Earlier this month I asked, on this blog and via LinkedIn, for help in identifying the most influential books, articles, blog posts and the like about media, technology and the internet. A few dozen people took the time to share. Responses came primarily from academics, nonprofit, and some for-profit, media makers, funders, and a handful of folks who found the question on LinkedIn; the vast majority were from the U.S. (I have not attributed names to most of the comments I quote — if you recognize your quote, and don’t mind the hat tip, let me know.)
When I asked this question last year, the two most cited works were Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks and Jack Goldsmith’s and Tim Wu’s Who Controls the Internet. This year, three pieces particularly stood out in people’s minds: The Wealth of Networks, once again; Wu, again, this time for his Wireless Carterphone paper, and Benkler’s Berkman Center colleague David Weinberger for Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.
One person called Wu’s paper “one of the touchstones of the fast developing debate about open wireless infrastructure (and which is also a good read if you just want to know more about why you hate your cellphone carrier;)” A policy wonk gives the paper credit for turning the debate on open-access and for Verizon’s decision to open up its network– quite an impact in a short period of time.
Everything is Miscellaneous earned numerous garlands; one person said that it helped him to realize “how much more useful we could make the world’s knowledge.”
Three reports were popular: the Online Computer Library Center’s Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World; A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users, by John Horrigan for the Pew Internet & American Life Project; and, from 2006, IBM Consulting Services’, The End of Television as We Know It: A Future Industry Perspective (and as one-page summary.) Other highlighted reports included Northwestern Media Management Center’s Running While the Earth Shakes: Running While the Earth Shakes: Creating an Innovation Strategy to Win in the Digital Age. From our cousins across the pond came the BBC’s From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century; the 2007 Ofcom report and David Hendy’s Life On Air: A History of Radio Four.
Of the several magazine articles mentioned, Clay Shirky’s “Tiny Slice, Big Market,” and Goodbye to All That, Andrew Sullivan’s Obama thought piece, stood out. Jonathan Dee’s New York Times Magazine’s story on Wikipedia as a news resource, All the News That’s Fit to Print Out, was also on the list (and blogged about here earlier.) Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market by Matthew Salganik, Dodds and Watts was said to have “created an experimental market for music and studied the effects of social network information.”
They discovered that social sharing of information (e.g., recommendations, pos/neg reviews) did not greatly alter the judgments of quality, but that they substantially increased the inequality of outcomes, creating more blockbusters and more dogs, and making predictions of which songs would become blockbusters or fail dismally effectively impossible.
Never have I read a book where the tech details were so pitch-perfect; but more important than the authenticity with which the author gets the tech, it’s the inferences he draws about where this will all take us that sticks with me today.
Matt Bai’s The Argument and Alistair Campbell’s The Blair Years both seem timely given this political season. Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, Andy Hobsbawm’s (forthcoming) Next Big Thing, Kathryn Montgomery’s Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet, Markus Prior’s Post-Broadcast Democracy, Eli Neiburger’s Gamers… in the Library: ?!: The Why, What, and How of Videogame Tournaments for All Ages, and 10 Rules for Strategic Innovators by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble were also flagged.
Pre-2007 books that were cited more than once included Tom Friednman’s The World is Flat and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. One person’s list was “topped” by James Carey’s Communications as Culture (1992) (“Carey is just a wonderfully clear thinker and he connects media and society in ways that are insightful…”) and included Liebes and Curran’s Media, Ritual, and Identity “a superb series of essays reexamining the work of Elihu Katz.” C. Douglas Lummis‘ Radical Democracy (1996) was mentioned as a key text for understanding “wikipedia and the like.” Laboratory Life by Bruno Latour (1979) focussed on the ways that the “concept of ownership via citation of scientific statements has dramatically informed the way we think about scientists and blogs and social web.”
There was praise for Pat Aufterheide’s concise (and cute!), Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction: “it tackles not just the craft of documentary, but also how docs interface with the real word of the marketplace, the viewers’ expectations, etc. [and] sets up a good platform to discuss how documentaries will connect to viewers in the new world order of distribution. She also offers some interesting taxonomy of the subgenres of documentaries which I haven’t seen codified in that way before.” (I’d also add that her list of the One Hundred Great Documentaries is great for Netflix queues or name dropping at cocktail parties.)
Among blogs, Fake Steve Jobs was highlighted a few times. Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler was called “work irrefutable and essential ….[it] identify[ies] how the witless political media shoehorns its reporting into artificial narratives that are then impenetrable by actual reality. Somerby also exposes the same political press corps for its utter inanity and focus upon the superficial and superfluous, and its lack of basic reporting skills.”
In the realm of scholarship, a couple of people pointed to danah boyd and Nicole Ellison’s influential Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship and to Henry Jenkins’s essay Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.
Within public media, Torey Malatia’s Potential Difference: Redesigning Public Radio for a Changing Society (pdf) was much talked about this year. The Latino Public Radio Consortium earlier this month released a Brown Paper on ways “to increase Latino use of public media is likely to be looked at in 2008. (I have no link, but Current covered the release.)
No summary of the media in 2007 would be possible without some Facebook attention. Lauren Weinstein’s post on Facebook, and Google, user-friendliness was recommended, as were pieces in Slate and Time.
The real estate crisis may be the economic story of the year. Some people cited Alison Rogers’s Diary of a Real Estate Rookie: My Year of Flipping, Selling, and Rebuilding and What I Learned (The Hard Way), which is said to include discussions of “how the Internet is changing real estate — consumers think they’re being benefitted by the disintermediation.” My friend Jeff Hornstein also contributed to the real estate canon, with, A Nation Of Realtors: A Cultural History Of The Twentieth-century American Middle Class.
I can relate to (the first half of) this comment from one of the respondents: “I am surprised about how few books I’ve read this year. The internet has sucked me in and, of course, WoW (World of Warcraft) has sucked up my TV time”; he also mentioned Twitter which I, despite my initial skepticism, have also bought into.
One of the more thought-provoking replies was to a book with almost no references to media or the internet: Lawrence Wright’s essential The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 . The fact that a tale so focused on “messaging” lacks a grounding in technology reminded my correspondent that there are powerful social forces beyond our mediated and net-based world.
Influential videos included two by Larry Lessig, his address to the TED conference, on copyright, and his Corruption, alpha version lecture, which someone termed “inspiring.” (Lessig’s corruption work is the subject of a recent piece in the Economist.) A colleague mentioned Did You Know; Shift Happens – Globalization; Information Age and its Did You Know 2.0 sequel. Mike Wesch was on a few minds, particular his The Machine is Us/ing Us, below.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to share their influences.
[Update: Thanks to those who have pointed out broken links and typos, and welcome readers of David Farber's Interesting People list.)