What’s on your mind?

As a soon-to-be freshman at Cal, you would probably answer, “An awful lot.” Well, we’d like to offer something else for you to think about, though in a way we hope will be welcome: this year’s Summer Reading List, a fascinating, provocative selection of recommended reading centered around the subject of Social Media.

In our rapidly evolving, hyper-connected online social networks, we spend a lot of time “liking” things and flickering past each other, sharing laughs and rants and the latest news, locating ourselves in space and time for others via the disembodied (semi-embodied?) state of cyberspace. This deluge is at once riveting and overwhelming. Quite literally at our fingertips, we have access to more information—public and private—than at any time in the history of humankind. Yet how often do we pause to carefully consider social media in full—where it came from, where it’s going, and where it’s taking us? What effects does it have on the way we communicate with each other, and on our political discourse, our psychological and neurological development, our attention spans, our…um…what were we saying?

The books and articles below offer a means of beginning to examine these types of questions, and they do so in compelling ways. These aren’t homework assignments or readings you need to complete before you arrive on campus. Rather, they’re readings UC Berkeley faculty and staff have found illuminating and essential. We hope that you’ll slow down and engage carefully with some of them, and then perhaps share and discuss them with your friends (and your “friends”) as well. All of these can be found in UC Berkeley libraries and electronic databases. And if the readings on this list don’t capture your fancy, perhaps one from a previous year’s list will: you can find them all at reading.berkeley.edu.

You’re about to join one of the most intellectually stimulating social networks of all: the academic and campus life of UC Berkeley. Discussions fostered by things like this reading list are part of what makes Cal such a vibrant place to be for all of us who study and work here. We welcome you to the conversation.

Jennifer Dorner
Head, Instructional Services
Doe/Moffitt Libraries

Michael Larkin
Lecturer, College Writing Programs

P.S. Speaking of discussions, find Moffitt Library
(UC Berkeley’s undergraduate library) on Facebook and you can offer your comments and questions about these readings.

Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler
New York: Little, Brown and Co./Hachette Book Group, 2009
Online social networks: are they different than offline networks? I’m not giving away any secrets from this book by answering the question, “yes, and no.” Ever since the appearance on Earth of person number 2 (we can call her “Eve”), social networks have indeed shaped our lives. Sociologists and others have been examining these networks for a long time. From Stanley Milgram’s famous “six degrees of separation” experiments to Facebook taking over our free time, interest in social networks is huge. This book, co-authored by a physician/sociologist and a political scientist, convincingly explains how group sex, obesity, suicidal behavior, crime, and giving to charity (to name but a few) are “contagious”—that is, they spread like infectious diseases among social networks. Fascinating! You are who you know, and, to a greater extent than you realize, you are who your friends know.

Outreach/Instruction Librarian
Sheldon Margen Public Health Library

Michael Sholinbeck is the Assistant Head and the Outreach/Instruction Librarian at the Sheldon Margen Public Health Library. He is responsible for the Public Health Library’s instruction to both the campus community and to State of California public health professionals.

Jaron Lanier
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
Written by an industry insider, this book takes the view that the Internet and social networking sites are social constructions, not natural phenomena. The author explains, for example, how Facebook and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) structures force us to reduce personality and sound into a limited set of containers created by a small set of human beings, and he questions the superiority of “hive mind” and “clouds” over concentrated individual human effort. His point in these and other critiques is to promote more creativity and ingenuity by using the Internet and social networking tools to be more expansive and just rather than reductive and trollish.

Peace and Conflict Studies Program, and International and Area Studies
Julie Shackford-Bradley is a lecturer in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, and International and Area Studies. She teaches courses in Human Rights and Conflict Resolution and works on issues of Restorative Justice in Berkeley and Uganda.

Walter Jon Williams
New York: Orbit/Hachette Book Group, 2009
In this novel set the day after tomorrow, writer Dagmar Shaw, a creator of alternate-reality games (ARGs), becomes trapped in a Jakarta hotel. Some players of her games debate amongst themselves whether they should help to get her out: is Dagmar truly in peril or merely staging the start of her next ARG? And then one of the players’ friends is gunned down…

Williams himself has written material for an ARG played by half a million individuals; it included HTML content, video, and images to decipher, and featured both face-to-face interaction and online crowdsourcing. The novel shows how mediated and game-like our world has become, even for those who don’t know that they’re playing.

Read more about ARGs at http://walterjonwilliams.blogspot.com/2006/01/last-call-poker-coolest-thing.html.

Digital Publications Manager
Mark Twain Project

As part of The Bancroft Library’s Mark Twain Project, Sharon K. Goetz helps to create scholarly critical editions and publishes them on the Web. She likes text in nearly all its forms, from the manuscripts of her medievalist training to the fractured narratives of contemporary computer games and ARGs.

Gary Shteyngart
New York: Random House, 2010
Shteyngart, one of our sharpest satirists, immerses us in a near-future dystopia that is alternately hilarious and troubling. The novelist chronicles the unconventional epistolary romance of Lenny (the worst employee of the Indefinite Life Extension company) and Eunice (a savvy consumer of social media with a troubled past). Shteyngart shows us a jargon-rich, attention-poor America in which our debt and credit ratings are streamed live, our richest form of communication is the instant message, every last detail of our lives is networked—and yet, absurdly, the search for rich human connection endures.

Two other recommended social networking texts:

Zadie Smith
New York Review of Books, Nov. 25, 2010
(Link to the article by clicking on the title above.)
In this article, the novelist Zadie Smith recounts her time at Harvard in 2003 when Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, offers smart critiques of the Zuckerberg-as-cipher in the film The Social Network versus the more nuanced profile of Zuckerberg that appeared in The New Yorker magazine, and muses about the pleasures and consequences of a vastly interconnected era.

Clive Thompson
New York Times Magazine, Sept. 5, 2008
(Link to the article by clicking on the title above.)
Thompson, a regular writer for Wired, adeptly weaves the strands of social media research and rapidly shifting user preferences to look at the effects of social networking’s “ambient awareness,” a pointillist effect in which life is “pushed into overdrive” but also offers a “sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives.”

Haas School of Business

An early adopter of social networking sites, Ryan Sloan is a lecturer at the Haas School of Business. He writes fiction and creative nonfiction, and has been published in LA Weekly, Opium Magazine, The Modern Spectator and Painted Bride Quarterly.

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser
New York: Basic Books, 2008
Written by two digital immigrants, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives is a highly readable, well-researched account of the digital reality of those born since 1980. Palfrey and Gasser, both with backgrounds in law, cover topics ranging from “Safety” and “Privacy” to “Creators” and “Innovators” in order to help those who are not digital natives understand not only the risks some young people take in spending a lot of time on the Internet, but also the great potential the Internet has to create community and inspire creativity. While using Born Digital as a text in a class at UC Berkeley, I’ve found that while students resist some of the Digital Native descriptors, they also gain insight into their online behavior. The book contains a useful Glossary and Bibliography, as well as an Afterword to the paperback edition in which the authors discuss some of the things they did not foresee in writing the book, namely the rise of Twitter and the decline of Second Life.

College Writing Programs

Jane Hammons is a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award. Her writing has appeared recently in Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories of 25 Words or Fewer (W. W. Norton 2010), and in the Columbia Journalism Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, and on Fictionaut.com, among other journals and magazines.

Ann Carson
Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1998
Carson is a classicist writing about Greek culture and the moment when oral, public, communal traditions became more private because of individuals reading silently and erotically. The phenomenon of social media seems both more public and communal and more private than ways we communicated in the not-so-distant past, making Carson’s book perhaps even more relevant now than when it was first published.

Senior Editor, Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library

Linda Norton has worked at five libraries, three bookstores, and three publishing houses, and is currently a Senior Editor at The Bancroft Library. Her new book of memoir and poetry, The Public Gardens: Poems and History, is due out this spring from Pressed Wafer.

Neil Postman
New York: Viking, 1985
An important aspect of the move from high school to university is expanding your attention from a focus on content (although content is always crucial!) to looking at the methods used to produce knowledge and the contexts within which learning happens. Critical thinkers can step back from an issue and explore how the framing of the problem shapes our understanding and influences our response. In this book, Postman traces how the changes in our communications technology have altered how we understand and how we argue about the most important societal issues we face in politics, economics, and religion. He divides his story up into the periods before, during, and after the mass print media—books, newspapers, magazines—dominated information storage and transmission. How did people decide what was legal, true, or good before they had books to record information, and how will we decide these things now that multimedia Internet communications puts everything at our fingertips but in a completely de-contextualized (or re-contextualized) manner? Postman’s argument and illustrations make a heavy topic fun, and will prove to be applicable in everything else you take up.

Student Services Advisor
Nanoscale Science & Engineering Graduate Group
Berkeley Nanosciences & Nanoengineering Institute

Avi Rosenzweig is the academic coordinator for the Nano Institute. As an undergrad at Cal, he majored in Religious Studies and minored in American Literature. His advice for new students: Berkeley, like Fortune, favors the brave. Dive right in without hesitating.

Douglas Rushkoff
New York: OR Books, 2010

This provocative and controversial book argues that you need to be familiar with programming and computer languages to understand and help address the societal problems of the 21st century. Especially when compared to the modest influence of the policies of the US State Department, the dramatic impact of Facebook and Twitter on the governments of North Africa and the Middle East adds evidence to his thesis.

Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences
College of Engineering

A recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, David Patterson has taught computer architecture since joining the faculty in 1977, and is holder of the E.H. and M.E. Pardee Chair of Computer Science.

Isaac Asimov
New York: Bantam Books, 2004
In Asimov’s enduring classic, the evolution of robots is described in nine thought-provoking short stories. The narrative follows Dr. Susan Calvin, chief robo-psychologist at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., who chronicles the evolution of robots from basic household servants to their stature as global managers of humans and their resources. The stories provide insights into dilemmas that humankind face as machines and their networks assume more of the roles that were traditionally done by humans.

Industry Fellow and Lecturer
Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology
College of Engineering

Bernt Wahl teaches Entrepreneurship for Engineers in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (CET) and serves as an advisor to several Internet/technology companies. He also is involved with digital mapping initiatives, including the creation of Universal Tagging Structures for data storage, and serves as CEO at Factle Corporation.

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