On Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget

The first time I remember hearing about the internet was in a Wall Street Journal article about Jaron Lanier circa 1990.  So my ears perked up when Benjamen Walker interviewed him in in his Too Much Information episode on Anonymous.  I finally picked up his new book, You Are Not a Gadget, last week, its the most interesting tech-related I’ve book I’ve read this year. (n=3 or 4, I’d guess.)  Some takeaways:

  • “People have often respected bits too much, resulting in a creeping degradation of their own qualities as human beings.”
  • Lanier loves the Internet, the Web, not so much.
  • Social networks are stressful. “Young people…must manage their online reputations constantly, avoiding the ever-roaming evil eye of the hive mind, which can turn on an individual at any moment.”
  • He a “list of suggestions” of ways we can use the Internet in more healthy and deeper ways.  Can’t say I’ve done any of them.
    • “Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.”
    • Rather than merely contributing to Wikipedia, use your own voice to share your expertise.
    • Create a site that doesn’t build off  social networking template.
    • Post a video “that took you one hundred more times to create than it takes to view.”
    • “Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection…”
    • On Twitter, “find a way to describe your internal state instead of trivial external events.”
  • He’s worried about more than Tea Parties and Krygyzstan here:  “[W]ith millions of people connected through a medium that sometimes brings out their worst tendencies, massive, fascist-style mobs could rise up suddenly. I worry about the next generation of young people around the world growing up with internet-based technology that emphasizes crowd aggregation, as is the current fad.

Yes, there’s some goofiness and hyperbole in Gadget, but its a thoughtful set of reflections from a technologist who cares more about people than he does machines.

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