What the internet is doing to us

I am sure you are just dying to know what I read this summer.  Well, there was a lot of brain candy (mystery novels).  But I also read a bunch of books about how the internet is changing us (and not necessarily for the better):

Aboujaoude, Elias. Virtually you: the dangerous powers of the e-personality. New York: Norton, 2011. (Publisher’s description)

  • This one gets awarded The Cataloger’s Stamp of Approval.  This book is that good.  Aboujaoude talks about the ways that our online personality seeps into our offline life, and that is a recipe for disaster.  He identifies five main psychological forces in our e-personalities: “grandiosity, or the feeling that the sky is the limit when it comes to what we can accomplish online; narcissism, or how we tend to think of ourselves as the center of gravity of the World Wide Web; darkness, or how the Internet nurtures our morbid side; regression, or the remarkable immaturity we seem capable of once we log on; and impulsivity, or the urge-driven lifestyle many fall into online” (43). Aboujaoude call this the “Net effect”. Aboujaoude is a psychiatrist, and he talks about how the Net effect can ruin our ‘real’ (as opposed to ‘virtual’) lives. This should be required reading for anyone with internet access.  It certainly gave me pause, and led to more than a few days this summer where I took an internet hiatus.

Carr, Nicholas. The shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: Norton, 2010. (Publisher’s description)

Lanier, Jaron. You are not a gadget: a manifesto. New York: Knopf, 2010. (Publisher’s description)

  • One of Lanier’s major arguments is that our culture now promotes only re-mixing and re-hashing old art.  We don’t make anything new.  (When was the last time you heard about a new movie that was not just a remake of an old movie?)  We remix music,  We cut-and-paste the stuff of the internet into new stuff.  What we fail to do is create anything, and this is a problem for the future.

Pariser, Eli. The filter bubble: what the internet is hiding from you. New York: Penguin, 2011. (Publisher’s description)

  • This book should be required reading for everyone who uses Google and/or Facebook.  This also could have been edited to be a bit shorter, but at least it is an easy read.  I learned a lot about filtering from Pariser.  Here’s one that you probably didn’t know: when you look at your Facebook New Feed, it displays the Top news by default.  But you can click on “Most recent” to see even more posts.  The trick is that most people think that clicking on “Most recent” shows you all of your friends’ posts.  However, that is not the case.  It only shows you posts that are similar to the sorts of posts you’ve clicked on before.  Every click is changing what is displayed to you, both in Facebook and on the internet in general.  Pariser also maintains a blog on this topic: The Filter Bubble.

Rushkoff, Douglas. Program or be programmed: ten commands for a digital age. New York: OR Books, 2010. (Publisher’s description)

  • This book is also really good.  It’s a short work that talks about the re-mix culture of the internet.  It also mentions how we are being ‘programmed’ by the internet and by software.  So few people know how to do programming, and that means that we are stuck receiving what is given to us; we can’t make changes ourselves.  This is really unfortunate, because it puts the power of creation into the hands of very few people, and they generally are driven by market forces to create not the best software, but the software that will sell the most.  (This reminds of me of tv.  They don’t make shows that are good; they make shows that attract the largest market audience.  Those are usually two different things.)  Rushkoff doesn’t just talk about software programming, though.  The book is much larger than that.  I highly recommend it.  I’m going to give this one The Cataloger’s Stamp of Approval too.
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