Difficult to read is old Lanier’s tome; compelling and irritating in a turn, he’ll reel off a list of truisms about the web and technology that you’ll nod your head to, then at once deviate off on some obscure tangent that leaves you baffled. Or at least that’s how I felt when I read You Are Not a Gadget.
You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
An unquestioning belief in technology always equating to progress is a dangerous folly Lanier argues; nothing new there I guess but I can’t help but agree with him when he lays into the (mainly anonymous) Web 2.0 pioneers who zealously champion the power of cloud computing, collective intelligence and the hive mind, arguing that it’s foolish to believe that, given time, one million networked minds will always triumph over one expert mind.
He also doesn’t like Web 2.0 for all the dross it throws up, the endless ‘mashups’ and fragments of unreferenced material it has spawned and the flat, uninspiring site designs like MySpace, Linkedin, Facebook and err…. WordPress. He believes that in the early days of the internet there were far more quirky, authored ‘homepages’ that had a hand-made quality to them. I take his point, but I for one don’t feel particularly nostalgic towards those kind of sites; lets be honest he’s romanticizing about free expressions of individual creativity, but they still looked sh*t.
Lanier asks whether we are really allowing our sense of self to be diminished by maintaining an online life, for example, on Facebook, that is defined by a narrow set of terms in a database. Can we really call all our Facebook ‘friends’ friends? Ultimately he wonders whether in time the concept of what it means to have a real world personal relationship will mix with the idea of having a virtual relationship. He’s not arguing that an online ‘friendship’ is any less valuable than a real world one, I think what he’s getting at here is a blurring of semantics, a loss of meaning and therefore a diminished sense of the world.
Or whether by Tweeting a set of banal actions we in some way risk becoming defined by those actions rather than who we really are and feel. Deep man.
And you have to admit there’s something slightly sinister about Wikipedia appearing at the top of most search results, offering up its answers as profound truths like some sort of internet Bible. And not an accountable author in site. Its probably run by the CIA…
Ironic and maybe a touch cynical that they designed the cover of the book to look like an e-book reader (designed by Olly Moss), either way it worked its magic on me because I just had to have it. And despite being semi converted to Lanier’s anti-digital rant I went out and bought an iPhone a week later. Sorry Jaron.