The summer seems to be installed, and even if most of us are not kicking off work pressure our feet in the sand, sipping margaritas, I thought it would be nice to update a list of book recommendations. The twist this year, though? I haven't read all of them completely yet. Some of them are in my bag (erm... kindle) for wherever we'll go to chill out for a few days later on...
Let's dig in.
Postman confronts how technology impacts our society and culture and how we've willingly handed over the keys to our culture and embraced a new form of totalitarianism called Technopoly, where technology reigns supreme and dictates every aspect of our lives. Postman reminds us that technology isn't just a neutral tool; it's a cultural force with biases and assumptions of its own. He also laments the loss of ethics, spirituality, and meaningful social connections in the wake of Technopoly. Who needs meaningful relationships when we have endless virtual connections, right? He also points out that information has become mere entertainment in Technopoly, leaving us with trivial knowledge and a severe lack of critical thinking skills. The question of technology as being really a net positive is obviously center-stage.
My interest here is that the book has been written pre-ChatGPT and even pre-iPhone, in... 1992! Although you might argue that it's outdated in that regard, I believe to the contrary that it's more interesting to have these arguments laid out without too many hot takes on this or that.
Technopoly does not mean that machines are in control. It means that culture has become so thoroughly saturated with technology that we are unable to assess its significance. - Neil Postman
This book by Lana Swartz addresses a topic I always found the key to what digital has become, and that is rarely addressed. It looks at how digital payment systems and social media intersect. Swartz explores the historical trajectory of payment systems, from the traditional exchange of physical currency to the advent of digital transactions. She highlights how the rise of social media platforms and the increasing digitization of our lives have shaped our perception and engagement with money.
She then gets into the concept of "payment sociality," emphasizing how payments have become integrated into our social interactions and daily routines. She argues that digital payment platforms have transformed the act of making payments into a social experience by incorporating social features. These platforms have engendered new social norms, rituals, and modes of self-expression centered around money exchange. Moreover, the book explores the implications of this fusion on individuals and society. Swartz examines how the blurring of boundaries between payment and social media has influenced our relationships, self-presentation, and notions of trust. The author raises crucial questions about privacy, surveillance, and the commodification of personal data in the context of payment systems.
Swartz is also very practical and gives troves of examples and insights into the strategies employed by payment companies and the economic implications of integrating social media into their platforms.
Payment systems are no longer solely tools for transactions; they have become social platforms that shape our interactions, influence our behavior, and redefine the meaning of money in the digital age. - Lana Swartz
Written by a couple of fellow expats living in the beautiful city of Delft in the Netherlands, Melissa and Chris Bruntlett make a case for kicking the car back down in our priority list when thinking about urbanism. As both North Americans (Canadians) and mobility experts, their viewpoints are invaluable after being immersed in the Dutch mobility system for a few years. But even for the rest of us Europeans, the simple notion of prioritizing people over cars seems like science fiction.
The book is not on the technical side as much as a patchwork of stories and examples from various cities worldwide that have successfully implemented sustainable transportation solutions. They highlight the benefits of pedestrian-friendly streets, cycling infrastructure, robust public transportation systems, and the profound societal implications of embracing alternatives to car-centric lifestyles. "Curbing Traffic" also tackles the psychological and emotional aspects of car culture. The author discusses how the stress, frustration, and time lost in traffic contribute to diminished well-being and quality of life.
But essentially, the book will give you the best shot at getting this wow effect when, for the first time, you experience biking through a roundabout and having priorities over cars. Or being at a red light in a city center, side-by-side with a mom and her baby on a bike, and having zero stress about traffic and pollution.
When transport planners look at a network, they design for efficiencies based on the trips people do take. They examine where they live, where they travel, and how to make those journeys as cost and time effective as possible. However, no one is ever analyzing or measuring the trips people don't take, which is particularly problematic for the disabled community. Think about the last time you were ill. When you're feeling a little sick, the last thing you want to do is take a 4o-minute, meandering bus ride when a 1o-minute taxi ride would be easier. If cities are designed like that and we would argue most are--it puts people off traveling, or it makes those choices more expensive. - Melissa and Chris Bruntlett
4. Magazine B
Magazine B is not a book but a series of... magazines. They're all about branding and get into the clinical study of a specific brand, its founders, the codes, design, and culture involved. They call this a brand-documentary. I got quite a few of them these last few years, and I'm always very impressed by the way they talk about exceptional brands, showcasing a diversity of approaches to excellence. But mostly, this is all about the surface of things that end up saying so much about what is deep down...
Each issue of MAGAZINE B profiles a single brand, sharing the stories behind the people behind the product, including the culture of the managers, employees, customers and communities that create, support and sustain the brand. Magazine B has published 91 issues since 2011. Each issue is as timeless of the brand being profiled: The philosophy and practices of these great brands are notable for their consistency and focus as the quality of their products.
This one might be out of reach now as it was a Kickstarter (the crowdfunding platform), but you might still snatch one on their webstore. The book (art project?) mixes history and design, illustrating and discussing mechanical keyboards. I won't try convincing you about how or why this is interesting, as it's vintage hardcore vintage tech fetishism.
Shift Happens tells the story of keyboards like no book ever before, covering 150 years from the early typewriters to the pixellated keyboards in our pockets. This is the only book that connects the world of typewriters to the universe of computers. Whether you’re into vintage typewriters, classic clicky IBM keyboards, or modern mechanical wonders, it will have something for you. None of the above? Get ready to become a keyboard nerd anyway, and look at an everyday boring QWERTY slab with newfound respect.
You know you want this book or not 😙
I was offered this last one by my dear wife and partner in crime. So I'll try not to read into it, but I do trust her judgment on such books.
The core topic is discussing the significance of silence in our modern lives and how to cultivate attention amidst the noise that permeates our world. The authors emphasize that silence is not merely the absence of noise but a way to cut through external distractions and internal chatter. The book also explores how our society has celebrated noise as an addiction, measuring progress and productivity in ways that neglect the value of pristine attention and fulfillment moments.
Past the mindfulness trope, there's certainly a link to the way innovators develop ways of seeing through the noise to get to the deep signals of the market or the "science of less" (read Substract from Leidy Klotz if you haven't yet).
Not to forget...
Speaking of Stéphanie, if you want to have a wonderful meditation object about who you are in a beautiful format mixing a premium notebook with a beautifully design storybook, I can only point you to Unmasked, Loved and Empowered.
It's been quite a successful self-published adventure, and a large part of our network is raving about it. I'm just saying 😎
I suggest that you read the stories in order, alchough you can randomly pick them the way your heart desires, or just choose the one whose title inspires you at first glance. Take the sweet time to read the stories and do it slowly. Let the words sink in. Then contemplate each question and write your thoughts, feelings, stories, and confusions in the blank spaces provided. Do not try to over analyse, as it is often best to let the words flow our by themselves. We refer to this as automatic writing.
Then observe the little things in your daily life, and question how these thoughts, perspectives, and insights percolate. Think of how they impact your behaviours, relationships, and maybe find your way back to the words you wrote earlier, and update them as you move on with your journey.
My stories are not the answers or solutions to these thought-provoking questions. They only serve as triggers for your own inner work and introspection. They may offer a new perspective for you to explore, a tool for you to test, or an insight that has been helpful to me at some point and could be useful to you, too. Take what resonates with you and what can come in useful to where you stand today. After that, maybe reach some other stories or conclusions in the near future, and hopefully, they bring new insights as the clock ticks by.
Have a wonderful summer and, in case if you need more books, you can find the previous years' editions of these recommendations here: