Image: Bookshelves, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, 1725 (Web Gallery of Art)
In a continuing series, Vitae asks academics, administrators, and Ph.D.s to pick the five books that most influenced them in some aspect of their work, professional life, and career — and why. Next up: Mark Carrigan, a digital sociologist and social-media consultant, recommends five books on technology and social media.
My initial reaction to being asked for my five favorite books about social media was to wonder how I could possibly choose between them. Only later did it occur to me: How interesting that books retain such importance in understanding a phenomenon that some expected to have ended them. When something changes as rapidly as social media does, it can be difficult for a book to retain its relevance. Nonetheless, the space to make such sustained arguments is crucial if we hope to slow down and place these developments in broader context, in order to think about them in a critical way. That ambition has shaped my choices here.
The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media
By Jose van Dijck
There is an obvious challenge in writing a history of platforms which are less than a decade old. But that's exactly what Jose van Dijck did in 2013, and it's a book that has exercised a huge influence over my thinking on social media. What she offers is a resolutely critical history — with a systematic analysis of the characteristics of these platforms — that allows us to step back from our perspective as users in order to grasp the totality. Any book so closely attentive to the particularities of platforms risks being quickly out of date, but van Dijck's work seems, if anything, more relevant nearly four years on from its publication. Her account of the chaining together of platforms into vast monoliths seems particularly prescient, if we look at how Facebook has acquired potential rivals like WhatsApp and Instagram.
The Sociological Imagination
By C. Wright Mills
It might seem odd to choose a book written in 1959 on a list about social media, but this book continues to be an inspiration in everything I do. It was the first book I read when I made the transition from a philosophy department to a sociology department, and it's a book I continue to think of regularly. What Mills calls "the sociological imagination" enables us to "grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society." Social media offers us new opportunities to exercise our sociological imagination, as well as new ways to express it beyond the limiting conventions of traditional scholarly publications. The book also includes the most thoughtful discussion of scholarly craft I've ever read, offering many reflections about the day-to-day challenge of "keeping your inner world awake" which are more relevant than ever in our internet age.
By Nick Srnicek
What does it mean to treat technology companies as companies? That deceptively simple question animates this complex book, which offers an economic history of capitalism and digital technology. In so doing, Nick Srnicek develops an account of the digital economy that moves beyond the hype of "disruption," "social media," and "the sharing economy" to identify how technology companies have come to the ascendancy at a particular point in capitalism's history, with important consequences for the system as a whole. Although it might seem far away from the concerns of university life, these technology firms — and the waves of speculative investment connected to them — have set their sights on "disrupting" education.
The Monsters of Educational Technology
By Audrey Watters
This is a collection of lectures given by Audrey Watters in 2014. It's immensely readable as a consequence of its origins, with a more immediate and provocative style than the other books on this list. But what I value about it is her relentless unweaving of the dominant narratives of technology in education, how deftly she cuts through the thickets of self-serving hype that surround the digital. Once you engage with her folklorist perspective on the monsters of educational technology, it can be hard to see the self-important pronouncements of technology gurus, consultants, and entrepreneurs as anything other than folk tales. I also find her commitment to what she does inspiring, with her particular combination of anger and kindness often palpable when you read her talks. Since reading it, I've subsequently worked my way through the successive volumes compiling her keynotes from 2015 and 2016.
With the rise to prominence of the alt-right, the "troll" no longer seems content to lurk under bridges. But what is a troll, exactly? This remarkable book by Whitney Phillips looks beyond media rhetoric to instead take self-identified trolls seriously in the account they give of their own actions. She argues that trolls reflect the pathologies of the broader media system and that we can't understand the former without the latter. Rather than a trolling problem, we have a culture problem. This is a timely book which incisively characterizes an area of online life prone to hyperbole and confusion. But it's also deeply relevant to academics using social media, with current trends unfortunately suggesting encounters with trolls are likely to become a regular part of life. This book will help us understand them so as to better counter them.
Got a booklist to share? Send it to editorial_at_chroniclevitae_dot_com. List your 5 favorite books in your field or in some other category — and tell us in a few sentences why you would recommend them — and we will consider your booklist for publication.