The past couple of years, we have shared a reading list. We normally get to reading about two-thirds of it. This year, everything feels very near-future. In some sense, the books we have listed here represent the need to understand now in terms of possible, increasingly tangible futures. These are not futures with flying cars. (Perhaps self-driving cars.)
Things could go in two directions (or simultaneously in both?): towards greater control for individuals and communities (hacking, decentralisation and empowerment afforded by technology), or a greater, centralised control by way of algorithms, enchanting and compelling “user experience”, concentration of power over the internet and labour.
Makes for “light” summer time reading, right? But frankly, what else did you expect, in this season of instability? We are not ones to bury our heads in the silica. Thanks to Grit Hartung and Bridget Harvey for suggestions.
Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present – this appears to a glossary of new terms for “what the internet has done to us”. Love it or hate it, it appears to be designed for our times, apparently taking less than an hour to read, cover to cover.
Ingrid Burrington Networks of New York – an indie, self-published classic gets the distribution it deserves. The author takes us on a tour of the physical network of the internet in New York, from marks indicating wires to buildings containing server farms.
Andrew “Bunnie” Huang The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen – this caught our eye during its crowdfunding campaign. We’re not necessarily planning a trip to Shenzen any time soon, although we make frequent trips to Ali Baba. This is literally a travel guide for makers (and re-makers, and fixers?) who want to go straight to the source. This documentary is also worth an hour of your summer holidays
Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work – we’ve put off for too long this account of what “fully automated luxury communism” might look like. I.e. what life *could* be like if machines free us from drudgery and raise the quality of life for all.
John Thackara How To Thrive in the Next Economy – we featured this book in episode 5 of our podcast. This is a near future we should be steering ourselves towards, based on local resilience and global flows of information and organisation.
Simon Trace Rethink, Retool, Reboot: Technology as if people and planet mattered – we were inspired since day one by use of technology in places where it literally transforms lives. This book connects the dots between technology in places with drastically fewer resources and technology in the rich countries we live in. (Free OA download!)
Alternative past, comics bonus:
Sydney Padua The Thrilling Adventures of Babbage and Lovelace – a history of computing as it could have or would have been! Super imaginative comics alt-history of computing full of spirit and imagination, bringing the characters of early computing to life.
[Feature image borrowed from John Thackara’s site]