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You Are Not A Gadget

Jaron Lanier’s recent book, You Are Not A Gadget, begins with a call to arms that is well worth reading. Lanier, both musician and virtual reality pioneer, indicts the soft thinking that has allowed us to conceive of Web 2.0 as a utopian movement when it is, in so many ways, making us more machine-like and less individualized and creative. He begins:

“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…. Algorithms will find correlations between those who read my words and their purchases, their romantic adventures, their debts, and, soon, their genes….”

He continues:

“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.”

He also makes a number of recommendations for how to conduct oneself in the digital universe, including:

“Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view.”

Just as we now have slow food and slow journalism movements, a slow Web movement would be most welcome, both for viewers and producers, and most especially for viewer/producers. As would more questioning of where we are going, and going so quickly, before we quite likely find out that we have been traveling in the wrong directions, with the wrong maps, and, given the enormous infrastructure already created around us, it’s become too late to opt out.

One Comment

  1. Joanna wrote:

    Thank you so much for this! I am definitely going to coerce my library into purchasing this title. The excerpts I found online are fascinating. What is becoming of the PERSON - a question I never thought of before. I wonder what people like Emmanuel Mounier would say about the Internet, this communication frenzy and what is happening to personal dignity in the process.

    Friday, September 10, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

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