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You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron…

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (edition 2010)

by Jaron Lanier

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Title:You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
Authors:Jaron Lanier
Info:Knopf (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 224 pages
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You are not a gadget : a manifesto by Jaron Lanier


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  Jway | Apr 18, 2016 |
Hm. So I loved Jaron's talk at SXSW this year -- it's why I bought this book in the first place. Jaron's clearly a very smart and thoughtful guy and I appreciated hearing his concerns about how our digitally-mediated culture might cause us problems as people. That's what the first half of this book is about: How lock-in works and why it might be bad if people begin to believe their Facebook pages and think of themselves as selections on a pull-down list or nodes in the collective digital consciousness. I agree with Jaron -- there are many questions that need to be asked about how digital social tools will integrate with our culture. And many of these questions aren't being properly asked. The first half of the book does a great job of opening up discussion. I don't always agree with Jaron's answers, but I appreciate his questions.

The second half of the book, sadly, gets weird. He spends a lot of effort complaining about the state of modern music as being largely derivative and non-innovative -- something which I totally, totally disagree with. My personal story as a musician is totally enabled by the internet and digital culture, so I am not willing to dismiss what's been going on in the past ten-or-twenty years in the world of music. He later, then veers off into discussions of virtual reality -- which is mildly interesting but also seems kind of weirdly dated and off-topic from the rest of the book.

Anyway, the first half is definitely worth a read. ( )
  chasing | Jan 18, 2016 |
I tend to align myself with many of those that Lanier directly criticizes, but I found a lot that is valuable in this book. I was a little disappointed that Lanier's arguments hadn't taken into account the responses to his digital Maoism essay but that disappointment was greatly outweighed by a very excellent book.

While I do not buy into Lanier's negative arguments, I do buy into his positive arguments for humanism and that we can control the direction that technology grows in. I wouldn't have thought myself to be a technological determinist, but Lanier's line of reasoning about lowering our standards of humanity and intelligence in order to make machines seem more human.

While I don't blame Lessig, Shirky, or the fine minds at the Berkman Center for dehumanizing technology, I do buy the idea that we can infuse our technological choices w/ our deepest values and affect the outcome. ( )
  nnschiller | Sep 18, 2014 |
Only read half of this ( don't like Lanier ) ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
I liked it too much to rate it any lower than 3 stars, but it also pissed me off a lot more than any other book I haven't physically thrown across a room.(I have only ever thrown a very few books across a room.) ( )
1 vote maribou | May 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
"a work of staggering apostasy by one of cyberspace's founding fathers, Jaron Lanier"
added by jodi | editGuardian, Simon Ings (Nov 17, 2011)
Overall, the book is a delight; it gives us the privilege of riding inside Lanier's "adventurous individual imagination that is distinct from the crowd."
As Lanier sees it, MIDI has stripped personality and weirdness out of music for the past twenty years... It's a neatly delivered and convincing argument. Alas, it is pretty much Lanier's only such argument. The rest of his manifesto is maddeningly vague and nearly incoherent.
added by grelobe | editBookforum, Clive Thompson (Feb 1, 2010)
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It's early in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons—automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307269647, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010: For the most part, Web 2.0--Internet technologies that encourage interactivity, customization, and participation--is hailed as an emerging Golden Age of information sharing and collaborative achievement, the strength of democratized wisdom. Jaron Lanier isn't buying it. In You Are Not a Gadget, the longtime tech guru/visionary/dreadlocked genius (and progenitor of virtual reality) argues the opposite: that unfettered--and anonymous--ability to comment results in cynical mob behavior, the shouting-down of reasoned argument, and the devaluation of individual accomplishment. Lanier traces the roots of today's Web 2.0 philosophies and architectures (e.g. he posits that Web anonymity is the result of '60s paranoia), persuasively documents their shortcomings, and provides alternate paths to "locked-in" paradigms. Though its strongly-stated opinions run against the bias of popular assumptions, You Are Not a Gadget is a manifesto, not a screed; Lanier seeks a useful, respectful dialogue about how we can shape technology to fit culture's needs, rather than the way technology currently shapes us.

A Q&A with Author Jaron Lanier

Question: As one of the first visionaries in Silicon Valley, you saw the initial promise the internet held. Two decades later, how has the internet transformed our lives for the better?

Jaron Lanier: The answer is different in different parts of the world. In the industrialized world, the rise of the Web has happily demonstrated that vast numbers of people are interested in being expressive to each other and the world at large. This is something that I and my colleagues used to boldly predict, but we were often shouted down, as the mainstream opinion during the age of television’s dominance was that people were mostly passive consumers who could not be expected to express themselves. In the developing world, the Internet, along with mobile phones, has had an even more dramatic effect, empowering vast classes of people in new ways by allowing them to coordinate with each other. That has been a very good thing for the most part, though it has also enabled militants and other bad actors.

Question: You argue the web isn’t living up to its initial promise. How has the internet transformed our lives for the worse?

Jaron Lanier: The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called "Web 2.0" designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. There are so many things wrong with this that it takes a whole book to summarize them. Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor. This is why newspapers are dying. It might sound like it is only a problem for creative people, like musicians or writers, but eventually it will be a problem for everyone. When robots can repair roads someday, will people have jobs programming those robots, or will the human programmers be so aggregated that they essentially work for free, like today’s recording musicians? Web 2.0 is a formula to kill the middle class and undo centuries of social progress.

Question: You say that we’ve devalued intellectual achievement. How?

Jaron Lanier: On one level, the Internet has become anti-intellectual because Web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice. It is increasingly disheartening to write about any topic in depth these days, because people will only read what the first link from a search engine directs them to, and that will typically be the collective expression of the Wikipedia. Or, if the issue is contentious, people will congregate into partisan online bubbles in which their views are reinforced. I don’t think a collective voice can be effective for many topics, such as history--and neither can a partisan mob. Collectives have a power to distort history in a way that damages minority viewpoints and calcifies the art of interpretation. Only the quirkiness of considered individual expression can cut through the nonsense of mob--and that is the reason intellectual activity is important.

On another level, when someone does try to be expressive in a collective, Web 2.0 context, she must prioritize standing out from the crowd. To do anything else is to be invisible. Therefore, people become artificially caustic, flattering, or otherwise manipulative.

Web 2.0 adherents might respond to these objections by claiming that I have confused individual expression with intellectual achievement. This is where we find our greatest point of disagreement. I am amazed by the power of the collective to enthrall people to the point of blindness. Collectivists adore a computer operating system called LINUX, for instance, but it is really only one example of a descendant of a 1970s technology called UNIX. If it weren’t produced by a collective, there would be nothing remarkable about it at all.

Meanwhile, the truly remarkable designs that couldn’t have existed 30 years ago, like the iPhone, all come out of "closed" shops where individuals create something and polish it before it is released to the public. Collectivists confuse ideology with achievement.

Question: Why has the idea that "the content wants to be free" (and the unrelenting embrace of the concept) been such a setback? What dangers do you see this leading to?

Jaron Lanier: The original turn of phrase was "Information wants to be free." And the problem with that is that it anthropomorphizes information. Information doesn’t deserve to be free. It is an abstract tool; a useful fantasy, a nothing. It is nonexistent until and unless a person experiences it in a useful way. What we have done in the last decade is give information more rights than are given to people. If you express yourself on the internet, what you say will be copied, mashed up, anonymized, analyzed, and turned into bricks in someone else’s fortress to support an advertising scheme. However, the information, the abstraction, that represents you is protected within that fortress and is absolutely sacrosanct, the new holy of holies. You never see it and are not allowed to touch it. This is exactly the wrong set of values.

The idea that information is alive in its own right is a metaphysical claim made by people who hope to become immortal by being uploaded into a computer someday. It is part of what should be understood as a new religion. That might sound like an extreme claim, but go visit any computer science lab and you’ll find books about "the Singularity," which is the supposed future event when the blessed uploading is to take place. A weird cult in the world of technology has done damage to culture at large.

Question: In You Are Not a Gadget, you argue that idea that the collective is smarter than the individual is wrong. Why is this?

Jaron Lanier: There are some cases where a group of people can do a better job of solving certain kinds of problems than individuals. One example is setting a price in a marketplace. Another example is an election process to choose a politician. All such examples involve what can be called optimization, where the concerns of many individuals are reconciled. There are other cases that involve creativity and imagination. A crowd process generally fails in these cases. The phrase "Design by Committee" is treated as derogatory for good reason. That is why a collective of programmers can copy UNIX but cannot invent the iPhone.

In the book, I go into considerably more detail about the differences between the two types of problem solving. Creativity requires periodic, temporary "encapsulation" as opposed to the kind of constant global openness suggested by the slogan "information wants to be free." Biological cells have walls, academics employ temporary secrecy before they publish, and real authors with real voices might want to polish a text before releasing it. In all these cases, encapsulation is what allows for the possibility of testing and feedback that enables a quest for excellence. To be constantly diffused in a global mush is to embrace mundanity.

(Photo © Jonathan Sprague)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Silicon Valley visionary Jaron Lanier was among the first to predict the revolutionary changes the World Wide Web would bring to commerce and culture. Now, in his first book, Lanier offers this cautionary look at the way the Web is transforming our lives, for better and for worse. The current design and function of the web have become so familiar that it is easy to forget that they grew out of programming decisions made decades ago. The web's first designers made crucial choices with enormous-and often unintended-consequences. What's more, these designs quickly became "locked in," a permanent part of the web's very structure. Lanier warns that our financial markets and sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, and Twitter are elevating the "wisdom" of mobs and computer algorithms over the intelligence and judgment of individuals. This book is a deeply felt defense of the individual, from an author uniquely qualified to comment on the way technology interacts with our culture.--From publisher description.… (more)

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