I love the internet. There, I said. I spend my whole day writing about the internet, and then in my free time, I read books about how the internet is shaping our lives. I may have work-life balance issues, but I can’t help it. I mean, music journalists still listen to music, right? Is the chef still cooking at home? So I can enjoy some critical thinking about the internet in my free time, as a treat. After all, internet culture is just flat culture at this point, and hey, who doesn’t consume culture?
Should I get out and touch the grass? maybe! But I can touch the grass while reading a book, duh. Plus, I’m pretty sure none of these books mention Elon Musk, so if that doesn’t sell it to you at this age, I don’t know what will.
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“README.txt” by Chelsea Manning
“Free Internet at Barnes & Noble… not fast,” begins Chelsea Manning’s memoir. In the midst of a blizzard in early 2010, Manning sent more than 700,000 classified and sensitive documents to WikiLeaks that he smuggled into US Army computers while working as an intelligence analyst. Of course, this is a story we already know, since it has been in and out of the news for the past twelve years: The Manning leaks reveal the true nature of US military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Manning’s book allows us to hear her side of the story: how homophobia and abuse in her childhood home drove her to join the army in the first place; the pain she endured while serving in the army as a transvestite then-closeted in the era of Don’t ask Don’t tell; and how she risked her life to share information that she believes the public desperately needs to access.
Manning’s life was far from ordinary – he was a famous and controversial whistleblower who spent 7 years in prison and transitioned publicly while in custody. But the internet is an incredibly common thread in his story (he even describes himself as “very online” in the book). Like many queer people, Manning found solace and community on the internet, where anonymity helped him explore his identity when it wasn’t safe (or legal, in the case of the military at the time) to be himself IRL.
price: $19 from Amazon
“All I Need From You” by Kaitlyn Tiffany
I’ve never been into One Direction, but as someone who was barely on the internet in the early 2010s, I believe that the influence of those five British boys. No one could escape One Direction at the height of their popularity, and as Kaitlyn Tiffany argues in “Everything I Need I Get From You,” this isn’t just an era of silly girls screaming because Harry Styles is cute. As they forge a community and manipulate chart numbers together, One Direction fans make it abundantly clear that nothing is more powerful than a campaign of teenage fans united with internet access. Remember when K Pop fans pranked a Tulsa Trump rally with thousands of fake registrations? Or just a few weeks ago, when Taylor Swift fans directed 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’re not looking hard enough.
One Direction fandom isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. Tiffany writes about the evil undercurrents of some fandom spaces, including Larry Stylinson’s conspiracy theory, which claims that Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson were secretly in love but were prevented by their management from going public. Proponents of this theory cross… several lines, and Tiffany shows how the way the theory is propagated – such as convincing each other that the media is spreading fake news to cover up the truth of the matter – mirrors the more sinister ways of political conspiracies. root Yikes.
Even if you’ve never been a “director,” this book is a great read. And, I’m sorry, but has there been a song ever written that’s scarier than “What Makes You Beautiful”? You don’t know-oh-oh!
price: $17 from Bookshop.org
“Monster Kids: How Pokemon Taught a Generation to Catch ‘Em All” by Daniel Dockery
I love Pokemon almost as much as I love the internet. So, naturally, I enjoyed picking up a copy of Daniel Dockery’s nonfiction book “Monster Kids,” which chronicles the phenomenon surrounding Pokémon (and by extension, the “monster collecting” media genre).
While reading “Monster Kids,” I found myself live-texting my friends fun facts that I never knew about Pokémon. My personal favorite 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. At the event, 700 Pikachu plushes were released from the air, but that’s not all – ten skydivers also got off the plane, then hopped into a Pikachu-branded car and drove away, oozing with style.
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 comprehensively explain how the incredibly-mega-popular video game franchise got to where it is today. . And where is today? Still as mega-popular as ever, with the same amount of distractions. You still can’t find a Mew under the truck, though.
price: $16 from Amazon
“She Memes Well” by Quinta Brunson
If you’re not watching “Abbott Elementary,” what are you doing? But before she was the star and showrunner of the ABC sitcom, Quinta Brunson was a meme.
Well, he’s more than that. He is a writer and comedian trying to make it in the cut-throat LA industry. But she got her big break when she started posting a series of clips as “the girl who never dated,” playing a character praised by men who do the bare minimum. Remember “he has money?” That woman is now an Emmy winner.
“She Memes Well” is a series of comedic, emotional essays that chronicle rising star Brunson — she writes about her experiences (good and not-so-good) in the Philly public school system, failed relationships, learning to cook, you name it. Like “Abbott Elementary,” Brunson’s essays are hilarious, but they also shine a light on the systemic obstacles a Philly kid with an Emmy must face. Go Quinta, and go bird!
price: $14 from Harper Collins
“How Sex Changed the Internet and the Internet Changed Sex” by Samantha Cole
We’re not kidding when we say that sex is the driving force behind innovation on the internet. VICE author of the new nonfiction book Samantha Cole is proof that: do you know what a Playboy centerfold and a JPEG creation have in common?
I read Cole’s book galley while preparing for the OnlyFans CEO interview at TechCrunch Disrupt. It’s a great way to address legal issues affecting sex on the internet, like Section 230 and SESTA/FOSTA – but more than anything, it’s just a fun read that gave me a deeper appreciation for the history of the internet. and sex. I learned about the stories of internet pioneers like Jennifer Ringley, who is considered the first conceptual artist or camgirl, depending on who you ask. Ringley wrote a script that took photos from a webcam in his college dorm and posted them online – this started in 1996, long before live video streaming was an option. Ringley does not censor private moments in his life, but it’s not necessarily a sexual project: just a person’s life. Yet after seven years of meticulously documenting her life, Ringley closed JenniCam after PayPal updated its guidelines to prohibit nudity.
Ringley’s story is just one interesting internet artifact retold in Cole’s book. As the title of the book suggests… it turns out that sex changed the internet!
price: $30 from Amazon
“Because of the Internet” by Gretchen McCulloch
As we watched Twitter fall in slow motion, I thought of something I learned in “Because of the Internet”: linguistic researchers love Twitter! Think again. How often do we have real-time access to data about how people around the world talk and type?
“Because of the Internet” is a nerdy academic book, but McCulloch writes in an entertaining and approachable way that makes me wish I’d taken a linguistics class in college. Then again, your typical intro linguistics class probably doesn’t interrogate the language of memes and text punctuation seriously. But if you have a friend who is constantly inventing new forms of punctuation to indicate sarcasm, this book is a gift.
price: $16 from Bookshop.org