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Four Underrated Books on Technology and Modern Life
And one of them is free!
Over the last few years I’ve recommended certain books on culture and technology. Generally, the same 3-4 books keep getting mentioned, for the basic reason that some are, in my opinion, just more important than others (Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and Jean Twenge’s iGen are two of these). But there are other books that have gone a little bit under the radar on this topic, for a variety of reasons, chief of which tends to be an author with a lower profile.
So, I’d like to commend the following three books to you if you’re seeking provocative, meaningful works about the effects of modern technology on our thought and life. I should note that not all of these are Christian books, and that some will include brief objectionable language. But these are books that, in my humble opinion, set the table for thinking about this topic in a careful, non-reactionary way.
The Four Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World by Laurence Scott
Of all the books in this list, this is one is the quirkiest and the one that will most try your patience in spots. Scott is a gifted writer but he will at times overestimate his ability to keep the reader interested in a personal vignette or rabbit trail. However, the rewards in this book are serious. Scott is one of the few writers I know who is sensitive to the way that digital technology recalibrates our offline habits and desires. The chapter “A Different Kind of Buzz” is particularly golden, and Scott’s observations about how the Internet’s nature is inherently pornographic (i.e., not just filled with pornographic content, but created with a pornographic essence) are game-changing.
Three Pieces of Glass: Why We Feel Lonely in a World Mediated by Screens by Eric O. Jacobsen
In some ways this book is the reverse of the previous one. Jacobsen isn’t quite as an incisive or engaging as a writer as Laurence Scott, but his book is more focused and better researched. This book is what you would get if you put James K.A. Smith’s work on cultural liturgies through a technological filter. It’s also a very illuminating work about the role that even spontaneous, low-level social interactions play in making us feel like we belong.
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
You’ve read me recommend this book before. But I still think this book is underrated. If you’re looking for an all-encompassing tome on epistemology, look elsewhere. If you’re desperate for a bit of sanity in the digital trenches, you can’t do much better. Jacobs simply gets it, and one reason he gets it is that he’s seen the nonsense that we’ve seen and doesn’t need to pretend to be completely above it (I’ve got a few authors on my shelves who could learn from this). More important, Jacobs gets behind several of the most frustrating tendencies of modern discourse to show what’s really going on, and he does it in a remarkably concise, funny, and memorable way.
Michael Sacasas is a Catholic scholar who has devoted the last decade+ to thinking seriously about the religious and philosophical meaning of tech. His essays are consistently some of the best on the topic. This ebook brings together several of those. What I especially appreciate is how diverse they are. Some are short, others quite long. Some are topical, tied to something in the news cycle, while some are philosophical and reflective. Sacasas engages technology not as a passive academic hobby but as a person under its power and confronting its effects. Right now he’s offering the ebook for free, which is incredible, but I would encourage you to pay whatever you can to support his work.