Among many books critical of social media use, Digital Minimalism is a very accessible and useful read. It synthesizes just enough research and anecdotal examples to be convincing and then offers well-reasoned recommendations for how to choose a more intentional approach to internet-based media consumption.
Compared to his previous few books, Newport does a better of job of collecting a diversity of voices in his reportage, which strengthens the book’s arguments and its accessibility to a wider audience. By emphasizing intentionality rather than a more ideological argument about life purity or economic extortion, Newport offers a big tent for folks to choose to discard the more insidious aspects of smartphone app design, while finding and optimizing for the specific ways platforms can provide value.
To me, the most profound aspect of the digital minimalism philosophy was emphasizing the value of solitude. I had not thought deeply about the idea that humans had evolved to sort through complicated questions during the vast tracts of solitude that were the norm for most of human existence. Solitude has always been a core aid in my work as an academic, but I had not been particularly conscious of it. Now I am seeking out solitude, while also following the advice to reclaim high quality leisure activities, so as to chip away at the perceived value of smartphone use during idle hours.
As a scholar of social media, I am actually embarrassed by how good and useful I am finding Digital Minimalism. I think others will find it useful too.
Wonderful, quick, and practical volume on what mutual aid is, why it is important, and how to create and sustain a mutual aid program. Dean Spade writes with the clarity and confidence of a seasoned veteran of organizing and movement building. Mutual Aid is a nice companion to my favorite organizing books by adrienne maree brown. It lacks the holistic and spiritual qualities of doing social change work that brown’s Emergent Strategy series does, instead focusing on the practicalities of getting work done. Use them together to develop a robust approach to your own social change practice, that ideally places mutual aid—one of the most powerful strategies—at the heart of your efforts.
As an academic, I would have liked to see more references to literature on mutual aid because I know scholars have written about it and want to follow up on the sources. I also understand that this is not an academic volume and scholars are not (and should not be) the primary audience. The practical tools that are compiled here are formidable. I expect all folks engaged in changemaking will find something of value perhaps new in this book. The penultimate chapter “No Masters, No Flakes” was stuffed with practical ideas and frameworks. I learned about Mad Mapping there for the first time and love the idea of creating a guide to your future self for how to deal with burnout.
As Spade urges, we need more mutual aid efforts in the world and we need more folks reading this book and applying its ideas!
I had been looking forward to reading this book since it came out and finally cracked it on summer vacation. It’s an excellent popular sociology volume that mixes original research with literature review and journalistic storytelling. The core argument of the value and importance of our social infrastructure is inspirational to folks who design spaces and try to cultivate community through their work. It’s also a beautiful love letter to libraries, one of our best examples of social infrastructure. The value we place on libraries in the United States is really uneven. Like K-12 schooling, everyone has opinion about what libraries are good for because they went to one as a kid and it either was important to them or it wasn’t or they believe it worked for them in one way and that’s how it always should be or all libraries are like that and thus irrelevant today. We make a lot of assumptions about our social infrastructure in general. It’s hard to analyze one’s own environment. Thankfully, Eric Klinenberg helps us see what’s there and what’s not and what the potential of good social infrastructure design is. I highly recommend it!
Thick is an excellent collection of Black feminist essays. We are lucky to have Tressie McMillan Cottom’s brain and pen. As an academic trained in sociology, I particularly appreciate Cottom’s approach of blending candid personal narrative, social theory, social scientific facts, and clear as day opinion. These essays are highly readable for a non-academic audience, yet she doesn’t dumb down the ideas or pull any punches. She is asking us to do the work.
The book revisits other pieces she has written. Some of the essays are revisions, others are new responses to conversations sparked by old essays. She writes to clarify her own thinking and make clear the social world surrounding us from the perspectives we usually don’t hear or ignore. Thus, her essays include narratives and metanarratives. Cottom helps us understand why and how she writes. And she explains her specific goals and vision for a society that listens to Black women, that takes their experience and wisdom seriously. There aren’t any hidden agendas here; they are out in the open. She wants us to discuss them. That’s the point.
I love her voice (she is also great in her interviews on television and radio), and I look forward to future collections of her writing.
Disclosure: The author is a friend and a colleague. I have known her and her work for 10+ years. As part of the Awesome Foundation in Boston I helped select her Accessible Icon Project to receive a $1000 grant to print and distribute its graffiti stickers.
Though I know the author personally and have been excited for her fully realized thesis on disability and design, I am confident in saying this book deserves 5 stars for the last chapter alone. Hendren’s reflection on how she came to appreciate “crip time” as the parent of a son with Down syndrome is profoundly moving and insightful. The chapter is anchored by her honest retelling of the difficulty of shifting her mindset and moving past the dehumanizing and stigmatizing industrial age narratives of productivity, efficiency, and ordinality of people, by which medical professionals and many in society view her son. By connecting with a wider community of people with disabilities and those who love and respect them, she slowly refines a lens on the world that offers a better narrative, a society in which we choose humanity, dignity, and interdependency—a world we could build together.
The introduction to What Can a Body Do? sets the themes for the book—forcing us to rethink our conceptions of disability and people with disabilities and consider the innovative energy they have always brought to the world and how our world has been made better by it. When we understand that all technology is actually assistive technology and all bodies are different, we free ourselves from many limiting beliefs about what design is and should do. We also appreciate the beauty possible in all expressions of life and that we are all deserving of spaces and things that allow us to express ourselves.
I related to this book even though I am someone dripping with privilege and ability. White, male, cisgender, cissexual, able-bodied, and able-minded, I have few attributes that would be described as disability. My tallness is usually understood as a particularly desirable trait. But that does not mean that technology and the built world are necessarily friendly to me. This book gave me some language and perspective to make sense of my own experience. My body is not average. Fixed seats on buses and airplanes can be painfully uncomfortable to me. In fact, I am asked to pay more to find a seat that fits me on a flight. When bodies defy the narrow boundaries of “normal,” outliers like me can sometimes seek (or pay for) “accommodation” or they might be left out.
Mass production, just like the mass housing of people with disabilities to provide specialized medical care, is a modern phenomenon. We used to tailor clothing, furniture, spaces, and understood the members of our family with disabilities as family members, different like everyone was different. It took (and continues to take) disability-rights activists to shame us as a society into seeing the dehumanizing and disempowering ways we had built the world, assuming those with bodies and minds outside of the statistical average were not really a part of our world. In the process, these activists have given us curb cuts for parents with strollers and older people. They gave us spaces and mobility options reserved for people with disabilities, so that they can easily access public and private places through close parking spaces, ramps, and elevators. We all benefit from these features.
Through chapters challenging our preconceived notions about limbs, chairs, rooms, streets, and clocks, Sara Hendren provides a tour through the built world and we meet people who have met the challenges posed by a world not designed for them through invention, grace, and prophetic visions of what we could be and do together. I strongly recommend this book to my colleagues in the design and engineering fields but also to many interested in civics and democracy. The questions the author poses are about what we should value, how we should see ourselves in the world, how we should relate to one another, and how we define diversity, inclusion, and community.