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.
Computer scientist and Internet guru 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. Lanier is best known for creating and pioneering the use of the revolutionary computer technology that he named virtual reality. Yet in his first book, Lanier takes a step back and critiques the current digital technology, more deeply exploring the ideas from his famous 2000 Wired magazine article, "One-Half of a Manifesto," which argued against more wildly optimistic views of what computers and the Internet could accomplish. His main target here is Web 2.0, the current dominant digital design concept commonly referred to as "open culture." Lanier forcefully argues that Web 2.0 sites such as Wikipedia "undervalue humans" in favor of "anonymity and crowd identity." 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. But he concludes with a passionate and hopeful argument for a "new digital humanism" in which radical technologies do not deny "the specialness of personhood."
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Some great ideas and controversy
This is a fantastic manifesto that poses some interesting ideas that you may or may not agree with. Either way, its a great read to understand your relationship with technology.
I am not an emergent quality, either
From the first paragraph of the book (which is all that you might read before forming an opinion) it's clear that the author is confused by the outpouring of human creativity on social networks. Expecting that each utterance should be comparable to the few ancient Greeks' whose writings have survived the test of time is crazy. Just because, all of a sudden, everyone is writing something, that does not lessen what the rare great writer will produce, and certainly does not reduce expectations of what a person can be.
The author seems limited in his exposure to social networks to some amorphous mob of illiterate, purposeless, yet technology-literate people. His put down of anonymous crowd-sourced content refuses to see that it should be treated in its own terms. Wikipedia is not the Bible, it is not Shakespeare, and it is not the Encyclopedia Britannica. But neither is any of those the others. A simple example to refute his hypothesis is the use of social networks for social revolution. Surely this could not have come about if some very clever programmer had set out to create software for that purpose. What's great about these amorphous crowd contribution systems is their emergent properties, including uses that could not have been foreseen by some intelligent design.
Having started off with a flawed basis, the book continues to build a flawed edifice to contrarian thought. Certainly useful for defining what to disagree with.