I like the internet. I said there. I spend all day writing about the internet, and then in my spare time I read books about how the internet is shaping our lives. My work-life balance may be a problem, but I can’t help it. I mean, music journalists still listen to music, right? Do chefs still cook at home? So I can enjoy thinking a little critically about the internet in my spare time. After all, internet culture is just culture at this point, and hey, who doesn’t consume culture?
Should I go outside and touch the grass? Maybe! But I can touch grass while reading a book, duh. Plus, I’m pretty sure none of these books mention Elon Musk, so if that’s not a sell for you at this age, I don’t know what is.
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“README.txt” by Chelsea Manning
“Free internet at Barnes & Noble… not fast,” begins Chelsea Manning’s memoir. In the middle of a blizzard in early 2010, Manning sent more than 700,000 classified and sensitive documents to WikiLeaks, revealing that he had hacked into US military computers while serving as an intelligence analyst. Of course, it’s a story we already know because it’s been in the news for the past twelve years: The Manning leak revealed the true nature of US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manning’s book lets us hear his side of the story: how homophobia and violence in his childhood home led him to join the military in the first place; the pain she endured serving in the military as a then closeted transgender woman during the “Don’t Ask” era; and how he risked his life to share information he believed the public desperately needed access to.
Manning’s life is far from ordinary – he is a famous, highly controversial whistleblower who spent 7 years in prison and went public while in prison. But the Internet is a surprisingly common passage in his story (he even describes himself in the book as “extremely online”). Like many queer people, Manning found solace and community online, where anonymity helped her explore her identity when it wasn’t safe to be IRL (or legal for the military at the time).
Price: $19 from Amazon
“I Get Everything I Need From You” by Kaitlyn Tiffany
I’ve never been a One Direction fan, but as someone who just existed on the internet in the early 2010s, I felt the influence of those five British boys. At the height of their popularity, no one could escape One Direction, and as Kaitlyn Tiffany argues in her book “All I Need Is From You,” it wasn’t an era when silly girls bowed down just because Harry Styles was cute. As they spoof the community and manipulate their chart numbers together, One Direction fans have made it clear that nothing is more powerful than a highly coordinated campaign of teenage fans with access to the internet. Remember when K Pop fans pranked the Tulsa Trump rally with thousands of fake registrations? Or a few weeks ago when Taylor Swift fans drew politicians’ attention to potential antitrust issues at Ticketmaster? Fan culture is everywhere on the internet and shapes how we use it — if you don’t agree, you don’t seem serious enough.
One Direction fandom wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Tiffany writes about the creepy undercurrents of some fandom spaces, including the Larry Stylinson conspiracy theory, which claims that Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson are secretly in love, but is banned from public disclosure by their management. Proponents of this theory have crossed several lines, and Tiffany points out that the way they propagate the theory—like convincing each other that the media is spreading fake news to cover up the truth of the matter—reflects the way more sinister political conspiracies are going. root. Yes.
Even if you’ve never been a “director,” this book is an in-depth read. I’m sorry, but has there ever been a song more catchy than “What Makes You Beautiful”? You don’t know-oh-oh!
Price: $17 from bookshop.org
Monster Kids: How Pokémon Taught a Generation to Catch Them All by Daniel Dockery
I love Pokemon almost as much as I love the internet. So, naturally, I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of Daniel Dockery’s non-fiction book, Monster Children , which chronicles the phenomenon surrounding Pokémon (and by extension, the media genre of “monster collecting”).
While reading Monster Children, I found myself live texting my friends fun facts about Pokémon that I never knew. My personal favorite piece of trivia is that the Pokémon franchise initially struggled to catch on in the West, so in an elaborate marketing stunt, Nintendo held an event in Topeka, Kansas called … ToPikachu. 700 Pikachu plushies were dropped from the air at the event, but that wasn’t all – ten skydivers also dropped from the plane, then oozed away in style in Pikachu-branded cars.
The book is full of jaw-dropping anecdotes about the early days of the Pokémon franchise (come on…Topikachu!?), but Dockery weaves these stories together to provide a comprehensive account of how the exceptional mega-popular video game franchise got to where it is today. . And where is it today? Still as mega-popular as ever and with the same amount of bugs. You still won’t find Mew under the truck.
Price: $16 from Amazon
“Those Memes Are Good” by Quinta Brunson
What are you doing when you’re not watching Abbott Elementary? But before he was an ABC sitcom star and showrunner, Quinta Brunson was a meme.
Well, he was more than that. He was a writer and comedian trying to make it in an LA industry. But when she began releasing a series of music videos as “the girl who’s never been on a good date,” she got her big break playing a character who was fawned over by men. Remember “he has money?” That girl is now an Emmy winner.
O Memes Well is a series of comedic yet emotional essays that chronicle Brunson’s rising star — her experiences (good and not so good) in the Philly public school system, her failed relationships, her learning to cook. Like “Abbott Elementary,” Brunson’s essays are funny, if funny, but also illuminate the systemic obstacles Emmy and she face to be a Philly kid. Go to Quinta and go to the birds!
Price: $14 from Harper Collins
“The Internet of Sex and How the Internet Changed Gender” by Samantha Cole
We’re not kidding when we say that sex powers innovation on the Internet. Vice writer Samantha Cole’s new nonfiction book is proof: Do you know what the centerpiece of Playboy and the creation of JPEG have in common?
I read Cole’s book while preparing for an interview with the CEO of OnlyFans at TechCrunch Disrupt. It was a good way to explore legal issues affecting online sex, like Section 230 and SESTA/FOSTA, but more than anything, it was a really interesting read that allowed me to appreciate the history of the internet more deeply. and sex. I learned about the stories of Internet pioneers like Jennifer Ringley, who is considered either a concept artist or the first camgirl, depending on who you ask. Ringley wrote a script in his college dorm room that took photos via a webcam and posted them online—starting in 1996, long before live video streaming was an option. Ringley did not censor private moments in his life, but it wasn’t necessarily a sexual project: just a man living his life. Again, after seven years of carefully documenting her life, Ringley shut down JenniCam after PayPal updated its guidelines to ban nudity.
Ringley’s story is an interesting internet artifact that is repeated in Cole’s book. As the book’s title suggests… it turns out that sex changed the internet!
Price: $30 from Amazon
“Because the Internet” by Gretchen McCulloch
As I watch Twitter disintegrate in slow motion, I think about something I learned at Because the Internet: Linguistic researchers love Twitter! Think about it. How often have we had real-time access to information about how people around the world speak and write?
Because the Internet is an obnoxiously academic book, but McCulloch writes in such a fun, accessible way that it makes me wish I took a linguistics class in college. Then again, your typical introductory linguistics class probably doesn’t question the language of memes and the punctuation of texts very seriously. But if you have a friend who is constantly inventing new punctuation marks to express sarcasm, this book is a must-have.
Price: $16 from bookshop.org