The Books I Read in 2015

Covers of some of the books I've read in 2015

At the end of each year I list the books that I have read during that year. Earlier years were 2012, 2013 and 2014. Below you will find the list of books that I’ve read in 2015. Like last year I have also included my other media consumption (podcasts, RSS feeds and magazines).

My goal was to read 50 books of which at least half would be written by women and half by non-American authors. I managed to read 48 books (so close!) of which 12 were written by women (so far!) and 32 by authors that weren’t born in the US. Although I did read nearly twice as many women as last year, I really should do better. Here is the list of books and what I thought of them.

Digital Rights

I’ve read some wonderful books in this category. I now recommend Schneier’s book as a great introduction to current issues in digital rights. Brunton and Nissembaum published a beautiful little book with obfuscation tactics from many different domains. Van Gunsteren shows clearly how much damage a strong government focus on safety can do (and why we should always have a healthy distrust of our secret services). Levy’s history of the development of strong public crypto is a must-read to be able to understand the current crypto wars.

  • Bruce Schneier — Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World (link)
  • Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum — Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest (link)
  • Herman van Gunsteren — Gevaarlijk veilig (link)
  • Steven Levy — Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government — Saving Privacy in the Digital Age (link)
  • Hans Schnitzler — Het digitale proletariaat (link)
  • James Gleick — The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (link)
  • Maurits Martijn and Cees Wiebes — Operatie leunstoel (link)
  • Mireille Hildebrandt — Smart Technologies And The End(s) Of Law, Novel Entanglements of Law and Technology (link)
  • Neil Richards — Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age (link)
  • Privacy in the Modern Age (link)

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This year, like last year, we managed to read seven books in our book club. Brunton has shown me how every phase of the internet has its own version of spam, I can’t wait to read his forthcoming book on digital cash. Bostrom’s book was by far the most scary book that I’ve read all year, whereas Ronson’s was the funniest. Graeber’s book on bureaucracy wasn’t as strong as his book on debt.

  • Finn Brunton — Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (link)
  • Nick Bostrom — Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (link)
  • Ashlee Vance — Elon Musk (link)
  • David Graeber — The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (link)
  • Gabriella Coleman — Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous (link)
  • Jon Ronson — So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (link)
  • Edwin Giltay — De doofpotgeneraal (link)


Bulawayo’s book was the one that I couldn’t forget this year. Her first-person perspective of a little girl in Zimbabwe (and then later in the US) was soul crushing at times. Naipaul’s famous novel about the African interior was harrowing. I loved reading Van Leeuwen’s timeless children book to a young boy in my family. Houellebecq’s take on a near future France where a moderate Islamic party has come to power was thought provoking.

  • NoViolet Bulawayo — We Need New Names (link)
  • Joke van Leeuwen — Het verhaal van Bobbel die in een bakfiets woonde en rijk wilde worden (link)
  • V.S. Naipaul — A Bend in the River (link)
  • عاشقانه‌ها – اشعار عاشقانه ایرانی (link)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri — The Namesake (link)
  • Matthijs Ponte — Gemeenschap (link)
  • Michel Houellebecq — Onderworpen (link)


Krog was a witness at South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission and has written a masterpiece about the process. This is where you would start to try and understand South Africa I guess (and damn do I love Desmond Tutu). Most people will not have read Piketty’s book after buying it. They are wrong: it is a brilliant lesson in macro economics and the details are worth the effort. I’ve learned a few practical skills from books this year: Marie Kondo has changed my life with her distinctively Japanese take on organizing your house, Pro Git has taught me how to use Git productively and Practical Vim has finally managed to turn me into a decent Vim user. All men should read Solnit’s essay on ‘mansplaining’. Finally, Westerman has written a book with an insightful reflection on race. It is very meaningful voice in the current Dutch debates on racism.

  • Antjie Krog — Country Of My Skull (link)
  • Christopher McDougall — Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, The Ultra-runners, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (link)
  • Drew Neil — Practical Vim: Edit Text at the Speed of Thought (link)
  • Frank Westerman — El negro en ik (link)
  • Marie Kondo — The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (link)
  • Scott Chacon — Pro Git (link)
  • Thomas Piketty — Capital in the Twenty-First Century (link)
  • Bruce Sterling — Shaping Things (link)
  • Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown — A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (link)
  • Haruki Murakami — What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (link)
  • Ineke Holtwijk — De mannen van de droomfabriek (link)
  • James Lovelock — The Revenge of Gaia (link)
  • Karen Armstrong — Islam: A Short History (link)
  • Marcel van Roosmalen — Op Pad Met Pim (link)
  • Miriam Sluis — Zoutrif (link)
  • Mortimer J. Adler — How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (link)
  • Naomi Wolf — The Beauty Myth (link)
  • Rebecca Solnit — Men Explain Things to Me (link)
  • Sandra Sprott and Janice Deul — Little black hair book (link)
  • Diederick Janse and Marco Bogers — Getting teams done (link)
  • Joan de Windt — Weg met Mental Slavery (link)
  • Simon Garfield — Just My Type: A Book about Fonts (link)
  • Roland Lazenby — Michael Jordan: The Life (link)

My consumption of other media

I had three subscriptions in 2015 and they were the same as the year before: Wired Magazine, The New York Review of Books and De Correspondent. The latter has really matured in the last year and I enjoy their pieces every single morning.

On my Podcast player I still had This American Life and This Week in Tech on the top two spots. New podcasts that I don’t skip are Note to Self and Reply All. I still listen religiously to 99% Invisible and RadioLab, check out an occasional Planet Money episode and enjoyed Kritische Massa, the only Dutch podcast that I listened to.

My favourite feeds in my RSS Reader (shout out to Tiny Tiny RSS) are Morozov in The Guardian, Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing and Prosthetic Knowledge on Tumblr. In the digital rights space I follow EDRi, the EFF, Open Rights Group, Slashdot’s Your Rights Online, Privacy Nieuws, Privacy Barometer, Tactical Tech, Greenhost, Jaap-Henk Hoepman, Hans Schnitzler, Bruce Schneier, the Privacy Surgeon and Axel Arnbak. To see what evil they are up to I check out Facebook’s newsroom and the Google Blog. I also make sure I keep up to date with the self-hosted open source projects I use like Owncloud, Lychee, Yourls and Wallabag. The NRC decided to wall their garden and kill their RSS feeds. That meant I stopped reading Bas Heijne and Marcel van Roosmalen and that I switched to Trouw as my regular source of news.

As long as they keep writing newsletters I will keep reading Stephen Downes and Audrey Watters.

A goodbye to Goodreads

For quite a few years I have used Goodreads to keep track of what books I read and wanted to read. I was increasingly uncomfortable with feeding Amazon’s algorithms and databases so decided to code my own book management system with the features that I like. With a little help from PHP, Bootstrap and SQLite you can see the result at It isn’t completely finished yet (RSS feeds are the most important missing feature), but it is getting close and already is making me very happy.

What will I be reading in 2016?

I want to make even more conscious decisions about what I read in the coming year. I want to read more female, more non-Western and more non-white authors. I also want to read more books that are at least 30 years old. I’ve written it two times before, but next year should now really be a year in which I’ll read more McLuhan. One book a week is the quantitive goal.

The Books I Read in 2014


At the end of each year I try to list the books that I’ve read during that year. I’ve done this in 2012 and in 2013. Below you’ll find the list of books that I’ve read in 2014. This year I’ve also added the other media that I regularly consume: what magazines and newspapers do I read, what are some notable RSS feeds that look at and what podcasts have been on my playlist?

Covers and ratings of the books I've read in 2014

Covers and ratings of the books I’ve read in 2014

I’ve read 39 books in 2014. That is, once again, significantly less than in earlier years. It has been a busy year at work and I have occasionally struggled to find the time to read. Here is what I did manage to read this year and what I thought of it.

Digital Rights

Menner’s book with pictures from the Stasi archives is another way to powerfully visualise the banality of evil. Malamud Smith’s book is already a bit older but very valuable in how it frames the ability to have a personal life as something that is essential for humanity. Greenwald was a bit too full of bluster for my taste and Pariser’s book is very much worth the effort, even if you have seen his TED talk.

  • Simon Menner — Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives (link)
  • Janna Malamud Smith — Private Matters: In Defense Of The Personal Life (link)
  • Katja Franko Aas — Technologies of InSecurity: The Surveillance of Everyday Life (link)
  • Glenn Greenwald — No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State (link)
  • Eli Pariser — The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You (link)

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We’ve read seven books in our book club this year. Dow Schüll and Scott both managed to blow my mind. Dow Schüll’s work is very impressive because she manages to tie 10 years of observation of slot machines in Vegas to philosophy of technology. Scott has given me a key concept in understanding the state: legibility. Rushkoff’s book disappointed as his concepts (like ‘narrative collapse’) didn’t stick. Garton Ash going back to East Germany to read his 300+ pages of Stasi files and confronting his informants was enlightening.

  • Natasha Dow Schüll — Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (link)
  • James C. Scott — Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (link)
  • Douglas Rushkoff — Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (link)
  • Timothy Garton Ash — The File : A Personal History (link)
  • Luke Harding — The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (link)
  • Mai Jia — Decoded (link)


Chimamanda Adichie’s book had me captivated from the beginning to the end. It painfully exposes the perspective of the immigrant and shows how much race is still an issue in the US. I travelled through Iran in late October and read some related fiction. As always it was Kapuściński who impressed me the most. Few writers can demonstrate so much insight in so few words.

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — Americanah (link)
  • Ryszard Kapuściński — Shah of Shahs (link)
  • Dr. Seuss — The Lorax (link)
  • Marjane Satrapi — The Complete Persepolis (Persepolis, #1-4) (link)
  • Kader Abdolah — Het huis van de moskee (link)
  • Sam Peeters — In de schaduw van mijn lul (link)
  • Aglaia Bouma — Niets te verbergen (link)
  • Jean-Yves Ferri — Asterix bij de Picten (Asterix, #35) (link)


I couldn’t really find any way to further categorise this diverse set of non-fiction books, so I’ve bundled them all together. Pollan’s short book is the first sensible thing I’ve seen about food in a long time. His strategy: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is what I now live by. I’ve always been a bit hesitant to read De Bono (he seemed too much like a hyped-up American consultant). I was wrong. His six ‘thinking hats’ helped me tremendously in keeping meetings very productive. Pinker has written a seminal book about the historical decline of violence, the man writes like an angel. Munroe’s serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions were hilarious and managed to teach me a lot at the same time. Cillier, finally, found a way to succinctly explain complexity theory. Lakoff on metaphors was very worth my while and I love anything that gives us Ai Weiwei’s voice.

  • Michael Pollan — In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (link)
  • Edward De Bono — Six Thinking Hats (link)
  • Steven Pinker — The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity (link)
  • Randall Munroe — What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (link)
  • David Allen — Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life (link)
  • Richard Templar — The Rules Of Management: A Definitive Code For Managerial Success (link)
  • Paul Cilliers — Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems (link)
  • Hans de Bruijn — Framing, Over de macht van taal in de politiek (link)
  • Hans Ulrich Obrist — Ai Wei Wei Speaks (link)
  • George Lakoff — Metaphors We Live By (link)
  • Zinnebeeld — Symboolpolitiek, letterproef van mooie woorden (link)
  • Steve Crawshaw — Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World (link)
  • Stuart Williams — Iran – Culture Smart!: the essential guide to customs & culture (link)
  • Paul Arden — It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be (link)
  • Jordi Puig — Dali: The Emporda Triangle (link)
  • Angela Wilkinson — The Essence of Scenarios: Learning from the Shell Experience (link)
  • Eefje Blankevoort — Te gast in Iran (link)
  • Antoine Vigne — Le Corbusier In His Own Words (link)
  • Barry C. Lynn — Cornered : The new monopoly capitalism and the economics of destruction (link)
  • Tony Buzan — How to Mind Map: The Ultimate Thinking Tool That Will Change Your Life (link)

My consumption of other media

In 2014 I continued my subscriptions of Wired (which I find barely tolerable at times) and the New York Review of Books (wonderful!). There were no other magazines that I read regularly. The only daily ‘newspaper’ that I subscribed to was De Correspondent.

The playlist of my podcast player included (in this order of preference): This American Live, This Week in Tech, 99% Invisible, WNYC’s Radiolab, Guardian Tech Weekly,Security Now, Triangulation and occasionally a part of Argos.

I subscribed to (and read) Stephen Downes’ Ol’Daily newsletter, Audrey Watter’s newsletter and Springwise Weekly.

The newsfeeds in my RSS reader that I made sure to read were: NRC, Tweakers, Ribbonfarm, Kars and Alper at Hubbub, Bruce Schneier, Freedom to Thinker, Prosthetic Knowledge, the EFF, the Guardian Tech, Privacynieuws, the Privacy Surgeon, XKCD, Adam Curtis, Zeynep Tufceki, Jevgeny Morozov, Slashdot’s Your Rights Online and of course everything that Bits of Freedom, my place of work, produces.

What will I be reading in 2015?

I am about halfway in Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ and want to make sure that I make the time to read some original McLuhan, some classics in cybernetics, the Club of Rome’s original ‘Limits to Growth’ and some more Žižek.

Update (21 february 2015): I’ve set a goal for my reading in 2015:

The Books I Read in 2013


Just like last year I decided to publish an overview of the books that I’ve read during the year.

Covers of the books I read

Covers of the books I read

This year I managed to read 48 books (I am really missing my daily commute, don’t believe the 47 in the picture above) which I’ve put in the following categories:


Mcluhan’s Understanding Media is the single most important book on technology that I’ve ever read. His probes are all-encompassing and still very relevant 50 years after their first publication. Taleb gave me a new way of looking at the world and a set of tools for thinking that is richer than Dennett’s attempt at doing the same. Carse’s classic is well worth reading and I would love to read more Žižek in 2014.

  • Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man — Marshall McLuhan (link)
  • Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder — Nassim Nicholas Taleb (link)
  • Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking — Daniel C. Dennett (link)
  • Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility — James P. Carse (link)
  • Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium — Paul Levinson (link)
  • First as Tragedy, Then as Farce — Slavoj Žižek (link)
  • Het socratisch gesprek — Jos Delnoij (link)
  • McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed — W. Terrence Gordon (link)
  • The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust — Robert David Steele (link)

Digital Rights

I expect this category to grow in 2014 with more books about privacy, freedom of expression and the Internet. Solove delivers good arguments on why privacy is important and Edwards (inadvertently) showed me how scary it is to work for Google.

  • Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security — Daniel J. Solove (link)
  • I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 — Douglas Edwards (link)


My focus will move away from learning, but I still managed to read some fascinating books on the topic in 2013. Harrison left me itching to try his method for running meetings with large and diverse groups. Illich clearly showed the institutionalizing effects of schooling (confusing being taught with learning and confusing certification with competence). Gatto made me loathe to put children in schools (read Dumbing Us Down, the Underground History is less cogent).

  • Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide — Harrison Owen (link)
  • Deschooling Society — Ivan Illich (link)
  • Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)
  • De canon van het onderwijs — Emma Los (link)
  • The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)

B00kc7ub 4 N3rd5

The book club read nine books in 2013. By far the most thought- and discussion-provoking was Morozov battling “internet-centrism”, “epochalism” and “solutionism”. Eggers enlarged current Google and Facebook practices to show us the grotesque direction we are moving in. Zamyatin wrote a Russian version of “1984” (way before Orwell) subverting the concept of freedom. Silver was a great read and Lanier gave me the useful concept of “Siren Servers”.

  • To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism — Evgeny Morozov (link)
  • Makers: The New Industrial Revolution — Chris Anderson (link)
  • The Circle — Dave Eggers (link)
  • Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet — Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jérémie Zimmermann (link)
  • The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t — Nate Silver (link)
  • Bleeding Edge — Thomas Pynchon (link)
  • We — Yevgeny Zamyatin (link)
  • Who Owns the Future? — Jaron Lanier (link)
  • The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production — Peter Marsh (link)


For some reason I had yet to read Kafka’s The Trial. It didn’t disappoint. Shteyngart made me laugh the hardest (with Thomése coming in a close second) with his near-future dystopian novel on our hypercommercialized digital future.

  • The Trial — Franz Kafka (link)
  • Super Sad True Love Story — Gary Shteyngart (link)
  • Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
  • De laatkomer — Dimitri Verhulst (link)
  • 2BR02B — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia — Mohsin Hamid (link)
  • Homeland (Little Brother, #2) — Cory Doctorow (link)
  • Het bamischandaal — P.F. Thomése (link)
  • Gelukkige Slaven — Tom Lanoye (link)


There were some real gems in this miscellaneous category. Feddes has set the standard for books on cities. Because of Hillis I finally understand how computers work. My friend Dorien Zandbergen‘s PhD thesis gave some wonderful insights into hacker culture in the bay area. Van Casteren’s book made me think of my early teenage years living in a young neighbourhood in a forensic town just above Amsterdam.

  • 1000 jaar Amsterdam — Fred Feddes (link)
  • Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping — Mike Clelland (link)
  • The Pattern on the Stone (Science Masters) — W. Daniel Hillis (link)
  • Japan’s Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese — Boyé Lafayette de Mente (link)
  • The Incredible Secret Money Machine — Don Lancaster (link)
  • New Edge, Technology and Spirituality in the San Francisco Bay Area — Dorien Zandbergen (link)
  • Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design — Jane Fulton Suri (link)
  • The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time — Jenny M. Jones (link)
  • Lelystad — Joris van Casteren (link)
  • Treat Your Own Neck 5th Ed (803-5) — Robin McKenzie (link)
  • The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm — Tom Kelley (link)
  • Een halve hond heel denken: Een boek over kijken — Joke van Leeuwen (link)
  • How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum — Keri Smith (link)
  • What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers — Richard Nelson Bolles (link)

Out-Innovating the Competition


Best Practices are Stupid

Best Practices are Stupid

Stephen Shapiro from 27-4 Innovation was plugging his latest book Best Practices Are Stupid – 40 ways to Out-Innovate the Competition at an event I attended today. His focus is on how to speed up or accelerate the rate of innovation.

He started with an exercise where he pretended to measure how fast our brains were. He did this by shouting out different numbers in a very quick fashion. We had to capture those numbers. He would then give us assignments in the middle of it. Like “Write down the name of a genius.” Because we were under such time pressure we had remarkable little differentiation in our answers  to these challenges.

Shapiro says that this is because “Expertise is the enemy of innovation”. The more you know about something, the more difficult it is to come up with new and interesting perspectives on it. When we find a solution we tend to stop looking.

He then gave us a little mathematical puzzle that showed that the way you phrase a question has a profound impact on how you work towards a solution. One of his favorite quotes is from Einstein:

If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem.. and one minute finding solutions.

Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow has far more eloquently stated descriptions of Shapiro’s examples of the biases in our thinking.

According to Shapiro asking better questions is at the heart of doing better innovation. You have to frame the question in a way that makes sense. He calls this the Goldilocks principle: the challenge needs to be defined exactly right, meaning not too abstract/broad, but also not too detailed. Or another way of phrasing it:

Ask the right question…
the right way…
to the right people.

This means that you have to move away from generic idea generation tools towards challenge based innovation. The added advantage of that is that you might avoid a common pitfal of crowd-sourcing, something Stephen names “mob-sourcing”.

A quick way to catalyse your thinking is to find someone who has already solved a similar problem. When members of a team are cut from the same cloth… you don’t see many failures, but you don’t see many extraordinary innovations either. Innovation is not invention: it is taking something that already exists from a different domain and adapting it.

Reading McLuhan’s Understanding Media: Join Me! (#umrg)

Technology is never neutral. It is not just a tool. We know that technology has affordances and makes certain things harder and other things easier. As Benkler says “Technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice.”

One of the most fundamental thinkers on what media does to us was the “oracle from Toronto” Marshall McLuhan. He was a prominent figure in the sixties who was well known for his ability to speak in insightful but opaque “McLuhanisms”. Who hasn’t heard of “the medium is the message” or his predictions for “a global village”?

Let me whet your appetite with a few short video clips to give you a better idea of how he spoke and thought:

He defines technology as the extending our human body. This clip is from 1965:

Here he describes what he means with the medium is the message through talking about cars as a technology. The following clip is from 1974:

The talk about products becoming services feels pretty recent. McLuhan already talked about this in 1966 in this clip (and predicting how we would access information using networked computers):

If you want to see more, then check out all the videos uploaded by YouTube user McLuhanSpeaks.

Understanding Media

Very few people nowadays have read his original works. His magnum opus is the Understanding Media (1964). Reviewers of the book at that time wrote things like:

Every so often, the semi-intellectual communities at the fringes of the arts, the universities and the communications industries are hit by a new book, which becomes a fad or a parlor game. This summer’s possible candidate, with what may be just the right combination of intelligence, arrogance and pseudo science, is Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media. (Time Magazine, 1964)


This is an infuriating book. It offers a number of brilliant insights but mixes them in with some extravagantly turgid incoherencies. Adopting a tone of Machiavellian candor and acquiescence, Dr. McLuhan loftily records the death of the “literally-logical” spirit in Western Man. This results, he says, from the impact of contemporary mass communications such as television and the jet plane. We are passing out of the age of rationalistic individualism and into an era of “tribal” togetherness and oral culture. [..] It was about time somebody took stock of the new social and intellectual situation caused by our advances in the techniques of mass education and mass hoax. McLuhan throws light on this situation by deliberately adopting a new “mosaic approach” which he assumes is called for by the novelty of the futuristic inferno we inhabit. But he seemingly cannot resist going over the deep end with his generalizations on such varied social phenomena as the motor car, baseball and Body Odor. His deep-end plunges, conveniently, happen to suit his over-all theoretical purpose, as in his terming B.O. “The unique signature and declaration of human individuality.” What he reads into the statements he attributes to varied authorities [..] is enough to make one’s old-fashioned “logical” flesh creep while his account of nationalism as, purely and simply, “an unforeseen consequence of typography” is grotesquely inadequate. (C.J. Fox for The Commonweal)

My favourite review comes from Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. who wrote in Book Week in 1967:

What then is McLuhanism? It is a chaotic combination of bland assertion, astute guesswork, fake analogy, dazzling insight, hopeless nonsense, shockmanship, showmanship, wisecracks, and oracular mystification, all mingling cockinly and indiscriminately in an endless and random dialogue. It also in my judgment, contains a deeply serious argument. After close study one comes away with the feeling that here is an intelligent man who, for reasons of his own, prefers to masquerade as a charlatan.

What would McLuhan say about the Internet/World Wide Web?

Next to getting a better understanding of his work, it is my purpose to think about what McLuhan would have said about the Internet and the World Wide Web. How can we apply McLuhan’s vocabulary (e.g. hot and cool medium, de- and retribalization, reversal, the electric age) to our current predicament? How can his thoughts inform us about the situation we are in? I am very curious to find out.

Reading and discussing in a weekly rhythm

I want to start a virtual reading group. We will read Understanding Media in 10 weeks (from March 18th till May 27th, less than 50 pages a week). Every week will have the same rhythm:

  • We read a specific part of the book for that week
  • Two people will create a summary (a piece of text, slides, a video, whatever works for them) for that part and will ask a set of questions about the text (every Friday)
  • We have a virtual event (using Blackboard Collaborate) to discuss the questions (every Monday)

That is the minimum. Next to that I intend to organize things like a best quote of the week voting competition, screenings of McLuhan inspired films (in Amsterdam most likely), a set of resources (other primary literature on the topic, and secondary literature) and a set of guest lectures (also to be done on Mondays).

The kick off meeting will be on Monday, March 18th. You can always find the latest full planning here.

You can join too!

I would like to have as many people as possible join me on this reading journey. Joining is a simple four step process:

  1. Get the book (this is the edition I will be reading).
  2. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
  3. Book a week in which you will be responsible for delivering a summary of what we have read. You can check the planning to see which topic we will read when and make a choice. Be quick there are only 2 slots per week available.
  4. Follow the blog (fill in your email address at the top right widget on the page) to get all the updates about the reading group in your email inbox. You can also follow the Twitter account.

There will be a central space for this group: and I hope we can generate a big set of resources, thoughts and reflections aggregated through using the #umrg hash tag on places like Twitter, Delicious and Diigo.

Are you interested, but do you think you might be too busy? Register anyway! You are only committing to writing one summary, everything else can be skipped if you want or need to.

P.S. Most people wouldn’t think of starting a group like this without using Facebook. I don’t like Facebook so won’t use it. Others are of course free to do anything with this reading group on Facebook, I just won’t be joining you there.