The Common Read’s role in community

Learn how this year’s Common Read ties in with the upcoming Commitment to Community speech.

Kelly Holm, Senior Reporter

Every year since 2001, a selection committee has overseen the choosing of the Common Read, a book received by all incoming first-year students during summer’s Piper Preview. The book must be completely read by the beginning of fall Piper Passages orientation, as its discussion will be a crucial aspect of the FYSem experience.

Previous Common Reads have included novels such as The Kite Runner and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, while others were nonfiction works dealing directly with relevant social issues, such as Just Mercy.

This year’s Common Read, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, falls into the latter category. The book, published in 2017, focuses on the disparity between the persona people present when sharing information about themselves and their activities, and what internet data actually indicates about their habits.

“I loved it, I thought it was so interesting,” first-year Evelyn Humphrey said of Everybody Lies. “Even if you didn’t agree with it, there were certain parts that anyone who was interested could find something… My favorite part of the book was the political aspect of it, and how they use [big data] to figure out polls.”

Not everyone shared Humphrey’s enthusiasm about the book’s findings, however.

“I thought the author was a little entitled after a while, it became kind of repetitive,” first-year Renee Montville said. “It kind of sounded like he thought he solved a really big issue… He thought that he’d figured out the answer to what people actually think, big picture, which I think is a really hard concept, and he thinks he solved it very simply.”

In conjunction with the larger theme of Big Data, this year’s Commitment to Community speech, required programming for first-years, will be given by Safiya Umoja Noble, the author of Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. Based on research on search engine algorithms, Noble explores the supposed biases of search engines such as Google and how said prejudices can mirror those of the algorithms’ designers.

“I’m hoping that [Algorithms of Oppression] touches on the political aspect too,” Humphrey said.

Sexualities and Gender Diversity Programs Director and Deputy Title IX Coordinator t. aaron hans, who sat on this year’s Common Read committee, said that Algorithms of Oppression was originally a strong Common Read contender.

“We had several good options to choose from, and ‘Everybody Lies’ and ‘Algorithms of Oppression’ rose to the top of the list,” hans said in an email interview. “[W]e decided to use ‘Everybody Lies’ because of the greater breadth of the book’s foci, whereas ‘Algorithms of Oppression” has a more narrow scope of focus.”

The choice of its author for Commitment to Community speaker, however, ensured that this narrower scope of focus will not be left unexplored.

“I see this as an example of a good liberal arts education, which encourages us to look at and see different viewpoints on a single topic,” hans said.

The Commitment to Community lecture will take place on Thursday, Sept. 27, at Hamline Church. Tickets can be acquired at the Student Activities Center, located in Anderson 319. Other upcoming Common Read-related events include a screening of Digital Disconnect: Privacy, Fake News and Democracy on Thursday, Oct. 4 and a community panel discussion on big data in the Twin Cities on Thursday, Oct. 18.