Modern culture is rife with bad information -- a.k.a. noise pollution. Ask any of my data-crunching, info-analyzing colleagues at AirPR, and they’ll tell you forthrightly that most online content is junk. From lackluster advice for getting rid of belly fat to get-rich-quick schemes claiming you can make a million dollars a year by working only 36 minutes a week, online content is soaked with predatory behavior and capitalist culture, waiting for anyone with a problem to bite.
My belief is that we’d all be better off limiting our mainstream media news intake to 30 minutes a week, at most, and our social media feed trolling to less than three minutes a day. But then again, I’m a closet curmudgeon who enjoys doing things like having conversations with my real-life friends and curling up with a good, physical book on a rainy afternoon.
Before you pass judgment on my anti-millennial-seeming sentiments, I assure you that I fully embrace many of the advantages technology and human evolution have afforded the masses. However, for every choice we make, there’s a subsequent trade-off. If we choose to be connected all the time with little space for reflection, we open our pores to a waterfall of unwanted information and somewhat forgo the opportunity to formulate our own opinions and beliefs.
Up for the challenge of becoming a more well-rounded, deeply thoughtful entrepreneur? Start with this list of must-reads, which I promise will allow you to form your own insights about relationships, the realities of our tech-driven culture and the importance of liberal arts in today’s digital world. And your bonus? You’ll look smarter for having good book recommendations at your next cocktail party, because -- newsflash -- most people don’t want to chat about Kimye.
1. The Course of Love by Alain de Botton.
de Botton is a relatively new discovery of mine, and has quickly become not only my professional crush, but also the voice in my head with regard to sound relationship -- or any kind -- of advice. I stumbled upon a lecture he gave called “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person” which then led me to his book, The Course Of Love. Do yourself and everyone you’ve ever known, loved or wanted to love a huge favor, and read this book. It’s part novel, part self-help. Regardless of its official categorization, The Course Of Love is a playful, wise and profound meditation on modern relationships.
Also, if you want to understand more about “Romantics” versus “Classics,” take a gander at The School of Life, an online portal created by de Botton and his colleagues that is, in the words of my scholastically-inclined father, “like drinking wisdom from a fire hose.”
2. The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World by Scott Hartley.
As someone who studied philosophy and psychology but has spent the past decade in the tech world, I was excited to read Hartley’s new book, The Fuzzy and the Techie. In a STEM-obsessed world where techies and “bro-grammers” have become the lionized billionaire set, here is a Sand Hill Road venture capitalist and Silicon Valley insider taking the contrarian stance that the liberal arts still matter.
Hartley myth-busts the idea that broad academic passion and technical literacy are mutually exclusive, and he gives strong argument to the notion that our technology requires diversity of thought. Not only are companies like YouTube run by literature and history majors, and companies like Slack and Pinterest founded by philosophers and political scientists, but the heart of our technology requires humanism to bring context to our code, question bias in big data and tame the assumptions baked into those algorithmic processes seeping into our daily lives.
As a “fuzzy” in a “techie” world, Hartley showed me that I’m not alone, and more of us are needed. The market for hiring philosophers and psychologists isn’t closed for business; in fact it may be the skill set of tomorrow. By the way, Anne-Marie Slaughter, mentioned in another one of my book roundups, referenced Hartley’s book in her Indiana University commencement address.
3. Top of Mind: Use Content to Unleash Your Influence and Engage Those Who Matter to You by John Hall.
As Influence & Co’s cofounder and CEO, Hall has learned a lot about what makes a content strategy work and what it takes to pierce through the noise. He's worked with brands like AIG, American Airlines, Dell and more.
In this book, Hall explores how brands can leverage “the authentic relationship” and shares tried-and-true tactics for growing a company by putting people first. It’s written in a way that’s easy to understand, whether you’re a content strategist, marketer or new startup founder wearing a million hats at once.
4. Blockchain for Dummies by Tiana Laurence.
Nothing is more satisfying than dropping knowledge on unsuspecting folks who take pride in their superiority around all things tech-related. The surest way to block and tackle this poor cocktail party etiquette is to start an in-depth conversation about an emerging sector.
Rated a no. 1 new release in “Digital Currencies” on Amazon, Blockchain For Dummies is an easy read that explores what blockchain is, how it works and what it can do for both consumers and businesses. Author Tiana Laurence is the cofounder and CMO of Factom, a blockchain-as-a-service company. She’s one of the leading voices for this emerging technology.
For business professionals, the book is an ideal starting place for gaining a better understanding of how blockchain can improve the integrity of data, enhance data security and ultimately change the way business is done. For tech trend buffs, Blockchain for Dummies is like a front-row seat to understanding the far-reaching implications of this revolutionary invention.
Bonus: Up for creating a working blockchain-based application? The book walks you through that too. Being a “dummy” never felt so good, or superior.
5. The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional by Agustín Fuentes.
Think our opposable thumbs or ability to feel compassion make us humans unique? Fuentes, professor of anthropology for University of Notre Dame, National Geographic explorer and author, will have you thinking twice about that. In The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional, Fuentes presents a bold new synthesis of paleontology, archaeology, genetics and anthropology that overturns misconceptions about race, war and peace, and human nature itself. He ultimately answers the age-old question, what makes humans so exceptional among all the species on Earth?
Spoiler alert: The short answer is good ol’ fashioned creativity. From the hunting and gathering practices of yore, to your child’s finger painting, a human’s ability to imagine and collaborate is what ultimately drives the evolutionary and innovation process.
Fuentes’ multi-million year perspective will certainly get your wheels turning, and if it has the same effect on you as it had on me, you’ll close the book’s back cover with a new sense of unfettered, unrushed, undistracted creativity.