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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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