Synopses & Reviews
Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley visionary since the 1980s, was among the first to predict the revolutionary changes the World Wide Web would bring to commerce and culture. Now, in his first book, written more than two decades after the web was created, Lanier offers this provocative and cautionary look at the way it 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 (such as making one’s presence anonymous) that have had enormous—and often unintended—consequences. What’s more, these designs quickly became “locked in,” a permanent part of the web’s very structure.
Lanier discusses the technical and cultural problems that can grow out of poorly considered digital design and 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.
Lanier also shows:
How 1960s antigovernment paranoia influenced the design of the online world and enabled trolling and trivialization in online discourse
How file sharing is killing the artistic middle class;
How a belief in a technological “rapture” motivates some of the most influential technologists
Why a new humanistic technology is necessary.
Controversial and fascinating, You Are Not a Gadget is a deeply felt defense of the individual from an author uniquely qualified to comment on the way technology interacts with our culture.
"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.'" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A groundbreaking book on our culture and the digital world by one of the legendary visionaries of the computer age. In the 1980s, Jaron Lanier was among the first to recognize the potential of the Internet as a transformative venue for creative expression, education, and communication. Now, as he considers an online culture filled with disposable film clips and blogs, puerile discourse, and a file-sharing ethos that celebrates copyright infringement, he describes how the Web has failed to live up to its early promise.
Lanier argues against the current digital design concept, Web 2.0 (exemplified by sites like Facebook and Wikipedia), which favors “the hive mind” over the intelligence and desires of individuals. He warns that these designs are perilously close to becoming inexorably “locked in” to the fabric of the Web, threatening to put our sense of personal identity at risk. Nevertheless, You Are Not a Gadget is fundamentally an optimistic book, and in discussions that range from the origins of language to the future of music, Lanier presents a profound alternative vision of how digital culture can still evolve.
Brilliant and idiosyncratic, You Are Not a Gadget is an impassioned defense of individuality and humanism by a man who understands the technology and the culture of the Web better than anyone.
Lanier, a Silicon Valley visionary, offers this provocative and cautionary look at the way technology is transforming lives for better and for worse.
About the Author
Jaron Lanier is the computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author who coined the term “virtual reality” to describe his pioneering work in networked communities. His current appointments include Scholar at Large for Live Labs, Microsoft Corporation, and Interdisciplinary Scholar-in-Residence at UC Berkeleys Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. He is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and of the Watson Award from Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in San Francisco.