A NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A programmer, musician, and father of virtual reality technology, Jaron Lanier was a pioneer in digital media, and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture. Now, with the Web influencing virtually every aspect of our lives, he offers this provocative critique of how digital design is shaping society, for better and for worse.
Informed by Lanier’s experience and expertise as a computer scientist, You Are Not a Gadget discusses the technical and cultural problems that have unwittingly risen from programming choices—such as the nature of user identity—that were “locked-in” at the birth of digital media and considers what a future based on current design philosophies will bring. With the proliferation of social networks, cloud-based data storage systems, and Web 2.0 designs that elevate the “wisdom” of mobs and computer algorithms over the intelligence and wisdom of individuals, his message has never been more urgent.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Jaron Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality technology and has worked on the interface between computer science and medicine, physics, and neuroscience. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Visit the author's website at www.jaronlanier.com.
Read an Excerpt
an apocalypse of self- abdication
THE IDEAS THAT I hope will not be locked in rest on a philosophical foundation that I sometimes call cybernetic totalism. It applies metaphors from certain strains of computer science to people and the rest of reality. Pragmatic objections to this philosophy are presented.
What Do You Do When the Techies Are Crazier Than the Luddites?
The Singularity is an apocalyptic idea originally proposed by John von Neumann, one of the inventors of digital computation, and elucidated by figures such as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil.
There are many versions of the fantasy of the Singularity. Here’s the one Marvin Minsky used to tell over the dinner table in the early 1980s: One day soon, maybe twenty or thirty years into the twenty- first century, computers and robots will be able to construct copies of themselves, and these copies will be a little better than the originals because of intelligent software. The second generation of robots will then make a third, but it will take less time, because of the improvements over the first generation.
The process will repeat. Successive generations will be ever smarter and will appear ever faster. People might think they’re in control, until one fine day the rate of robot improvement ramps up so quickly that superintelligent robots will suddenly rule the Earth.
In some versions of the story, the robots are imagined to be microscopic, forming a “gray goo” that eats the Earth; or else the internet itself comes alive and rallies all the net- connected machines into an army to control the affairs of the planet. Humans might then enjoy immortality within virtual reality, because the global brain would be so huge that it would be absolutely easy—a no-brainer, if you will—for it to host all our consciousnesses for eternity.
The coming Singularity is a popular belief in the society of technologists. Singularity books are as common in a computer science department as Rapture images are in an evangelical bookstore.
(Just in case you are not familiar with the Rapture, it is a colorful belief in American evangelical culture about the Christian apocalypse. When I was growing up in rural New Mexico, Rapture paintings would often be found in places like gas stations or hardware stores. They would usually include cars crashing into each other because the virtuous drivers had suddenly disappeared, having been called to heaven just before the onset of hell on Earth. The immensely popular Left Behind novels also describe this scenario.)
There might be some truth to the ideas associated with the Singularity at the very largest scale of reality. It might be true that on some vast cosmic basis, higher and higher forms of consciousness inevitably arise, until the whole universe becomes a brain, or something along those lines. Even at much smaller scales of millions or even thousands of years, it is more exciting to imagine humanity evolving into a more wonderful state than we can presently articulate. The only alternatives would be extinction or stodgy stasis, which would be a little disappointing and sad, so let us hope for transcendence of the human condition, as we now understand it.
The difference between sanity and fanaticism is found in how well the believer can avoid confusing consequential differences in timing. If you believe the Rapture is imminent, fixing the problems of this life might not be your greatest priority. You might even be eager to embrace wars and tolerate poverty and disease in others to bring about the conditions that could prod the Rapture into being. In the same way, if you believe the Singularity is coming soon, you might cease to design technology to serve humans, and prepare instead for the grand events it will bring.
But in either case, the rest of us would never know if you had been right. Technology working well to improve the human condition is detectable, and you can see that possibility portrayed in optimistic science fiction like Star Trek.
The Singularity, however, would involve people dying in the flesh and being uploaded into a computer and remaining conscious, or people simply being annihilated in an imperceptible instant before a new superconsciousness takes over the Earth. The Rapture and the Singularity share one thing in common: they can never be verified by the living.
You Need Culture to Even Perceive Information Technology
Ever more extreme claims are routinely promoted in the new digital climate. Bits are presented as if they were alive, while humans are transient fragments. Real people must have left all those anonymous comments on blogs and video clips, but who knows where they are now, or if they are dead? The digital hive is growing at the expense of individuality.
Kevin Kelly says that we don’t need authors anymore, that all the ideas of the world, all the fragments that used to be assembled into coherent books by identifiable authors, can be combined into one single, global book. Wired editor Chris Anderson proposes that science should no longer seek theories that scientists can understand, because the digital cloud will understand them better anyway.*
Antihuman rhetoric is fascinating in the same way that selfdestruction is fascinating: it offends us, but we cannot look away.
The antihuman approach to computation is one of the most baseless ideas in human history. A computer isn’t even there unless a person experiences it. There will be a warm mass of patterned silicon with electricity coursing through it, but the bits don’t mean anything without a cultured person to interpret them.
This is not solipsism. You can believe that your mind makes up the world, but a bullet will still kill you. A virtual bullet, however, doesn’t even exist unless there is a person to recognize it as a representation of a bullet. Guns are real in a way that computers are not.
Making People Obsolete So That Computers Seem More Advanced
Many of today’s Silicon Valley intellectuals seem to have embraced what used to be speculations as certainties, without the spirit of unbounded curiosity that originally gave rise to them. Ideas that were once tucked away in the obscure world of artificial intelligence labs have gone mainstream in tech culture. The first tenet of this new culture is that all of reality, including humans, is one big information system. That doesn’t mean we are condemned to a meaningless existence. Instead there is a new kind of manifest destiny that provides us with a mission to accomplish. The meaning of life, in this view, is making the digital system we call reality function at ever- higher “levels of description.”
People pretend to know what “levels of description” means, but I doubt anyone really does. A web page is thought to represent a higher level of description than a single letter, while a brain is a higher level than a web page. An increasingly common extension of this notion is that the net as a whole is or soon will be a higher level than a brain. There’s nothing special about the place of humans in this scheme. Computers will soon get so big and fast and the net so rich with information that people will be obsolete, either left behind like the characters in Rapture novels or subsumed into some cyber-superhuman something.
Silicon Valley culture has taken to enshrining this vague idea and spreading it in the way that only technologists can. Since implementation speaks louder than words, ideas can be spread in the designs of software. If you believe the distinction between the roles of people and computers is starting to dissolve, you might express that—as some friends of mine at Microsoft once did—by designing features for a word processor that are supposed to know what you want, such as when you want to start an outline within your document. You might have had the experience of having Microsoft Word suddenly determine, at the wrong moment, that you are creating an indented outline. While I am all for the automation of petty tasks, this is different.
From my point of view, this type of design feature is nonsense, since you end up having to work more than you would otherwise in order to manipulate the software’s expectations of you. The real function of the feature isn’t to make life easier for people. Instead, it promotes a new philosophy: that the computer is evolving into a life-form that can understand people better than people can understand themselves.
Another example is what I call the “race to be most meta.” If a design like Facebook or Twitter depersonalizes people a little bit, then another service like Friendfeed— which may not even exist by the time this book is published— might soon come along to aggregate the previous layers of aggregation, making individual people even more abstract, and the illusion of high- level metaness more celebrated.
Information Doesn’t Deserve to Be Free
“Information wants to be free.” So goes the saying. Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, seems to have said it first.
I say that information doesn’t deserve to be free.
Cybernetic totalists love to think of the stuff as if it were alive and had its own ideas and ambitions. But what if information is inanimate? What if it’s even less than inanimate, a mere artifact of human thought? What if only humans are real, and information is not?
Of course, there is a technical use of the term “information” that refers to something entirely real. This is the kind of information that’s related to entropy. But that fundamental kind of information, which exists independently of the culture of an observer, is not the same as the kind we can put in computers, the kind that supposedly wants to be free.
Information is alienated experience.
You can think of culturally decodable information as a potential form of experience, very much as you can think of a brick resting on a ledge as storing potential energy. When the brick is prodded to fall, the energy is revealed. That is only possible because it was lifted into place at some point in the past.
In the same way, stored information might cause experience to be revealed if it is prodded in the right way. A file on a hard disk does indeed contain information of the kind that objectively exists. The fact that the bits are discernible instead of being scrambled into mush—the way heat scrambles things—is what makes them bits.
But if the bits can potentially mean something to someone, they can only do so if they are experienced. When that happens, a commonality of culture is enacted between the storer and the retriever of the bits. Experience is the only process that can de- alienate information.
Information of the kind that purportedly wants to be free is nothing but a shadow of our own minds, and wants nothing on its own. It will not suffer if it doesn’t get what it wants.
But if you want to make the transition from the old religion, where you hope God will give you an afterlife, to the new religion, where you hope to become immortal by getting uploaded into a computer, then you have to believe information is real and alive. So for you, it will be important to redesign human institutions like art, the economy, and the law to reinforce the perception that information is alive. You demand that the rest of us live in your new conception of a state religion. You need us to deify information to reinforce your faith.
*Chris Anderson, “The End of Theory,” Wired, June 23, 2008 (www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/ 16- 07/pb_theory).
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Paperback Edition ix
Part 1 What is a Person? 1
Chapter 1 Missing Persons 1
Chapter 2 An Apocalypse of Self-Abdication 24
Chapter 3 The Noosphere Is Just Another Name for Everyone's Inner Troll 45
Part 2 What Will Money Be? 73
Chapter 4 Digital Peasant Chic 77
Chapter 5 The City Is Built to Music 87
Chapter 6 The Lords of the Clouds Renounce Free Will in Order to Become Infinitely Lucky 94
Chapter 7 The Prospects for Humanistic Cloud Economics 100
Chapter 8 Three Possible Future Directions 108
Part 3 he unbearable Thinness of Flatness 117
Chapter 9 Retropolis 121
Chapter 10 Digital Creativity Eludes Flat Places 133
Chapter 11 All Hail the Membrane 138
Part 4 Making the Best of Bits 149
Chapter 12 I Am a Contrarian Loop 153
Chapter 13 One Story of How Semantics Might Have Evolved 158
Part 5 Future Humors 175
Chapter 14 Home at Last (My Love Affair with Bachelardian Neoteny 179
afterword to the Paperback Edition 193
What People are Saying About This
“A provocative and sure-to-be-controversial book . . . Lucid, powerful and persuasive. It is necessary reading for anyone interested in how the Web and the software we use every day are reshaping culture and the marketplace.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Important . . . At the bottom of Lanier’s cyber-tinkering is a fundamentally humanist faith in technology, a belief that wisely designed machines can bring us closer together by expanding the possibilities of creative self-expression . . . His mind is a fascinating place to hang out.”
—Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times
“Persuasive . . . [Lanier] is the first great apostate of the Internet era.”
—David Wallace-Wells, Newsweek
“Thrilling and thought-provoking . . . A necessary corrective in the echo chamber of technology debates. You Are Not a Gadget challenges many dominant ideologies and poses theoretical questions, the answers to which might start with one bright bulb, but depend on the friction of engaged parties. In other words, Lanier is acting like a computer scientist. Let’s hope he is not alone.”
—John Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle
“A call for a more humanistic—to say nothing of humane—alternative future in which the individual is celebrated more than the crowd and the unique more than the homogenized . . . You Are Not a Gadget may be its own best argument for exalting the creativity of the individual over the collective efforts of the ‘hive mind.’ It’s the work of a singular visionary, and offers a hopeful message: Resistance may not be futile after all.”
—Rich Jaroslovsky, Bloomberg.com
“Provocative . . . [Lanier] confronts the big issues with bracing directness . . . The reader sits up. One of the insider’s insiders of the computing world seems to have gone rogue.”
—Sven Birkerts, The Boston Globe
“Sparky, thought-provoking . . . This is good knockabout stuff, and Lanier clearly enjoys rethinking received tech wisdom: his book is a refreshing change from Silicon Valley’s usual hype.”
—Paul Marks, New Scientist
“Lanier’s detractors have accused him of Ludditism, but his argument will make intuitive sense to anyone concerned with questions of propriety, responsibility, and authenticity.”
—The New Yorker
“Poetic and prophetic, this could be the most important book of the year. The knee-jerk notion that the net as it is being developed sets us free is turned on its head . . . Read this book and rise up against net regimentation!”
—Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)
“From crowd-sourcing to social networking and mash-ups, Lanier dismantles the tropes of the current online culture.”
—Bloomberg.com, “Five Top Business Books of 2010”
“Lanier asks some important questions . . . He offers thoughtful solutions . . . Gadget is an essential first step at harnessing a post-Google world.”
—Eli Sanders, The Stranger (Seattle)
“Lanier turns a philosopher’s eye to our everyday online tools . . . The reader is compelled to engage with his work, to assent, contradict, and contemplate. In this, Lanier’s manifesto is not just a success, but a meta-success . . . Lovers of the Internet and all its possibilities owe it to themselves to plunge into Lanier’s [You Are Not a Gadget] and look hard in the mirror. He’s not telling us what to think; he’s challenging us to take a hard look at our cyberculture, and emerge with new creative inspiration.”
—Carolyn Kellogg, Flavorwire
“Inspired, infuriating and utterly necessary . . . Lanier tells of the loss of a hi-tech Eden, of the fall from play into labour, obedience and faith. Welcome to the century’s first great plea for a ‘new digital humanism’ against the networked conformity of cyber-space. This eloquent, eccentric riposte comes from a sage of the virtual world who assures us that, in spite of its crimes and follies, ‘I love the internet.’ That provenance will only deepen its impact, and broaden its appeal.”
—Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (London)
“A must read for 2010.”
“Lanier’s fascinating and provocative full-length exploration of the Internet’s problems and potential is destined to become a must-read for both critics and advocates of online-based technology and culture . . . He brilliantly shows how large Web 2.0–based information aggregators such as Amazon.com—as well as proponents of free music file sharing—have created a ‘hive mind’ mentality emphasizing quantity over quality.”
“Jaron Lanier’s long awaited book is fabulous—I couldn’t put it down. His is a rare voice of sanity in the debate about the relationship between computers and human beings. This is a landmark book that will have people talking and arguing for years into the future.”
—Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics
“This is the single most important book yet written about our increasingly digital world. It will be remembered either as the manifesto that rescued humanity from the brink of extinction, or as the last cogent missive from an obsolete species.”
—Douglas Rushkoff, author of Life Inc., Media Virus, and Cyberia
“In this sane and spirited critique of Internet dogma, Jaron Lanier also delivers a timely defense of the value of the individual human being.”
—Nicholas Carr, author of Does IT Matter? and The Big Switch
“Important . . . Highly relevant . . . An impassioned and original critique of what the digital world has become . . . A much-needed defence of the humanist values that are being trampled underfoot . . . If ever there was an answer to the question, ‘Who needs thinkers when you have Wikipedia?’, this book is surely it.”
—John Stones, Design Week (UK)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the most disappointing reading experiences occurs when you begin a book excited, and predisposed to agree with the author's premise, only to find the author does such a shoddy job of articulating that premise that he/she actually turns you AGAINST it. Such was the case with my reading of "You Are Not a Gadget," a book that by the end I found enough of a waste of my time that I opted against reading the final 30 or so pages. I'd simply had enough of Lanier's self-absorbed rantings. Now, the book is not a total lost cause. Embedded in it are some pretty fascinating discussions on how the Internet has evolved, with the concept of "lock-in" (the manner in which one way of doing things quickly becomes an irreversible industry standard) especially key. Music is apparently Lanier's second passion, and his chapter discussing the decline of popular music in the past 15 years is entertaining and informed. However, I thought he utterly failed to connect the dots in any convincing way that the decline of music (or most any other problem he mentions) is linked to the environment of anonymity on the Web. There simply is NO cause and effect where he implies there is... you are left to take his enlightened, ingenious word for it. As some academics tend to do, Lanier appropriates his own fanciful terms (the "hive mind," the "cloud") and runs them into the ground in an apparent attempt to prove how much smarter he is than you. In fact, these terms are needless, childish, and could have been explained in everyday language rather than Lanier's slang. Also, an ironic point about the concept of "lock-in:" Though he posits early on that he has no political bent, Lanier reveals himself throughout the book as a victim of a kind of intellectual lock-in, in that he paints with a broad brush in villifying wide swaths of people of virtually any sort of conservative view (the infamous "religious right," supporters of George W. Bush, etc...), all the while snobbishly assuming that no reasonable person actually AGREES with those rubes. It's a lazy snobbishness that is highly off-putting, and which betrays a conceited pseudo-intellectual who badly needs to get slapped out of his ivory tower, and back into the real world. Because if he'd get off his high horse and employ a bit of logic, Lanier really would have some very useful insight to be gleaned.
While Mr. Lanier's observations on the broken parts of Web 2.0 are often dead-on, I finished You are Not a Gadget wishing he had offered some more innovative suggestions on how these faulty parts could be repaired. Aside from some new rules for netiquette, the book is light on practical solutions that could feasibly be implemented in the near future. Still, reading about the author's thoughts on everything from computers to music to cephalopods to the Singularity was a joy. His love for humanity and technology's potential radiated off the pages. Let's hope it inspires other technologists to forge Web 3.0 into something that rewards with something other than ad revenue, and empowers individuals even when they dare challenge the wisdom and authority of the "hive mind."
This is an eyeopening book that should be read by everyone whose life is affected by computers.
I have to admit that theres some timely insights here. Theres also a lot of sniping at successful internet companies though that comes across suspiciously like sour grapes from someone that missed the boat. This could have been a great magazine article, it just doesn't work as a book.
I didn't get it. It appears as though the author is attempting to philosophize about technology/internet as if it had a mind of its own or something.I dunno. Technology isn't people. And I don't need to read a book to tell me this, especially when his arguments don't really make much sense.And, on top of that, I can't stand the way the pages are broken out with headers and subheaders - as if it were an academic paper with subsections. It ain't an academic paper so don't go trying to pretend it's more than some musings with half-baked "evidence"
I like Jaron, I think his ideas are insightful and passionate, but I don't think this book did justice to his nuanced romantic perspective. I wish this book was better structured and, frankly, better written, but I still enjoyed Jaron's ideas so I'll briefly address them. The main thesis of 'You Are Not a Gadget' is that if we are not careful in designing our information technology systems with the proper reverence for the ineffable individual human person, then we risk creating techno-social architectures which may mold our culture into acquiescing a diminished human experience. He lambasts the free/open-source/creative-commons/web2.0 movements that have come to dominate the mainstream ideology of most technologists these days, blaming them for preventing the formation of a large middle class of artists and creative professionals that was hoped for in the early days of the internet. He also derides the increasingly popular futurist ideas of the technological singularity, holding in contempt what he views as simplistic notions of intelligence and our primitive abilities to model them in software. What those groups all have in common is their threat to subjugate the individual to the hive mind, influencing us into making our most important decisions for the benefit of the machines or the collective instead of the human.Jaron doesn't only criticize, he also offers up his own suggestions for fixing the current state of affairs and has his own future scenario of how he'd like to see humans using information technology. I think some of his suggestions are exciting and worthy of discussion, but the limited and superficial treatment of them in the book don't amount to much. Again, I wish this book was better written because I really believe in many of these ideas, but as it stand I have to recommend reading Jaron's essays online or listening to his talks instead of reading this book in order to get a better appreciation of his ideology.
Jaron Lanier criticizes the received wisdom about how the internet and Web 2.0 relate to true creativity, freedom and authorship. Lanier zeroes in on how our present technologies and softwares lock us into certain patterns of thought and belief that are inherently limited and limiting. Lanier, who was a tech pioneer in the early days of the internet, finds the present configuration of the web to be an impoverished place for people to grow as artists and citizens. This book was very provocative, and very deep. Lanier is a corrective to Clay Shirky, who argues the other side: Web 2.0= utopian forms of social organization, of action and creation (pardon my shorthand, but that's the gist of Shirky as I remember his book "Here Comes Everybody").
You Are Not a Gadget is Jaron Lanier's critique the modern internet's tendency to favor the wisdom of crowds over the individual. Basically, he's warning against how we devalue our human uniqueness while pursuing an increasingly smarter computer mind. That's the gist, I think. The topics within the chapters often stray so it's not always clear what point he's trying to make.Mr. Lanier is no doubt intelligent - best known for being one of the main contributors to the technology of virtual reality - and I more or less agree with his entire premise. Unfortunately, his arguments come across like the rants of an older man who doesn't like the change he sees coming. You half expect him to start lamenting about not understanding kids these days.The truly frustrating part is that he's probably right, but his convoluted delivery makes me doubt him.
This is a book which argues passionately for sustained thought, aesthetics, and relationships, in a world which is becoming increasingly "fragmentary" due in part to the philosophical lock-in created by the way we use and design our information tools.Ironically, the book is written in a frustrating series of loosely-connected one to three page micro-essays. Following Lanier's thought is made more difficult by this; he hops from gripe to gripe, expecting the user to follow his train of thought with little aid other than the force of his invective. It is a "manifesto," and as such it is sorely lacking in the trappings of deep thought like attributed sources, or clear definitions of concepts.I agree with a lot of what Lanier says, which is one of the things which makes this sloppy book so frustrating. For example, he quite rightly states that anonymity is a de-personalizing force which enables much of the worst, most harmful behavior on the Internet. However, he never credits Facebook for fighting this trend by opening their authentication system to other web sites. Instead, he attacks Facebook for its oppressive, impersonal graphic design - a fair criticism, but it seems, a missed opportunity for balance in this "manifesto". In a similar example, in one chapter he criticizes the idea that "open science" could lead to discoveries in evolutionary biology, and then in the next he praises the advances in computational linguistics made possible by large electronic text collections. Again, both criticisms seem fair based on my limited knowledge of the disciplines... but Lanier doesn't address that aspect, or even the similarity of the two efforts.At the end of the day, I find myself wishing for a more scholarly book by Lanier on a smaller subset of these topics. Particularly in the computing areas where I respect his vast knowledge - the nature of the operating system, the possibilities of virtual reality, the very nature of "intelligence", artificial or not, and the way all of these areas have social effects - I know Lanier has a lot to teach me. Unfortunately, this book isn't about "teaching." It's about "convincing."
Lanier has been around a while, so what he has to say about UNIX and asynchronous time, the shaping of consciousness and "cybernetic totalism", and the early stuff of codes and commands, are pretty interesting. But he likes to pick on Wikipedia and MIDI too often and in fairly superficial ways (not that I would stand to defend either). The redundancy only goes to show that I think he is best at being the experienced computer scientist and not the half-baked musicologist, sociologist, or cultural critic. And he's a terrible philosopher, despite his humanist bent and good intentions. I enjoyed the beginning, where Lanier flies as the informed and thoughtful historian. But 3/4 of the way, his points become horribly oblique and just plain weird in that Wired magazine kind of way (just examine the headings). I wanted to like this book, but the end just fell apart for me.
You Are Not A Gadget is a fantastic manifesto. Jaron states his positions firmly in some cases. In other cases it is obvious he has thought deeply on the issues but hasn't come to a workable conclusion on how to better processes and software. He admits he doesn't have the answers but has some hope that technology, especially the internet, will improve in the future before it gets locked into inanity. He is critical of Web 2.0 (including FaceBook) and the online hive mind. Crowds are not always wise, sometimes they are pretty stupid. He takes on the ability of artists, with a focus on musicians, to earn a living in this environment. It hasn't worked out well for them. He rails against the Singularitarians and their rabid zeal that compares to fundamentalist's eager anticipation of the rapture. He touches are many other areas on technology and the ways he thinks it is bereft of the possibilities that could be with greater vision. A manifesto doesn't have to be completely agreed with by the reader. Very few are. A manifesto should decree the manifesto writer's position on the issues written about. In this instance he has created a manifesto that will be discussed and referred back for quite some time. It's going to fester under some technologist's skin and inspire others to create software 'that doesn't suck'. Some will write Lanier off as a 'goofball'. I found he made me think more deeply about the internet and to continue to think about its direction.
intriguing and provocative, but I thought many of the arguments were not well made.
An interesting manifesto about the changing face of the internet and digital culture vis a vis its relation to human beings. I appreciate Lanier¿s humanism as I agree that the value of computers lies only in its relation to the humans who use them. I¿m not so sure if I agree with his statements that the internet is culturally reactive rather than active. While this may be true in the general sense (and definitely the reason why I avoid YouTube if I can *rimshot*) I¿ve seen some powerful activism and creativity online. In these cases, crowds and the hive mind are able to draw together otherwise isolated and silenced individuals. There are other things that I feel he overlooks, and there are certain presumptions he makes about people in general when talking about what is better for people. But overall, an interesting book. I¿m not overly educated in philosophical discussions of the web so I¿m not the best person to process Lanier¿s arguments, but for someone who is, it¿s worth reading.
What Jaron Lanier does is take us up 50,000 feet and allow us to view things with perspective. We have been overwhelmed by the unnoticed "lock-in" and simply adjust and reduce ourselves to fit the requirements of online dating, social media, forums, and the software we employ. Web 2.0 is homogenizing humanity, taking us down to the lowest common denominator instead of allowing encouraging us to bloom in different directions. Everything we now "enjoy" seems to be backward looking - music is sampled and retro, news is criticized mercilessly, but very few are creating it any more, relationships are Tweets...Friends don't let friends communicate via Facebook - they do it on the phone or in person. But the direction we are taking instead reduces interaction, kills creativity, journalism, music, science....it's not as pretty as predicted.These are truly valuable criticisms, and this is an important, if flawed book. Flawed because after a hundred page pounding of logic and evidence, Lanier spends the second hundred pages telling us how wonderful it is to be a scientist and play with humans and cuttlefish. I was particularly annoyed with an unnecessary couple of paragraphs devoted to swearing, which he did not link to social media, and which he says might be connected to a parts of the brain controlling orifices and obscenity. Swearing is purely cultural, not physiological. In Quebec, the worst swearing is against the Catholic Church, Translated into English "Christ Tabernacle" sounds like something WC Fields said to skirt the censors. But it's the most vile thing you can say in polite conversation in Montreal. On the other hand Motherf----r doesn't translate into French at all. And what's any of this got to do with online reductionism? Zilch.Others have pointed to other sections they disagree with, and they all seem to occur in the last half of the book. But don't let that deter you, as it distracted him. The original message is important. People create. Software does not. Software restricts. Don't leave anonymous contributions. Build a creative website of your own design. Probe deeply and uniquely - beyond Wikipedia. Reflect before you blog.Our humanity and creativity are being put at risk by the miasma foisted on us by the incredible leveling machine of the internet. Instead of becoming exciting, the internet has become boring. Instead of creating new music, it has assassinated the entire industry. Instead of bringing people together, it lets them off the hook. That's worth exploring, and for about 100 pages, Lanier does a grand job of it.
The writing was absolutely atrocious and I couldn't make it past the second chapter. Manifesto indeed.
I agree with many of Lanier's points, especially regarding the damaging effects of technology that reduces our humanity. But his superficial, frantic ramblings are lamentable---this is a manifesto against the crowd-based technophilia exemplified by Wired magazine, written precisely in Wired's hyped, glitzy, mock-philosophical style.
Everyone who uses social media should read this book. Lanier, an insider of the Silicon Valley community, describes the development of our modern day computing tools and speaks to their implications for our society. Anyone who has ever been frustrated by default settings, or forced to do more typing when Microsoft Word incorrectly intuits the next tab space in a document, will appreciate Lanier's critique. Read this and share the ideas with your colleagues.
I admit that about 25% of the book went over my head; I'm not a software engineer. But, a lot of what Lanier (the father of virtual reality) says resonates with me. The unquestioning acceptance of the "wisdom of the crowd" for one being a tenant that definitely needs questioning. Why programming decisions made decades ago (like making the individual's presence anonymous) now have consequences -- such as trolling and the trivialization of online discussion. Lanier makes a strong and eloquent case for replacing the anonymous Wikipedia collaboration model with more human, individual, creative and context-rich model. Lanier also points out that we have experienced a paucity of musical and popular cultural innovations in the past several decades (with some notable exceptions like Pixar films (yay!)) and he blames the ubiquity of file sharing which demotivates artists. As someone who isn't that much of a devotee of popular culture and music, not a software engineer -- not sure whether I really am able to judge or critique Lanier's book effectively. But as a human who uses Web 2.0 tools a lot, and an information seeker -- much of what he said resonated. Thought provoking.
The book You are Not a Gadget contains musings of the author, Jaron Lanier, about how technology has and will continue to affect individuals as well as human society in general. Lanier is a computer scientist, visual artist and musician, and has worked with associates in a variety of science fields. He pulls historical and contemporary examples of philosophy, psychology, religion, music, art & technology and applies those concepts to today's technology. This five part (fourteen chapters) book raises important questions and provides useful discussion on the topics at hand. It is a well written book that is both thought provoking and quick reading, and will make readers pause to evaluate how they incorporate technology in their own lives. This book might be useful for promoting classroom discussion about technological issues at either the undergraduate or graduate levels.
I will not say much here - but you need to read this book. How often is it that a sophisticated critique comes along about a common thing in society, something we just take for granted ? But we shouldn't - our consumer choices and sociopolitical awareness give us at least a small amount of power to affect how we use technology - and how it uses us. Read. This. Book.