You Are Not A Gadget

You Are Not A Gadget

A Manifesto

Book - 2010
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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.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2010.
ISBN: 9780307269645
Characteristics: ix, 209 p. ;,23 cm.


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Dec 31, 2016

I really liked this essay; if Erasmus or della Mirandola were a computer and info tech junkies they could have written this. It brings the failure of Humane-ness - the failure to bring it about and extend it - to light in the thought about the world wide web and modern society. Every legislator ought to read it, and everyone in a democracy should too.

Chapel_Hill_KenMc Dec 22, 2014

Jarod Lanier makes up for a somewhat rambling, disjointed argumentative structure by peppering this book with startling insights and counter-intuitive statements on the nature of technological innovation. Lanier, credited as the founder of virtual reality technology, is as much a humanist as a techno-geek, and he wants us to be cautious as we enter the brave new world of digital miracles. Personhood is a crucial concept for Lanier, and he makes it clear that computers can never be people.

Lanier is best when he explains how the process of technology proliferation can channel culture into particular patterns. A seemingly random choice at the point of invention can result in solidified structure and precedent that can be nearly impossible to overcome. I recommend particularly his discussion of digital music and the ways it has shaped our creation and hearing of music today.

For all its faults, Lanier's voice is one that is worth hearing. For a good pairing, I would suggest reading this book along with David Weinberger's "Too Big to Know." The latter extols the virtues of crowd wisdom and interconnectivity, while Lanier cautions us to remember the value of individual creativity and the mystery of consciousness.

Nov 23, 2014

I can't say I recommend this book at all. The author seems rather bitter about new technology and the way people use it these days.

Lanier tends to ramble and his arguments don't really work for me. I don't know, it just didn't seem to be a very well put together book. But that's just me.

AnarchyintheLC Sep 19, 2013

The subject is not what you would expect from the title. I found the emphasis was much less on human identity and interactions with technology, and a lot more about bitterness over who owns content on the internet and who is able to make money from internet-related products and services.

Even though the internet and piracy damage some people's and companies' livelihoods, Lanier's insistence that the internet can't be used to generate income for creative projects rings a little hollow (especially considering some of the new niches, like publish-on-demand books, small webcomics and blogs that can now generate a huge following and get some income via fan products or books, or the "freemium" model for software or games). He also completely ignores the possibility that there can be motivations for creative work other than profit. The possibility of doing creative work on a less than full-time basis is also ignored, even though there are lots of reasons why someone might divide their time between multiple projects or vocations.

All in all, I finished this book because I naturally resist abandoning something once I've started reading it. I don't recommend this to anyone who already has an interest in tech and knows the basic issues. There is not a lot of food for thought here (although there are some spectacularly bad ideas proposed that were sort of fascinating, "songles" being one of them.) Lanier's impressions of trends are often thrown out without any data to back them up.

May 29, 2013

I admit up front I've never been a real Lanier fan; thinking his work mostly nebulous and lightweight in the cognition department. Sure, he sometimes states the glaringly obvious, not an altogether impressive feat! Lanier's knowledge set, like many one comes across in the IT industry who consider Homer's "Illiad" to be a major feat of reading (we read it in 3rd and 4th grade when I was a kid), is severely limited - - he simply doesn't have a clue to how the world, the overclass, the transnational capitalist class, or global elite (whatever one's term of description) works! Stating the obvious helps some people emotionally, but it is no panacea to what ails us! Shallow thinkers, lacking all or serious depth, like Lanier, believe in the status quo, not questioning what is, but believing only in wrong turns. Today, the private equity firms (they do those leveraged buyouts which destroy companies, employment and the tax base) own the vast majority of telecoms, and exert incredible control over the Web. When free press exerts itself via WikiLeaks, pressure is easily exerted on Amazon, Tableau Software (pulled their paid-for licenses from WikiLeaks), Paypal, Visa, (and individual Euro banks), and so on and demonstrates how easily the situation can be managed by the super-rich and their servants, the corrupt politicians. Ask Jaron (he'll be in town shortly at a book reading) to explain the ownership of AT&T, the most powerful telecom in the house? If he can't do that, he can't to begin to understand what drove a young and gifted fellow to suicide quite recently by the undue pressure exerted by corrupt federal attorneys.

May 29, 2013

[To echo what so many others have written...] This is an insightful, highly readable first-hand perpective of internet and it's pervasive influence over humanity and society. As someone who was an integral member of the tech industry during an inchoate stage of web development, Lanier explains how the early decisions about the archecture affected it's subsequent development. Consequently, the fundamental structure of the internet has become unchangeable; mostly for the worse. Lanier convincingly argues that the web is not only homogenizing human personalities, it's also rendering many creative professions -music, art, etc.- financially unviable. Lanier's only minor shortcoming is his proposed remedies; they seem facile and nebbish relative to the scale of the problems he describes. But in much the same way that environmental problems are a fundamental consequence of modern society, so many be the case with the internet: As is the case with so many other technological developments (think cars), the web may have changed society and humanity in such a fundamental way, we're now largely controlled by our own invention.

Aug 25, 2012

A well-written, call for cyber-sanity. Lanier equally deconstructs digital-utopianism and Ludditism. The chapters on MIDI music are more directed at musicians and techies, but the book is quite readable and it's style is refreshingly simple and direct. Well worth a read if you are interested in technology, though I can't comment on its originality or its finer technical points.

Jean-Pierre Lebel
Jul 10, 2012

This is an interesting book and I recommend it to anyone that cares about the direction the internet and computational devices are taking us as a species. As much as I appreciated what Jaron Lanier has to say about various technological subjects I didn't find this book to be much of a manifesto - was more of a brain dump and felt like a collection of blog posts. That may be to say the book could have stood for some stronger editing, because Lanier has no shortage of insights, and interesting comments to share with the reader; for me it just didn't flow well. I imagine that he did this on purpose to avoid a stale kind of linearity one would find in typical technology books. Some of the subjects like the Singularity, virtual reality, and the impact MIDI has had on music I was right there with him. Other spots I couldn't follow, like when he talks about looking at a different ways of considering the financial sector. Stay with the book till the end and you'll get his overarching point: he would rather we welcome new forms of expressive communication that dignifies the individual than embrace the idea of 'The Singularity' where we become a hive mind and ultimate a gadget that gets boring.

Jun 19, 2012

You Are Not a Gadget is Jaron Lanier's critique the modern internet's tendency to favor the wisdom of crowds over the individual. Basically, he's warning against how we devalue our human uniqueness while pursuing an increasingly smarter computer mind. That's the gist, I think. The topics within the chapters often stray so it's not always clear what point he's trying to make.

Mr. Lanier is no doubt intelligent - best known for being one of the main contributors to the technology of virtual reality - and I more or less agree with his entire premise. Unfortunately, his arguments come across like the rants of an older man who doesn't like the change he sees coming. You half expect him to start lamenting about not understanding kids these days.

The truly frustrating part is that he's probably right, but his convoluted delivery makes me doubt him.

Aug 15, 2010

The following quote comes from the preface:

It's early in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons-automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The words will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in remote, often secret locations around the world. They will be copied millions of times by algorithms designed to send an advertisement to some person somewhere who happens to resonate with some fragment of what I say. They will be scanned, rehashed, and misrepresented by crowds of quick and sloppy readers into wikis and automatically aggregated wireless text message streams.

Reactions will repeatedly degenerate into mindless chains of anonymous insults and inarticulate controversies. Algorithms will find correlations between those who read my words and their purchases, their romantic adventures, their debts, and, soon, their genes. Ultimately these words will contribute to the fortunes of those few who have been able to position themselves as lords of the computing clouds.

The vast fanning out of the fates of these words will take place almost entirely in the lifeless world of pure information. Real human eyes will read these words in only a tiny minority of the cases.

And yet it is you, the person, the rarity among my readers, I hope to reach.

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.

Lanier is very concerned about the inherent anonymity of participating in "Web 2.0". He makes a strong case for how it detracts from our sense of humanity and individuality. In his view:

Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad moblike behaviours. This leads not only to empowered trolls, but to a generally unfriendly and unconstructive online world.

Finance was transformed by computing clouds. Success in finance became increasingly about manipulating the cloud at the expense of sound financial principles.

Pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise. Online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. It is a culture of reaction without action.

Lanier then posts of a list of suggestions that each of us "can do to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others."

* Don't post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.
* If you put effort into Wikipedia articles, put even more effort into using your personal voice and expression outside of the wiki to help attract people who don't yet realize that they are interested in the topics you contributed to.
* Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won't fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.
* Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view.
* Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.
* If you are twittering, innovate in order to find a way to describe your internal state instead of trivial external events, to avoid the creeping danger of believeing that objectively described events define you, as they would define a machine.

In the spirit of the Web ;) check out his website

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