At a panel I was on at Theorizing the Web in 2017, one of the panellists said: “We don’t have time to wait for social media tools that don’t have blood on them.” (note: I’m trying to find a name for who said this!)

I’ve been thinking about that comment a lot this week, while trying to get to grips with Mastodon, seeing many people leave Twitter and head for other platforms in light of Musk’s takeover and subsequent changes. Sunny Singh wrote this fantastic piece about the ‘digital white flight’ which seems to be happening from Twitter to Mastodon right now, outlining clearly:

Marginalised people inhabit Twitter despite its design and intent, not because of it. Musk’s takeover means that communities we have built are at risk. But this is not a new experience in the real world or digital spaces. Twitter has merely been another tool for building and rebuilding our communities. When Twitter entirely ceases to work for us, we will move on to rebuild our communities again. Because those communities – like ourselves – exist, survive and thrive despite, and not because of, the structures of violence that are our world.

Her point is well-made – underlying the migration from Twitter upon Musk’s takeover is the assumption that whatever comes next is, first, worse than what came before, and second, that there is a ‘better’ online space out there. For many, neither of those are necessarily true – and testing those assumptions also takes a great deal of labour and time that some don’t have.

It’s been interesting to see how the move from Twitter to Mastodon has happened. Just from my own perspective, a large majority of the tech/society academics that I follow seem to be well on their way to either moving totally over to Mastodon, or using both platforms, at least for now.

But among the activists, organisers, and, frankly, almost anyone outside of the US and Europe – there’s very little movement that I can see. Even organisers in Europe who I follow have asked their followers, “what should I do now” and very few responses even mention Mastodon.

Why not? From what I can see, there’s a few reasons. First: the big changes that Musk has talked about – rolling out payment for verification, for example - only affect a fairly elite few. Verification wasn’t so important to lots of people, and in fact I imagine lots had given up on its usefulness after years of trying (and failing) to get verified. Second, the roll out of payment seems only to have launched in a few countries so far, starting of course with the United States. That means that many users have yet to see any actual changes – so why bother moving yet? So much about social media thus far has been myopically (and harmfully) Western-centric – who is even to say that Twitter/Musk will bother rolling out changes in ‘the rest of the world’? (Though the inevitable system outages and infrastructure fails that I imagine will come, will undoubtedly affect a wider portion of users.)

Third: because maybe they simply don’t want to leave Twitter. I’ve been thinking about how for some, Twitter has become part of their identities. Having a large Twitter following grants a certain power - even with the more recent algorithmic amplification and lack of clarity on timelines, you can amplify issues you care about. You might get quoted more in local, national or international media if you are tweeting about current issues and you have a large following. You might even meet people in real life who know you not just from your work, but from Twitter. For some, it might be their main way of reaching communities they care about or need to be in touch with for work or activism, or their way of keeping up to date with what others are doing and working on, not just from their own communities but from others.

And that seems to be a major difference between Twitter and other platforms – Mastodon allows you to find people who you know are on there, and follow hashtags you already know about, that is, deepening your knowledge of certain communities and people. But at least personally, I use Twitter to listen and learn from all sorts of people and communities I know very little about, and the algorithmically-generated suggestions have in many ways been helpful on that front. People tweeting about living with disabilities, climate activists in countries I know little about, refugees tweeting from camps they’re in in different countries, local journalists and politicians who are pushing for progressive policies in their own corners of the world… these are all people I wouldn’t otherwise come across, but whose perspective and approach I so appreciate hearing.

I’m not sure yet if Mastodon or some other platform will offer that – it does feel so far like the affordances of Mastodon are more around conversation and slightly ‘deeper’ connection with people than on Twitter, but that might change.

So what are people doing instead of, or alongside, moving to Mastodon? From what I can see, it’s:

  • Setting up a newsletter (usually Substack)
  • Reviving dusty websites and/or (re)starting to blog
  • Setting up or using Whatsapp channels/groups more
  • Moving to, or posting more on, other social networks that have specific purposes (eg. putting work-related posts on LinkedIn)
  • absolutely nothing different.

I’m interested to see what comes next – more Mastodon instances, greater awareness of the alternatives to Twitter, or just a flight of Global North users away from Twitter while the rest of the world stays put?

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Lots of my reading lately has been around a couple of themes: hope, imagination, and futures. Since having my son, the thought of what future I want to leave for him (otherwise put, what being a good ancestor looks like) has been really present for me. It’s something that came up in the Wild Dreams group coaching program that I did in 2021, where we talked about our ancestors and ancestral wisdom, and I was introduced to the Seventh Generation Principle.

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One of my first consultancy projects is looking at strengthening the open source ecosystem, and as part of it, I’ve been catching up on research that might help inform next steps - such as Nadia Eghbal’s 2020 book, ‘Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software’.

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The secret to blogging, they say, is secretly blogging. I stumbled across this post by Diana Berlin a while ago, and the title has been going around my head ever since. The approach of writing for no audience but myself (and probably my mum - hi mum!) is how I wrote a new blog post every week in 2014, and remains my default way of writing today. (Highly recommended, truly.)

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Following my annual tradition, this is a quick round up of some of the best books I read in 2021. For previous roundups, see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.) For a full list of books I read in 2021, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Grid of nine book covers. From top left, Cantoras, by Carolina de Robertis, with seaside in background. Libertie, by Kaitlyn Greenidge, with a silhouette of a woman. Butter Honey Pig Bread, by Francesca Ekwuyasi. The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi. The First Woman, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. The Thirty Names of Night, by Zeyn Joukhadar. Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters, Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China's Countryside, by Xiaowei Wang. What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World, by Sara Hendren.

Reading in 2021 was shaped by two major things for me: first, it was my first full year as a parent, and second, of course, the pandemic and all of those associated impacts. As a consequence of both or some combination of those, I entirely lost the desire to read for the first few months of the year, lost in a fog of sleepless nights and exhaustion – terrifying, now I look back on it! And in the second half of the year, when I did want to pick up a book, I didn’t have the time I usually do to research or even think much about what I was reading.

Instead, I read whatever was at my fingertips. Recommendations from friends, whatever was laying out on the tables at my new and fantastic local bookshop, She Said, or recommendations generated via Storygraph. So unlike previous years, I didn’t have an intentional theme to guide my reading - though looking over the list of books I read, it seems that many of them were stories of womanhood, exploring relationships between women in different forms. I wonder if this was at some level, subconsciously, intentional, as personally, this year (as many of us were) I was forced to be much more intentional about maintaining relationships, many with women.

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Following my annual tradition – this is a quick round up of some of the best books I read in 2020. For previous roundups, see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and to see all books I read this year, see Goodreads. - I’ll be moving off Goodreads soon though!

This year, two major themes governed my reading habits. The first – the pandemic. In response to the pandemic, I went through a long phase of wanting to read only out-of-this-world fantasy, as a way of escaping lockdown and reality, followed by a time struggling to read at all. The second – pregnancy, and motherhood, as I was pregnant for nine months of the year, and now have a three month old baby (!). I didn’t read much by way of parenting books, but I have been interested in memoirs and fiction exploring themes of parenthood, motherhood and creativity as a way of helping myself make sense of this new role and identity I find myself with. In between those, little bits and bobs popped up, as I’ll describe below – some to do with technology and society themes, others that followed a loose theme that I set myself at the end of 2019, which was to read more books that were published prior to 2015.

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Following my annual tradition – this is a quick round up of some of the best books I read in 2019. For previous roundups, see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and to see all books I read this year, see Goodreads.

A solid portion of the middle of this year was dedicated to re–reading books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Over and over again, until I knew all the characters inside out, their experiences and lives, everything. And watching everything I could find where she talks about her writing and her books; reading interviews with her, short stories she’s written, major reviews of her work. The reason: I had the (still slightly surreal) opportunity to sit down with her in conversation at the International Literature Festival in Berlin in September, just the two of us.

After four years of moderating literature festival events in Berlin, she is definitely the highest profile author I’ve had the privilege of chatting with – not to mention she’s one of my favourite authors – so it was a true dream come true to sit down with her. We talked about her writing, politics, racism, power, and much more, and I hear a recording of our discussion will be released sometime in 2020.


Including re–reads of all of Adichie’s novels, I read 55 books this year, of which:

  • 14 (25%) were first published in a language other than English
  • Somewhere between 35-40 where the primary geographic/cultural reference was not Western Europe or North America (this is a hard one to count, as so many authors I read have multiple points of reference!)
  • 12 were by men, 42 by women/non-binary authors.

As ever, recommendations very welcome - below are a few of my favourites from this year.

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“The illusion of unique identity is much more divisive than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that characterize the world in which we actually live.
Amartya Sen, in his book “Identity and Violence”

At the AWID Forum in 2016, at an evening memorial for women human rights defenders who were no longer with us, we chanted: “We honour the dead, and we fight like hell for the living.”

Recently, I’ve been wondering what honouring someone’s life looks like in our quick-to-share, digitised cultures, especially when those lives are familiar to you in some way. For viewers who share aspects of their identity with the group upon whom violence has been inflicted, reading or learning about that violence can be in and of itself traumatising. For others who don’t share that identity, sharing and learning about the event might further entrench their feeling of privilege or superiority. So when does sharing stories of violence, turn into inflicting violence upon other members of your collective identity group, and to what extent does it further existing inequities in how that violence is felt?

More simply put: when does sharing a story – often intended as an act of solidarity – turn into perpetuating violence upon the persecuted, and further entrenching existing power dynamics?

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Following my yearly tradition – this is a quick round up of some of the best books I read in 2018. For previous roundups, see 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and to see all books I read this year, see Goodreads.


In 2014, I decided to read only books by women - 50, to be exact. Since then, I’ve been more flexible with my reading habits, but still tried to be intentional about hearing and learning from people with diverse experiences to my own.

This year, for the first time since 2014, I stopped keeping track of how many books I was reading by whom on a week-by-week basis (partly in annoyance at the glitchy Goodreads app, partly to reduce my self-quantification!), and instead, picked up whatever took my fancy, or whatever was gifted my way. At the end of the year, I looked over what I’d read, and discovered that I read 40 books, of which:

  • 72% were by people of colour
  • 88% were by women or non-binary people

These seem like pretty arbitrary quantifications of ‘diversity’ - so to add another axis, in 2019, I’d like to read more books in translation. If you have recommendations, I’m all ears!

From these 40, I picked out a few favourites below.

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This post is a run through of my favourite books from 2017 – the majority of which are written by women. This post follows on from my end-of-year reading round ups from 2014, 2015, and 2016. To see a full list of the books I read this year, see Goodreads.)

For me, this reading year was mostly one of trying to understand how we got to where we are today, and of imagining alternatives. As ever, speculative fiction helped me with the latter. Fictional stories that gave me new ways of thinking about things helped me with the former.

My top three

If I could recommend just one fiction novel, it would be Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. This is the book that I wish everyone would read.

In a review of the book in The Wire, Deepa D. writes a list of “people you should give this book to” and describes far better than I ever could, why the book is so important. From that review:

"Like climate change, domestic abuse is pervasive, inescapable and universal. Either you know what it's like to have a home become unsafe, or you know someone who does, or you're part of the problem with your ignorance that disinvites confidence sharing."

If there’s anything I’ve come to realise in the past year, it’s this: our collective societal inability to grant violence the complexity it deserves leaves us paralysed when confronted with it. We look for black and white, good and bad, and we barely have the words, let alone the processes and social and cultural nuance, to really grasp the combination of social skills + abusive behaviour.

Kandsamy addresses that head on. She tells of her abusive marriage, her words painting a vivid picture of the cruelty, the maze she finds herself dropped in, her disbelief at finding herself in this situation and her battle to remove herself. It’s spellbinding, and more than being beautifully written, it’s important.

My two other favourite books this year, I now realise, touch on similar themes - of violence, of humanity, and complexity. Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is a politically timely, engrossing and thoughtful novel. Without giving too much away, she tells of a Muslim family in the UK with a father convicted of terrorism, and the resulting effects for his three children. It’s a tense story, one you can lose yourself in.

The final one in my top three is Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Again, politically incredibly timely - telling interwoven stories of the ancestors of two half-sisters, starting from 18th-century Ghana all the way up until modern day California. Gyasi shows in detail how racism may have changed in the way it’s exhibited, but stays a deafening constant throughout the centuries.

Understanding the US

Speaking of the United States: somehow, my normal habit of reading about a country prior to going there fell out of the window when it came to planning for my time in the US this year. Around the time of the inauguration, I remembered this and realised that aside from what I know through pop culture, I actually know very little about US-ian culture, politics and society - and what better time to learn than when it felt like everyone was searching for answers.

I found three books in particular to help me out, all of which were incredibly enlightening, thoughtful and gave me more insights into what I was finding to be an incredibly confusing political and social landscape. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think I was the only one.) The first two were similar in that they took what could have been complex, abstract topics, and used stories of real people to paint an accessible picture of the problem. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Hochschild, was eye-opening in its analysis, combining sociological findings with her own, more personal take. The second, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, focused the problem of eviction in the US. He follows eight families and highlights the chain reaction of events that can lead to eviction, and describes how difficult it can be to recover from.

The third was The Making of Asian America: A History, by Erika Lee. It was particularly striking to me, for a number of reasons. It covered a complex history of which I was almost completely ignorant previously - of Asian Americans, of different waves of immigration and the battles between immigrants of different Asian countries, of the battle itself to unite under the umbrella ‘Asian America’, and so much more. Some events of the book took place near to where I was living for the year in NYC, which added a layer of personalised neighbourhood history for me.

Speculative fiction

Learning more about the state of the US (and many other countries) today made me look for alternative futures. A few books helped me: Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction, edited by Kathryn Allan, highlighted many areas of ignorance for me - like the fact that the large majority of speculative fiction that I’ve read imagines a future where disabled people are totally erased, their conditions “cured” or “corrected.” I can’t imagine how excluding that must feel for disabled people reading those stories, and I’m incredibly grateful to this book for imagining what some more accessible, alternative futures might look like.

Another was Naomi Alderman’s The Power – a book which was recommended to me so many times, I was almost nervous to start reading it. There was no need to worry - it was imaginative, dystopian and feminist but in fantastically unexpected ways, encouraging the reader to question power no matter where it lies.

Another much-hyped book for me was the final novel in N.K. Jemisin’s incredible Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky which somehow managed to live up to the sky-high standard of her two previous novels. It’s dystopian but full of strength. I’d suggest reading this as part of the trilogy to get the full effect.

I caught up on another trilogy this year, which starts with The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. I loved it at the time, and went straight into the following two novels. This first one is set during China’s Cultural Revolution, and has a fascinating premise - where a secret military project has sent signals into space, and an alien civilisation responds and prepares to come to earth. The first in the trilogy is almost imaginable, but the second and third take so many plot twists it spins way beyond imagination. Since then, I’ve seen some feminist critiques of the books, and I now wonder if I need to go back and re-read with a more critical eye.

I also read the second in Ada Palmer’s trilogy Seven Surrenders (Terra Ignota, #2) – ahead of reading it, I re-read her first, which I loved. While writing this, I realised the third one in the series just got released, on December 19th – I’m looking forward to catching up. For complex, feminist scifi (which require some concentration, but are totally worth it) – read these. On a similar note - I re-read one of my all-time favourite feminist speculative fiction novels, Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin. It’s become a bit like comfort food for me, and I learn a little bit more each time I read it.

I’m not sure whether this last recommendation is quite speculative fiction or simply just fiction, but The Unseen World by Liz Moore was just wonderful. It has a wonderful balance of human story + technology story, interweaving the story of a relationship between a girl and her father, together with the development of artificial intelligence and associated technologies from the 80s until today.

Travels: Sri Lanka

I travelled to Sri Lanka for the first time this year, and looked for books to help me gain some insights in preparation. The top two I found were Rohini Mohan’s The Seasons of Trouble: Life Amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War and Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy.

Seasons of Trouble is clearly well-researched and thoughtfully put together - in it, Mohan tells the real stories of three people (and their families) during and after the Civil War in Sri Lanka in a raw and honest way. I find that books of this style - where the author is telling someone else’s story - often run the risk of coming across patronising or with too much of the author’s perspective, but this book avoids those traps completely.

In a way, it reminded me a little of a book on a totally different topic - Antjie Krog’s fantastic book Country of My Skull, about the Truth Commission in South Africa (which, if you haven’t read, I can only recommend.)

Funny Boy offered a new angle to the tales of people’s lives during the war that I came across, incorporating a more personal angle around a young boy realising his sexuality while the war goes on.


I’ll admit: I don’t have data to hand to back this up, but it feels like I come across a higher percentage of non-fiction books written by men, than other types of books. Two non-fiction books by men stood out in particular this year: one, a beautifully appropriate gift I received called The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, with lots of lovely pearls of wisdom reminding me why I love to read. The second, the perhaps boring-sounding but fascinating The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber, which made me vow to get better at bureaucracy because as the book shows all too clearly, it’s totally worth it. It’s dense but fantastic for helping you really see structures you might take for granted, and understand their origins.

One book I read from the wonderful ‘microhistories’ genre was Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. It’s niche, but fascinating, full of anecdotes and interesting facts.

My colleagues will vouch for the fact that I couldn’t stop talking about this book for weeks (maybe months) after I finished reading it: Kim Malone Scott’s Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, which whet my appetite for reading and learning more about leadership and communication techniques this year. I suspected the book might be a little Silicon Valley for my tastes, but was pleasantly surprised - despite the packaging, there were a lot of good, multicultural examples and scenarios, as well as practical tips to take away. I’ll be re-reading this for sure, and am on the look out for other books to help me in this area (tips welcome!).

All in all…

Goodreads tells me that in 2017 I read 55 books (an all-time high!) though that included a lot of re-reads. 12 were by men (far more than in previous years – some of these were out of my control as they were for work!), 43 by women. At my best estimate, 33 of the 55 books were written by writers of colour.

In 2018, I’d like to read more non-fiction, and focus less on “just published” books and instead look to previous years for what I could read, and continue to read more writers of colour. As always, recommendations for books I should check out are very, very welcome!

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