Summer is the perfect time to log off for a bit and catch up on your reading list. Here’s what some of 8th Light’s team is reading and listening to this summer.
Inclusive Design Communities
Inclusive Design Communities is all about exploring how our identities intersect with our design practices, and how to make our work as designers more inclusive and welcoming. It’s been interesting to think about this in terms of meetups and professional design groups, but also in the everyday groups I work with — such as my design team of 8th Light consultants spread out across different clients, who come together to learn and give each other feedback; as well as my client team. How can these groups be inclusive of everyone present? What about the perspectives of certain groups of people not represented? Where do I have bias cropping up? What are the values I want to help foster within these groups? I’ve been really enjoying thinking about these questions, and my mind is buzzing with ideas to make the various design communities I’m a part of more welcoming and inclusive.
Ellen Ullman is vital reading for anyone who is engaged in technology, particularly software. She worked as a developer just as the modern age of the internet and computing was taking off, and she illuminates an era that many of us in the field today were not there for. The Bug is her first novel, and follows in the footsteps of her initial book, a memoir titled Close to the Machine.
Ullman’s literary style somehow seems like code scripts — elegant, punchy, almost staccato. Most writing about technology is either casual or dry — she is the only author I know of who melds our software world into beautiful prose, and it’s worth reading for that alone.
It is very cool to feel so “seen” by the stories, to relate so personally to what you are reading. In “The Bug,” she portrays a gripping and cruel vision of a coding work environment, which thankfully is largely a relic of the past.
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice
I don’t read a ton of nonfiction, because, frankly, I don’t know where to start. But occasionally I come across a recommendation so compelling that I dip my toe into that pool. As you can tell from the subtitle, this book really packs a lot into it, touching on international business, corruption at the highest levels, and a small peek into the process of lobbying in the US political system. The last few chapters dig into the unfortunate events behind the law that enables the US government to sanction and ban foreign government officials that are connected to human rights offenses.
Podcast: A Way With Words
Words are weird, and English is a weird language. This sweet, call-in radio-style podcast by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett has been inserting little snippets of knowledge about strange words and phrases across the English language, and giving me a new perspective on the diversity of our language across regions and cultures.
If you’re looking for a show you can put on anytime without feeling like you have to stay for the entire time, and you’re curious about what “lapslock” means or why we say “throw someone under the bus,” this may be the podcast for you!
Internet for the People
If software ate the world, then what’s left for us? We have access to more information than ever before, and it’s hidden behind a fragmented and hostile user experience. I’m not just talking about the half dozen streaming apps with nothing to watch, or the recipes buried underneath enough personal anecdata to provide cover for ads, though those are also related. I’m also talking about the patchy service that leaves some 42 million Americans without broadband internet access, and the additional millions of “ghost workers” whose labor makes possible the platforms that harvest our personal data with no regard for our feature requests. Who built this thing, anyway?
Internet for the People answers that question by tracing the internet’s history over time and up the stack, from the cables under the Atlantic Ocean to satellites in the sky; and all of the protocols, platforms, and applications between. At each new layer, Tarnoff uncovers the key decisions that led us to the current state of the web. Perhaps unsurprisingly, privatization has created new vectors for exploitation and exclusion, more fractures in service, and new opportunities for surveillance to creep in.
Tarnoff also speaks to the ways the internet has changed us. Computers impose a “grammar” on human activity to make it intelligible, and humans have learned to repeat those activities back for improved performance. But this echo surfaces in surprising places when we begin to organize our physical lives according to digital abstractions.
Despite the grim prognosis, Tarnoff also maps out the basic steps people are already taking to change things. There’s no one singular path toward a better internet, it’s going to take all of us doing everything we can. But as the book reminds us, we already built this thing; now we’ve just gotta make it our own.