Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget is a fantastic read, provided you stick to the very beginning and the very end of the book. As for the stuff in the middle, well… I just don’t agree with it at all.
It’s not like Mr. Lanier isn’t a genius or doesn’t have the pedigree to write about technology — being the one-time roommate of rms is likely a feat in itself — but after such a strong start I was surprised to see such decidedly old-school thinking about online content.
He kicks off his book by absolutely nailing what makes Facebook so fundamentally evil — that is, reducing online expression to a series of multiple choices or worse, a single button. Hint: it’s the one marked ‘like’…
From there things go right off the rails in short order, to the point that all I remember is a lengthy diatribe making the case that the professional artist needs to be propped up for the arts to survive at all in the age of the Internet.
As a professional artist for 10 years, I cannot disagree with this strongly enough.
Yes, the vast majority of so-called “user-generated” content is crap. That doesn’t matter. Sure, a lot of it is derivative (or in many cases dependent upon) previous work. Doesn’t matter either. All art is derivative in that builds upon what came before.
What absolutely does matter is that more of us are actively engaged with art by creating it. I’ve written about this before. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why such a smart and forward-thinking person can’t seem to wrap his head around the fact that art is no longer a scarce resource, and that more artists = more art = more good art = good.
Thankfully the book ends with a bang, with a mind-blowing chapter about post-symbolic communication — you’ll understand when you read it. Put far too simply, the author makes the case that as the global village becomes a reality, the human species must evolve beyond the limitations of our different languages, and for that matter the very notion of symbolic text.
No less than physical transformation is brought up as a means to do so, and if that sounds ridiculous consider that virtual reality can help.
Lanier uses a video from Dr. Roger Hanlon and the Marine Biological Laboratory as an example of shape-shifting in his lectures — featuring a Caribbean Octopus vulgaris literally morphing as it’s caught hiding amongst some coral.
It’s fairly jaw-dropping if you haven’t seen it before, and provides proof that such things are already possible with life forms on this planet.
If this is what the future holds for humanity, sign me up!