“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.
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.