Identity: A Reading List

A crash course in how new technologies influence how we understand ourselves

3 min read

A hand holds a smartphone that shows an image of the figure holding the phone, as if taking a selfie.
Image credit: Darren Garrett
The logo for How We Get To Next's Identity month–a piece of paper with a face made up of other faces.

From police officers trained in interrogation by bots to the politics of Black Dandyism, exploring how ideas change the world often means writing about how they also change the way we see ourselves. This is as true for the importance of soccer to refugees stranded in Indonesia as it is to everything in our Afrofuturism section.

With our reading lists, we normally try to break things down by medium. That didn’t make sense here–this topic is a sprawler–so instead our recommendations are organized by family resemblance.

We hope this proves a fruitful introduction to this most personal of themes.


“Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.”

Jean Baudrillard, America, 1986


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Here are our own key recommendations–the things that have stayed with our editorial team, and why:

  • Abigail Ronck recommends “Women and Children First: Technology and Moral Panic” by Ben Rooney in The Wall Street Journal:
    “While just a short blog post, it’s a really thoughtful commentary on which new technologies trigger moral panic in culture. They’re ones that change our relationship to time, space, and to other people. If it checks two of those three boxes, history shows that panic arises and plays out “‘in the bodies of children and women,’ starting as early as electrifying homes in the United States: “‘If you electrify homes you will make women and children vulnerable. Predators will be able to tell if they are home because the light will be on”¦ ‘”
  • I’m going to suggest that the most interesting example of something on identity to watch is a British TV series called Up. It started in 1964, by profiling 14 seven-year-old schoolchildren; every seven years, the documentary makers returned to interview them again. There have been eight episodes so far–the most recent, 56 Up, aired in 2012–and just as interesting as the causal chains between childhood events and adult lives is the participants’ evolving relationships with the documentary itself.
  • Duncan Geere–our own honorary Swede–recommends this Aeon piece on the “Fantasy North:” “This is a lovely essay on our cultural fascination with the North, in both fantasy and reality, over the centuries–as well as its potentially troubling implications for society.”
  • Matt Locke almost didn’t want to suggest something (he’s a twin, and “being a twin always makes this a bit weird”), but he points people toward this: “The Paradox of Identical Twins and What It Reveals About the Psychology of Personal Identity and Celebrity Culture.” It seems that being an identical twin is a lot like being famous.
  • “¦and Kristen Taylor says: “I still think reading Lauren Berlant’s 2011 book Cruel Optimism is a useful thing to do. For a quicker way in, “this 2012 interview with Berlant about affect” includes some thoughts about end times and political spectacle (particularly relevant to this fall).” She also thinks this tumblr,, is rad.

Our Bodies

Our Culture

Our Technology

Our World

The logo for How We Get To Next's Identity month–a piece of paper with a face made up of other faces.

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Identity section, which looks at how new technologies influence how we understand ourselves. Click the logo to read more.