Memes to the Metaverse: books that will make you rethink the Internet
Close TikTok and put down your phone: these engrossing nonfiction books about the Internet’s rise, its current state, and what’s next are more compelling than any viral dance routine. Whether you’re ready to move into the Metaverse or a yurt in the wilderness to escape technology, these books will give you plenty to think about.
You’re not imagining an explosion of the word “metaverse” in everyday life. Matthew Ball notes it was included a mere seven times in news stories from 2010 to 2020, and more than a thousand times in 2021 alone, including as the new name of Facebook’s parent company, Meta. For those wondering exactly what the metaverse is, though, look no further than this accessible (read: not too science-y or tech-y to be over anyone’s head) and interesting primer. The metaverse is a “never ending virtual world” that is more theory than tangible product right now. And that wishy-washy description is exactly what gives it power to be a “disruptive force,” Ball argues. “Eventually a thing that seems trivial—a mobile phone, a touchscreen, a video game—becomes essential, and ends up changing the world in ways both predicted and never even considered.” If you want to feel simultaneously old and cutting edge, read this book. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
Although memes can be hilarious, many of them are no laughing matter, the three authors (two academics and one tech journalist) point out in their thought-provoking new book. Let me step back just in case I’ve lost you. A meme is an idea that’s “recontextualized, remixed, and redistributed, carrying all sorts of meaning.” Think: “We are the 99 percent” or “Don’t tread on me.” Memes were first invented in 1976—a lot earlier than sites like Reddit, where you’ll find most of them today. Memes accomplish a lot: they are inside jokes that bring together wide groups of people, they are a commentary on culture, and, most importantly, according to the authors, they “decide the fate of America.” If you’ve ever wondered what a meme is, what each one means, or why those goofy graphics on Facebook rile people up unlike anything else, this book will explain all in a way that’ll hold your attention. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
Like, Comment, Subscribe is about more than cat videos and “Charlie Bit My Finger”—it captures a cultural moment when the “little dopamine machines” of social media were ascendant, and the ways we consumed entertainment through TV were getting blown up. Reading this puts you in the rooms where that happened—from the early days when YouTube staffers kept the flailing site alive by maxing out personal credit cards in their rat-infested office, to its mind-boggling growth that catches everyone, from old guard media behemoths to their own staff, off guard. (One executive is playing hooky at a movie theatre when he’s summoned back to work to face a $1 billion lawsuit.) The stories of YouTube’s uneasy relationship with parent company Google and its multimillionaire influencers are so eye-popping, the author promises: “Everything in these pages actually happened.” I was so engaged while reading that I was shocked to swipe my Kindle and see I’d reached the epilogue. From “Gangnam Style” to COVID-19 misinformation, this is a wild ride through YouTube’s domination in under two decades. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
This book opens up with a great little parlor game: a group of five anonymous billionaires have gathered in the desert and hired the author to advise them on how to survive the apocalypse. Rushkoff gives hints to who they are (and who they aren’t), and then reveals their outrageous bunker ideas that they hope will insulate themselves from the angry masses. These billionaires are under the influence of what Rushkoff calls “The Mindset,” a “hubristic notion that with enough money and technology, the world can be redesigned to one’s personal specifications.” Psychology and social justice collide in this wild ride through what technology hath wrought on our culture—some real, some speculative, all provocative. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
The psychologist who once famously compared screen time to “digital heroin” takes on social media in his latest book. And yes, drug comparisons are made here, too. Kardaras walks us through how our human brains haven’t evolved enough to handle social media’s algorithms, leaving us completely addicted. But, he says, we’re like the frogs who slowly boil to death as the water heats up. We’ll scroll until we succumb to these “insanity-producing platforms,” whether in the form of mental illness or worse. Science is explained in easy-to-comprehend (but sometimes reductive) ways. If you’re dubious about the Metaverse and eager to fully plant your feet in the real world, this book has your back. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
Privacy essentially no longer exists, writes professor of privacy law Danielle Keats Citron in this eye-opening and important forthcoming book (that led me to write notes in the margins like, “AHHHH!!!” and “horrifying”). This book delves beyond the now-obvious ways technology snoops on us, like by showing us ads on Instagram after we’ve searched for a similar product, and goes straight to “secretive and shady” examples that are unbelievable in the extreme, and downright scary in day-to-day applications. That app you use to track your period? Beware in states that rolled back laws after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Use any health data app? The Internet probably knows everything that ails you. Every time you order food delivery, book a vacation rental home, or use your credit card online, you’re leaving breadcrumbs to a (perhaps inaccurate) online dossier. “We swipe on dating profiles, search adult sites, and use fitness bands without realizing how much information is being generated and stockpiled,” Citron warns, adding that women and marginalized communities are especially impacted. This is a necessary read for everyone alive in the 21st century. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor (October 4)