"You Are Not a Gadget"
Comment of the Day

January 12 2010

Commentary by David Fuller

"You Are Not a Gadget"

I enjoyed this item on Jaron Lanier's new book, reviewed by Rich Jaroslovsky for Bloomberg. Here is the opening
Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- In the first flowering of the Internet a decade and a half ago, the astronomer and computer expert Clifford Stoll wrote "Silicon Snake Oil," a vigorous assault on the overheated promises and dreamy utopianism of the new digital world.

"You Are Not a Gadget," by the virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, falls broadly into the same genre: the man of technology aghast at what technology has wrought. From crowd- sourcing to social networking to mash-ups, Lanier dismantles the tropes of the current online culture, known broadly as "Web 2.0."

No mere rant, "You Are Not a Gadget" is a call for a more humanistic -- to say nothing of humane -- alternative future in which the individual is celebrated more than the crowd and the unique more than the homogenized. While the Web's current path risks the permanent enshrinement of lowest-common- denominatorhood, he argues, there's still a chance for a more benign outcome.

The chief enemy in the book is what Lanier calls "cybernetic totalism" -- a sort of digital Maoism in which humans are simultaneously aggregated and reduced, making them more components than individuals.

"The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush," he writes. "You then start to care about the abstraction of the network more than the real people who are networked."

David Fuller's view Sounds like a good read.

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