A handy user's manual for leading an online life full of meaning and connection.

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IRL

FINDING REALNESS, MEANING, AND BELONGING IN OUR DIGITAL LIVES

With the pandemic having moved so many of our "real life" activities online, here’s a relevant investigation into what it means to be "real" in virtual space.

Can online platforms help us find true connection? Stedman is a natural guide to the complex world of digital tools that can help us map out our lives and teach us how to be human. Born in 1987, the author never knew life without the internet. His background as a queer “humanist community organizer” and atheist representative in interfaith groups shapes his worldview, which is inclusive and always questioning. Stedman challenges the conventional notion that a life lived primarily on social media is necessarily superficial or less "authentic" than so-called "real life." Chronicling his experiences with gamers and “furries” (“people who create and sometimes play out animal alter egos”), among other specific social communities, the author explores how technology can help marginalized and/or geographically remote people connect. His personal history confirms this idea: As a closeted gay teenager, Stedman found crucial support online. While it’s true that privileged people can colonize digital landscapes by co-opting memes and slang from people of color and other marginalized communities, at their best, social networks can enable disempowered people to document their lives and grow movements such as Black Lives Matter. Social media, though often overrun with "cries for help or attention, and the parade of personal successes," can also function as an avenue for personal growth. Digital life gives us a space to reimagine ourselves and play with our identities. Stedman is vigilant about citing scholarly texts to support his arguments, but he ties academic theories to experiences by relating stories from his personal life—even if "social media has shown me more clearly the importance of keeping some things private." In fact, "if we want to feel real in the digital age, we need to make a habit of disconnecting” periodically for “perspective taking.”

A handy user's manual for leading an online life full of meaning and connection.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Broadleaf Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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