13 March 2016
Warning: really long post. For a reading list of books, blogs and more which take a critical perspective on tech/data and are written by women, scroll to the bottom, or check out this Twitter list of the women mentioned below!
Recently, I’ve been looking for books* taking a critical angle on technology (taking a broad view - data, the Internet, etc) - and I’ve noticed that many of the most cited ones are by men. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed a few, written by women - like Rebecca Mackinnon’s Consent of the Networked, Astra Taylor’s The People’s Platform, Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy, and danah boyd’s It’s Complicated, to name just a few. I liked them especially for being accessible - not full of academic jargon, or reliant upon readers knowledge of complex theories, but rather, efforts to explain and reach a broader public.
The public’s lack of technical literacy and understanding is an increasing problem; from uncoherent and frankly ignorant parliamentary bills being passed, to reckless or irresponsible decisions being made with regards to technology and data. Call me naive, but I think these kinds of books could really help to address that problem among curious adults.
I also realised in my search that almost all of the women authors I came across in this genre are from North America. As someone who lives outside of the US, and works primarily on issues that affect areas of the world outside of the US, this reduces the usefulness and applicability of those books quite considerably. They might be tech-jargon free, but naturally they’re almost all full of cultural assumptions that don’t fit ‘the rest’ of the world.
So, yesterday I took my search to Twitter in an effort to find what I was missing:
But wait. As my friend Maya Ganesh pointed out writing an “accessible” book on these complex topics is quite the luxury, and one in which a very specific publishing industry plays a huge role. She also asked: why books? Great point. If my focus is on accessibility of information then the format of it shouldn’t matter; why should I privilege a medium which is way out of the reach of many incredibly smart thinkers and writings? What about blog posts, media articles, random thoughts shared via social media?
With that in mind, I actually regret specifying “books” in the tweet, but I still wanted to collate all the great suggestions that I received. Note: it’s still very heavy on the North America focus, and I think that’s a combination of my own fault in specifying “books”, along with Twitter-follower bias. It’s very long, so to help you navigate: I’ve started with a list of books + author, followed by a list of individuals who write interesting and relevant articles/blog posts.
Edit- as SedaG points out, focusing this search on technology runs the risk of missing out women of colour who write on race and colonialism and focus on power. Again, I wish I’d broadened out that original search, and I am very grateful they highlighted my error! I’ll bear this in mind for future searches.
I’ve also started this Twitter list, making it easier to follow the work of the people below.
Re:Wiring Bodies by Asha Achuthan - available online, series of posts and papers on “a historical research inquiry to understand the ways in which gendered bodies are shaped by the Internet imaginaries in contemporary India”.
Beyond Imported Magic: Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America, Edited by Eden Medina, Ivan da Costa Marques and Christina Holmes, 2014. MIT Press
Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas Paperback, by Natasha Dow Schüll, 2014. Amazon link
Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance Hardcover, by Julia Angwin, 2014. Amazon link
Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event, by Katherine K. Chen, 2009. Amazon link
The Undersea Network (Sign, Storage, Transmission), by Nicole Starosielski, 2015. Amazon link $25.00 USD. Note: I love the theme of this book, but I have to admit that I’ve been trying to get through it for months now. It’s definitely on the dense side - very full of information!
Lots of different ones by Helen Nissenbaum - most recently I read and really enjoyed Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, which she co-wrote with Finn Brunton.
Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun
Critical Perspectives on Social Media and Protest: Between Control and Emancipation edited by Lina Dencik + Oliver Leistert
Feminist Surveillance Studies, 2015, by Rachel E. Dubrofsky, Shoshana Amielle Magnet
Zeroes and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture Hardcover, by Sadie Plant, 1997.
Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet , by Sherry Turkle, 1997. (So many more by her too…)
Camgirls: Celebrity and community in the age of social networks by Terri Senft, 2008. (again - lots more available by her linked from her personal site)
[Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet.] by Denise Caruso
Ctrl + Z: The Right to Be Forgotten, by Meg Leta Jones, March 2016.
Doing IT: women working in information technology, by Krista Scott-Dixon, 2004.
The Boy Kings: A journey into the heart of the social network, by Katherine Losse, 2012.
The Internet of Garbage, by Sarah Jeong, July 2015.
Close to the Machine: technophilia and its discontents, by Ellen Ullman, 1997.
She’s Such a Geek: Women Write about Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff, ed. Annalee Newitz and Charlie Anders, November 2006.
Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, by Annalee Newitz, April 2014.
…and so many more.
Big big disclaimer: this list is not complete, and never will be. It could do with a lot more diversity in all senses, but I just wanted to get a first iteration out there. Bear with me, or feel free to add your own suggestions - it’s here on Github, or email me!