Messy Human

Most professional websites don’t show what anthropologists like to call “messy humans”. This page leans into the messiness and the work in progress of my research, thinking, and writing.

Following the example of my friend Hans de Zwart, lecturer at the Amsterdam University of Applied Science and co-founder of the Racism and Technology Center, I am using this page to keep a running list of what I am reading, listening to, and thinking about. The plan is to update it haphazardly, share first drafts and half-baked thoughts.

I will expand beyond my stomping ground of tech and human rights to include other aspects of my life, including anthropology et al., grant-making & philanthropy, parenting & childrens’ books, poetry & graphic novels.

Like a good geriatric millennial, I do not own a tv or a subscription to any video streaming services, but I am a fan of podcasts and mailinglist and will include my favorites here (see below).

I am unsure who might be interested in this information, but thank you for making it all the way to this page and feel free to drop me a line if you have any recommendations, thoughts, comments, or concerns about being human or this messy page.

Anthropology et al.

This section gives an overview of anthropological & other academic work that I am reading.

I just started Arturo Escobar’s 2018 book on ‘designs for the pluriverse’. The book outlines what it takes for design studies and designers to allow for many worlds to fit into this world and orient design to justice and sustainability.

Technology, rights, justice

Blockchain Chicken Farm (and other stories of tech in China’s countryside) — Xiaowei Wang
Surprising, against the grain, detailed, in-depth, personal book that challenges our understandings of tech, rural areas, China, commerce, and agriculture. Such a needed antidote to flat stereotypes and one-sided political takes on China and a blueprint for how to do ethnographic scholarship outside of urban areas or the global north, well.

Technology of the Oppressed — David Nemer
The topic of this book, the use of digital technologies in Brazilian favelas, is close to my heart and familiar terrain for me as a researcher. The book covers a wide range of tech (from LAN houses, to Whatsapp), topics (intersectionality, oppression, the rise of the far-right, social movements etc) and applies a variety of theoretical frameworks (from Paulo Freire to Andre Brock). This sometimes leaves little space to unspool the bigger dynamics (racism! sexism! oppression!) identified with the kind of fine grained detail that ethnography uniquely renders to contextualize those dynamics in-situ or place those specific findings in global debates.

Reset–Ronald Deibert
This book takes on the minor task of ‘reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society’. Written by the Director of the Citizenlab, it takes a broad tour all of all the ills of the Internet (surveillance capitalism, digital autocrats, targeted digital espionage) and highlights key problems around the environmental impact of the digital ecosystem. Deibert draws from a wide array of Western philosophical and political thought to reimagine the Internet grounded in the principle of restraint. I especially appreciated the sections where he draws on the research of the Citizenlab, providing jarring insights into the extent to which the Internet can undermine the work of human rights defenders.

Grant-making & philanthropy

How We Give Now–Lucy Bernholz (2021)
This book ask us to reimagine what philanthropy is by taking a much broader view of what it means to give money, time, resources and data. Most examples, as well as the biting critique of the philanthropic industrial complex, are focused on the US. Yet, the dangers of relying on philanthropy rather than solid social institutions, the opportunities and challenges of donating data, and the need to think more holistically about how we spend our money right apply in many contexts.

Modern Grantmaking–Gemma Bull & Tom Steinberg (2021)
Practical guide for current and future grantmakers that outlines some of the practical challenges that all grantmakers will face, with direct advice. It moves from the day-to-day considerations of the job (how can I improve grantees’ user experience?) to the bigger questions that all teams should consider (what does moral grantmaking look like?). It is both a call for reformist and modern grantmaking as well as a guidebook for how to define what that means.

Parenting & Children’s Books

As a newbie parent, I am constantly worried about all the ways in which I can mess up. I deal with that anxiety by reading lots of books, about babies, to my baby, about parents, and to myself.

Whole Brain Child — Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
If you only have time for one parenting book, I would recommend this one. Combines the latest in neuroscience with accessible explanations and catchy terms to help kids of all ages understand and regulate their emotions. It explains how the brain works, matures, and can be primed by parents & kids such that they all become whole-brain humans.

Social Justice Parenting–Tracy Baxley
Non-academic book written by Professor Baxley that outlines what it means to foster social justice engagement in your parenting style and in your kids. Great book if you (like me) was always left wondering about the limitations of kid-centered, or gentle-parenting etc. philosophies, in terms of encouraging compassion and political engagement in your family. Book is rooted in the US context, but provides building blocks that are relevant to all parents seeking age-appropriate ways to engage their kids and tackle difficult discussions around racism, sexism and other political inequities.

Also read various books by Emily Oster (yes I am aware of the controversies, but it was still nice to read a meta-study of many studies on all things parenting, without all the academic lingo).

Parenting for Life–Nina Sidell
I can’t remember who recommended I read this book, but wow: I am so sorry for whatever I did to you! Rarely have I read such a poorly edited, repetitive, book strung together by sentences like this: “Together, as parent and child, you receive the gift of a shared life, with a beginning, a middle, and end. It is with this perspective that you parent best.” The book is replete with such both obvious and completely vacuous statements. Hard pass on this book and please don’t gift it to anyone, parent or not.

Anti-Racist Baby–Ibram X. Kendi & Ashley Lukashevsky
Illustrated children’s book that helps parents have conversations with young kids about racism. Brightly colored, it follows the nine first steps of anti-racist baby, which reflect concrete practices (like using words to talk about race) to help parents raise anti-racist kids.

The Crayon Book of Feelings–Drew Daywalt & Oliver Teffers
The crayons have a lot of color feelings, sometimes all at the same time. A super cute book to help small kids understand, name, and express their emotions.

Tango Makes Three–Justin Richardson, Peter Parneff and Henry Cole
A cute and true story about two male penguins at the New York Zoo who (*spoiler alert*) fall in love and raise a baby penguin named Tango.

The Enormous Crocodile–Roald Dahl, illustration by Quentin Blake
Very large crocodile tries to eat bunch of kids in creative ways, but largely fails.

I’d Really Want to eat a Child–Sylviane Donnio
Small crocodile wants to eat a human, fails because he is too tiny and resorts to eating bananas instead.

The Unicorn that Said No–Marc Uwe Kling
A rule breaking Unicorn who loves to say “No” goes on an adventure that rhymes with a bunch of other contrarians.

Poetry, Graphic Novels & other

Daytripper–Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Having family and having lived in Brazil for many years, I am not sure how I only read Daytripper in 2021. Each chapter depicts a day in the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, the son of a world-famous writer who is finding his own literary voice. And *spoiler* at the end of each chapter… he dies, but at a different age and through a different twist of fate. The book asks us whether we will ever know if we are living the most important day of our life, in the moment? It also shows us how those crucial days are rooted in our relationships with others, parents, partners, friends, kids and how each day has the possibility of life but also death. The book captures everyday Brazilian life in such accurate detail, it was amazingly familiar.

Won’t be reading many other graphic novels for a bit, as I recover from this one.

Schaduw Kind (Shadow Child) — P.F. Thomese
Beautiful book trying to find words for the loss of a child. Comforting, raw, a diary of short stories that capture the human experience of loss and the ways in which we seek for meaning and answers: “A woman who lives longer than her husband is called a widow, a man without his wife a widower. A child without parents is an orphan. But what do you call the father and mother of a child who has died?”.

The Year of Magical Thinking–Joan Didion
This book is about processing raw grief through magical thinking. It was written by Didion in the year after the death of her husband. It is hard to be critical about someone’s personal journey, so instead I will say the book has some absolute gems of insights into what makes death and grieving so hard, so lonely, and how magical thinking happens in those first 365 days. That said, much of the book was too-US insider baseball for me (pages on pages about who she met on what corner of LA and how they’re also famous). In comparison to the Latin American tradition of magical thinking (and writing), this book fell flat in a distinctly North-American way, too much thinking, too little magic.

De Heks van Limbricht (The Witch of Limbricht)–Susan Smit
Story of the trial of an idiosyncratic and independent woman accused of witchery. The book covers her trial in 1674, yet tells a surprisingly contemporary story of how knowledgeable outspoken women are structurally silenced and persecuted. I don’t like reading in Dutch and would have never picked up this book had it not this month’s pick for my bookclub, but blew through it in 2,5 days.

All About Love: New Visions–bell hooks
Classic that I had not read in a number of years. Serious treaty on the subject of love, defined as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Yet, the book is also a sharp critique of the current moral failure of (American) society to model or create space for love as a grounding ethic for human relations and a practice to address loneliness and the lack of social cohesion. Some of hook’s work is too steeped in biblical references and philosophy to resonate with the questions I have, yet “new” visions on love as a set of practices of care is key to craft better, warmer, more feminist futures.

Detransition, baby— Torrey Peters
The book I would have loved to read in high school, as it captures queer- and transcultures with a familiarity that is rare in popular books. In-depth, funny, so on point story about three women, two trans and one cis, whose lives become bound together through an unexpected pregnancy that leads them to negotiate gender, motherhood, safety and sex.

Waste Tide–Chen Qiufan
Eerily realistic sci-fi about e-waste recycling, class warfare, and the remains of technology set in a dystopian future. The book tracks the lives of a number of characters in Silicon Island China, as they live a world we are rapidly moving towards of techno-overkill and environmental decay.

Homegoing–Yaa Gyasi
Gorgeous and heart wrenching story, that follows the families of two sisters from Ghana, one enslaved and one married to a slavetrader. This book demonstrates how colonialism, racism, and poverty shaped generations of lives and continues to today.


Podcasts

I listen to the BBC’s daily news podcast, as well as to NPR News Now. When it comes to tech and politics, I listen to LawFare podcast, The Economist podcast, No Network is Neutral, Planet Money, Dadocracia, 99% Invisible, Tech Won’t Save Us, Babbage from the Economist, Radio Rechtstaat, Response-ability podcast, The Anti-Dystopians, The Sunday Show by Tech Policy Press, Reply Guys, and Reply All. I also like Esther Perel’s Where Should we Begin, Good Inside with Dr. Becky, NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, No Such Thing as A Fish, and true crime podcasts about The Netherlands.


Mailinglists and other things that show up in my inbox

As an anthropologist of the Internet, I am subscribed to (too) many mailinglists + weekly/daily digests. My current favorites include: Rest of the World, DataSyn by IT for change, I*: Navigating Internet Governance and Standards by the Center for Democracy and Tech, the digest by Protocol, Otherwise Mag, Logic Magazine,  EPIC people, The Counterbalance, Data & Society’s newsletter, the Stanford Digital Civil Society (PACS) newsletter, Ada Lovelace Institute newsletter, Considerati newsletter, Racism & Tech Center newsletter, Superrrrrr network, EDRi, DFF, SIDN, Stichting Democratie & Media, CIS India, Algorithm Watch, Citizen Lab, EU AI Fund, CENTR newsletters,  IRTF HRPC, GAIA and PEARG mailinglists, Unfinished, New_Public, The Relay by Alix Dunn,  I also follow a number of newsletters from industry players in the content delivery and cloud space.

There is space to learn more about organizations outside of the US/EU–read Dutch, English, Portuguese and French, so hmu with your recommendations to expand my perspective!