Jaron Lanier
Knopf, New York, 2010, English
Nonfiction, General
ISBN: 9780307269645

From the Publisher. Silicon Valley visionary Jaron Lanier was among the first to predict the revolutionary changes the World Wide Web would bring to commerce and culture. Now, in his first book, Lanier offers this cautionary look at the way the Web 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 with enormous-and often unintended-consequences. What's more, these designs quickly became "locked in," a permanent part of the web's very structure. Lanier 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. This book is a deeply felt defense of the individual, from an author uniquely qualified to comment on the way technology interacts with our culture.

On 2 book lists
Mark Fox

In the introduction to the paperback edition of You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier demarcates his position by noting that “This book is not antitechnology in any sense. It is prohuman.” Lanier is a computer scientist and a pioneer in the field of virtual reality. He is also a composer and musician, which may explain some of his sensitivity to issues of creativity and authorship.

Digital culture has no lack of cheerleaders, especially among the corporations and personalities profiting from its widespread adoption—or the governments gleaning information from its unwitting citizens. Less common is someone like Lanier: a sharp-eyed critic who effectively weighs the promise of digital culture against the reality of its impact on the culture at large. Lanier argues that social networks treat the user as a “source of fragments to be exploited by others,” and that “Using computers to reduce individual expression is a primitive, retrograde activity, no matter how sophisticated your tools are.” A must-read.

Christian Wassmann

Lanier is a musician and computer scientist who popularized the term “virtual reality” and co-programmed MIDI, the simplistic and almost irreversible protocol that rationalized music to data in the 1980s. He sounds the alarm for our generation about lock-ins such as MIDI and explains the commercial ideas behind social media. His book is a manifesto or a wakeup call for our time. He encourages the reader to pay attention to how our society is changing; and he warns us not to lose our individual creativity and settle for junk quality.

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