You Are Not a Gadget

YouAreNotaGadget“Humans are free. We can commit suicide for the benefit of a Singularity. We can engineer our genes to better support an imaginary hive mind. We can make culture and journalism into second-rate activities and spend centuries remixing the detritus of the 1960s and other eras from before individual creativity went out of fashion.

Or we can believe in ourselves. By chance, it might turn out we are real.”


“The words in this book are written for people, not computers. I want to say: You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.” You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier

A few months ago, I found my way to futurist, virtual reality pioneer, and composer Jaron Lanier and his newest book, Who Owns the Future?  I was delighted to read the work of a prominent techie genius (Jaron works for Microsoft) calling for a humanistic information economy. I was so impressed with his message and vision, I sought out his first book, You Are Not a Gadget.

Who Owns the Future?I haven’t had a chance to synthesize my thoughts about You Are Not a Gadget. Before too much time goes by and I forget what I read, I wanted to at least post a few of my favorite quotes from the book, which inspired me as much as Who Owns the Future?

I’ve grown weary of social media and the sameness and superficiality of much of what I see online. I don’t know what to make of or how we can stop the fake news, misinformation, and vitriol that spread like wildfire on the internet and degrade our democracy and culture. You Are Not a Gadget was published in 2010 and does not address our current mess, but it is remarkably prescient. I hope that Lanier is writing at this very moment a third book to help save us from ourselves.

Here are some things Lanier has to say in You Are Not a Gadget:

“Web 2.0 designs strongly favor flatness in cultural expression. But I believe that flatness, as applied to human affairs, leads to blandness and meaninglessness.”


“If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth and beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless.

“The combination of hive mind and advertising has resulted in a new kind of social contract. The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”


“Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks, and lightweight mashups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interaction.

Communication is now often experienced as a superhuman phenomenon that towers above individuals. A new generation has come of age with a reduced expectation of what a person can be, and of who each person might become.”

I highly recommend Jaron Lanier’s books. They will get you thinking about where we seem to be heading and how we might take a more deliberate, ethical path to a humane culture that uses technology wisely while keeping it in its proper place.


16 thoughts on “You Are Not a Gadget”

  1. really important thoughts here, Valorie, so true, and yet how we reverse this trend to shallowness, profiteering, and lack of humanness beats me … maybe the pendulum will swing back, but maybe not in our time, or even with our civilisation …

  2. This sounds a bit extreme to me in its pessimism, even given where we find ourselves now, but it also sounds fascinating, timely, and full of questions worth asking ourselves. As someone who uses a computer almost constantly for work and for fun, I definitely think it’s important that we do so mindfully and intentionally, in a way that will create a world we all want to live in. I also have to acknowledge that in some ways, that doesn’t seem to be the track we’re on now! Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  3. This sounds interesting and it reminds me of a book which had me thinking along similar lines, Laurence Scott’s The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World. It was published in 2015 in the UK but took longer to get to Canada, so I just read it last year. It sounds like it might be a little more being-ish (and a little book-ish too) at times, more about the ideas than specific suggestions for instance, but I really enjoyed it, especially as I discovered it when I was particularly concerned about reshaping the way I interact with a screen during my day too. I’ll have a lookout for Jaron Lanier too!

  4. Great review….and I was most impressed by ‘communication’.
    I have young neighbors and when they walk the dog….I get not ‘good morning’….b/c they are staring into their phones. When they come to the ‘Pearly Gates’ they will hear: ‘Actually you had a pretty good life….but you were looking at your phone….and missed it!”
    I will try this book!

  5. Thanks Belinda. For a long time I focused on the good, exciting things digital technology brought us, especially since I was a medical librarian and taught classes on technology. But there have been disturbing outcomes and trends, especially here in the US. As a writer I find it increasingly hard to engage responsibly in social media – it saps too much of my time and energy, and it depresses me. Right now, my balance point is to engage in it much less, I’m better off, but we can’t tune out totally. I’m also concerned to see many in creative fields no longer able to make a living; and huge tech companies with such vast power via the data they possess.

  6. This sounds like a great read, Valorie. I, too, have grown weary of social media. I haven’t had a Facebook account for years and I ditched Twitter earlier this year because whilst I had made some good connections there, the constant barrage of hysteria, anger, outrage and vitriol was making me so anxious about things I could do nothing about. I’m glad I quit it. Interestingly they were reporting in UK yesterday how Facebook are going to start streaming media which you can then chat about with your friends, and my first thought was ‘groupthink’ and I wonder if Orwell’s vision (which was kind of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s vision, but that’s a secondary issue) has really come true. There is a flatness of experience, as Lanier suggests, to the online world, though there are some wonderful pockets here and there of something richer. I consider your blog one of those pockets. Thanks for sharing this Valorie, I’ll be looking Lanier up.

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