 

This book argues that the virtual world reshapes our emotional lives.  The world of "relational artifacts" i.e. robotic toys, leads to the devaluation of authentic human relationships contributing to a growing sense of alienation. Turkle's psychoanalytic background informs her writing style which is compassionate and peppered with case studies. 

 

A walk around the block

August: A walk around the Block by Spike Carlsen 

This title surveys unseen realms of urban life with brief explanatory chapters, typically involving interviews and tours with passionate oddballs that explore overlooked aspects of urban infrastructure. Carlsen's inquisitive spirit about the less-glamorous dimensions of urban life is contagious. He manages to bring a sense of awe to the mundane. 

 

Utopia of Rules

September: The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber

This was my personal favorite title we read! Graeber (rest in peace) is also known as the Author of "Debt" and "Bullshit Jobs" and the quotation at the beginning of the latest Adam Curtis Film: "The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make, and could just as easily be made differently." In this spirit, he questions bureaucratic systems and their hold in modern life. 

 

 Nothing personal

October: Nothing Personal by Nancy Jo Sales

Sales examines the effects of online dating. Personal anecdotes and research are woven together, as she chronicles her own successes and failures using dating apps to seek out love, lust, and everything in between. She poses arguments about the negative motivations behind the design of dating apps, and issues of algorithmic control, privacy and safety.

 

 Ingredients

November: Ingredients by George Zaidan 

Zaidan is a chemist who seeks to calm public anxieties surrounding the ingredients in various foods and household items. He writes for a public audience not versed in chemistry with illustrations and explainers accompanying his assertions that mainly aim to quell consumer hyper-focus on trends surrounding processed food threats.

 

Culture of Narcissism

November: The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch

In November we got ambitious and read a second book! Lasch believes that Narcissism was a growing social epidemic long before smartphones prevailed. His writing continues to be divisive and argumentative. The book inspired passionate conversation between the lovers and haters of Lasch. 

 

Because Internet

December: Because Internet by Gretchen McCullough 

Canadian linguist Gretchen McCullough studies the evolution of language on the internet. In this book, she discusses how language differs between social groups and time periods. She details the history of internet language from chat rooms up until present memes and social media trends. 

 

A world without work

February (2022): A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind

"A World Without" work explores past and present fears and utopian fantasies of a future where work will be radically transformed by automation. Susskind, an economics scholar, takes a thorough and balanced approach to his examination of  the political, monetary and psychological implications of technology on working life. 

 

Our 2022 picks so far

Here are some titles we have chosen for our upcoming book club sessions this year. Join the conversation by registering for each book of interest on eventbrite! 

Natural causes

March: Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich

 

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April: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society by Ronald J. Diebert

 

other titles we are considering for 2022

 

These are just a few. Stay tuned as we pick more titles for discussion throughout the year. You can see the latest addition on the library's website by searching "Culture and Technology Book Club". 

Do you have a book recommendation to share? please tell us in the comments below!

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