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Six Summer Reads - 03.08
The summer of 2020 is not like other summers. Corona is standing in the way of our usual plans for the holidays. Trips are altered, postponed or cancelled. Fortunately there is one thing they can’t take away from us: books.
Are you in for some book recommendations? We asked some friends of Media & Culture Fast Forward for suggestions.
Stijn Vercamer works as digital director at Mediahuis and this year he is co-curator of the session ‘Redefining relevance’ at Media Fast Forward.
Newsmakers: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Journalism – Francesco Marconi
The central idea of this book is that artificial intelligence should support journalists, not replace them. Marconi gives examples of how this has happened in the past. The first chapters do not immediately feel compelling. You can skim through it, but you should really read the third and last chapter.
It is a lot more concrete and deals with the idea of ‘iterative journalism‘. You define a subject and look at what you need to achieve a ‘minimum viable story’ (instead of a minimum viable product). Wait and see how your audience reacts to it. Do people want more or something else? What is their feedback? Do they want to participate in a follow-up story? And so on. A lot of AI can be used in this process: automated stories (stock market prices, sports results), new angles with data sources, analysis of reader comments,…
Thomas Smolders is a freelance copywriter and known for his podcast Computer Club. At Media Fast Forward 2019, he moderated the big newsmakers debate together with Yasmien Naciri.
No Filter – Sarah Frier
Instagram has been around for 10 years and Thomas has been reflecting on this on his Medium channel. The app has had a major impact on media, visual culture, trends, young people and the world in general.
Thomas wrote his first article about No Filter by journalist Sarah Frier, who recorded the history of Instagram in a very strong book. Thomas: “Books like these are more often bad than good, because the role of some people in them is exaggerated (as in That Will Never Work by Netflix founder Marc Randolph) or there is so much sensation in them that the writer in question has undoubtedly blown up conversations to make them ‘real’. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is a fine book, but no way that someone you interview remembers what was said word for word in a meeting years ago”.
Ezra Eeman’s professional journey took him from Vilvoorde via Reyerslaan to Geneva. In addition to ‘Head of Digital’, he recently added ‘Transformation and Platforms’ to his EBU business card.
Not to Scale: How the Small Becomes Large, the Large Becomes Unthinkable, and the Unthinkable Becomes Possible – Jamer Hunt
In the tech industry and the startup world you continuously hear the following question: “Does it scale?” But what is scale? Making things bigger, faster, stronger. But also smaller, heavier and more complex. Scale also pushes back. It’s a stubborn concept and the effects are sometimes very subtle. But what’s more, going digital has severely disrupted our relationship with scale. Nowadays you can easily store an entire library on a hard disk. The internet has caused every notion of time and distance to evaporate. Author Jamer Hunt wrote a book about it that I warmly recommend. According to him, dealing with these surprising changes of scale will become one of the most important survival tools of the twenty-first century. Not to Scale is an X-ray of our time. It provides both a diagnosis of our present condition and a recipe for navigating through the complexity caused by scale changes.
Tinka Claeys is policy advisor for culture x innovation at VRT and co-curator of Culture Fast Forward.
The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism – Kyle Chayka
The Longing for less reads like a passionate conversation with a friend in a pub.
Cultural critic and millennial Kyle Chayka admits that he is a minimalist. When he began writing The Longing for Less, he was put off by what minimalism had become – a self-satisfied remedy that counteracted the late-capitalist malaise. Examples he cites are Marie Kondo’s self-help books and seasonal pilgrimages to The Container Store. He notes: “If a word or style is everywhere, it usually loses its original meaning”. His own minimalism was a consequence of living as an underpaid writer in New York. No basements nor closets meant no storage space.
But those two kinds of minimalism – streamlined lifestyle branding and enforced sobriety – don’t quite reflect the vast scope of the subject Chayka explores in this book. He delves into art, architecture, design, music and philosophy because he wants to learn why the idea of “less is more” keeps popping up and what it really means. He sees it as a dark side of material progress, a reaction to abundance, a manifestation of the dissatisfaction of civilisation. There are wonderful insights, but the most interesting statement is that the current minimalist craze is nothing new. Throughout history, in times of uncertainty and chaos, similar movements have emerged. Those movements seem to be an attempt to restore some kind of order in a world that is tenaciously opposed to it.
Debbie Esmans is responsible for policy and strategy at meemoo, a non-profit organisation that, with help from the Flemish Government, is committed to supporting the digital archive operations of cultural, media and government organisations.
Future politics. Living together in a world transformed by tech. – Jamie Susskind
I discovered Jamie Susskind’s book at the previous edition of Media Fast Forward.
The book focuses on a combination that fascinates me: technology and policy. Susskind — historian, political scientist, and apparently also a barista — is investigating a new way of thinking about policy and politics.The author puts it aptly in his introduction: “Together we will need to re-imagine what it means to be free or equal, what it means to have power or property and even what it means for a political system to be democratic”.
The book responds to the reality that technology affects us not only as consumers but also as citizens. It also points to the connection we should make between culture and technology. Culture — in the broad sense of reflection and philosophy as well — should find its place in the technological debate and process.
Susskind is looking for a framework with which we can think critically and clearly about the political consequences of digital innovation. He deals with four concepts: power, freedom, democracy and social justice.
Political governments today still regularly struggle with how to deal with the power of big tech, the impact of antitrust lobby groups and the threat of cyber security risks. Policy makers are looking for the extent and type of data regulation, AI and privacy. Undeniably, we need new frameworks for this. For all those who want to contribute to this as citizens, this book is welcome food for thought.
FREDO DE SMET
Fredo De Smet is curator of Media Fast Forward & Culture Fast Forward and the author of ‘Artificial Stupidity’.
The Value of Everything – Maria Mazzucato
What the culture and media sector have in common – besides the fact that they both essentially tell stories – is that they have an impact on the public debate and on the public interest. This is precisely because of the stories they tell. Ironically, the story we tell about the public sector is often rather negative. The culture sector is a sector that costs money, you sometimes hear. But what does that actually mean, ‘costing money’? What is the difference between adding value to and extracting value from the economy? That is the question Maria Mazzucato answers in her latest book: The Value of Everything.
She takes the reader through a history lesson in political economics, as it used to be called. The book is (also) written for non-economists, like myself. And it has a clear goal in mind: to put the question ‘what is of value’ back at the centre of our economic thinking.
The last chapter was given the title ‘Economics of Hope’. It argues for an economy that puts the public interest at the centre, because “in order to bring about real change, we have to go beyond solving isolated problems”. This sounds particularly logical in a year in which we wear mouth masks and stay at home to keep each other healthy.