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194 of 210 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A critical take on Web 2.0: People first
"Technology criticism," the author writes, "should not be left to the Luddites." Jaron Lanier is certainly no Luddite, but in this "manifesto" he blasts the Web 2.0 mentality, highlights long-standing technology lock-ins, and ranges far and wide in his criticisms of the Internet, computing, and the cultures surrounding the two today.

The core of his argument is...
Published on January 13, 2010 by Michael A. Duvernois

129 of 141 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You are a fluke of the universe. Take full advantage of it.
What Jaron Lanier does is take us up 50,000 feet and allow us to view things with perspective. He says we have been overwhelmed by the unnoticed "lock-in" and simply adjust and reduce ourselves to fit the requirements of online dating, social media, forums, and the software we employ. Web 2.0 is homogenizing humanity, taking us down to the lowest common denominator...
Published on January 30, 2010 by David Wineberg

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4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging assumptions, April 16, 2012
This review is from: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Paperback)
This book is important and should be widely read.
The problem with any new technology is that it runs the risk of being accepted and embraced without a full understanding of its cultural impact. When reading Lanier's book I found myself reflecting on other transformative technologies- the intercontinental railroad, the affordable automobile,and now, the development of "clean war" logistics that minimize the risk to soldiers on the battlefield - and I realized that in each of these cases it would have been good to have an intelligent and thoughtful dialog about the cultural changes these technologies brought about. These technologies were all "inevtable" just as the development of the computer and internet technology are inevitable. But powerful new technologies always change the way humans think about their world and the manner in which they interact with it. Lanier's book made me stop and think- and in particular it made me challenge some of my assumptions about the arc of technological development.
The structure of the book is problematic and there is a lack of underlying structure. But reading this book as a series of somewhat connected essays is probably the best approach. You may see your relationship with this technology differently as a result, and any attempt on our part to enter this Brave New World with our wits and our sense of independent judgment fully intact is a good thing. Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide To Building Your Leadership Platform
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4.0 out of 5 stars You Are Quite Likely a Tool, October 1, 2011
Lanier highlights the positive in his book. My alternate title exposes his implicit negative. The computing and communication capacities of digital technology provide unimaginable potential for human progress--they also provide a flexible platform for a sophisticated, absorbing interaction with the cable TV reality show "Dance Moms." Without question, there is more money in the latter, and therein is to be found what might be the greatest potential Machiavellian bait and switch maneuver of all time. Just what could one accomplish while the populus is tweeting about Chris Brown, or sampling Strauss-Kahn vids on YouTube, or "liking" the Arab Spring on Facebook? Answer: just about anything. We live in a nation (soon, a world) where distraction has sown a garden of easy pickin', a nation of digital stoners at least three-Mississippis behind the savvy amongst us.

Who are these savvy cats in control of the future? Two groups. The digital visionaries who generate the protocols, which are as avaiable to the virtuous as to the evil, but more lucratively to the entrepreneur. The most influential, however, are the analysts. Their skill set is straight out of the 50's playbook--crtical thought, sustained reading, synthesis of multiple viewpoints and data--their texts just take a different form. This is the classic liberal arts education, and I would argue that it has never been more important.

Lanier asks us to insist on schools that are counter-cultural. He would have us aspire to a world with citizens who are counter-cultural, who are available to the the unaccountable beauty of the world, who have deep reservations they need to explore, who are passionate and compassionate, who are not gadgets.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and thoughtful - a rare gem, September 14, 2011
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This review is from: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Paperback)
If you interact with a computer and the computer doesn't know that you are not another machine, have you lost an essential part of your humanness?

This unsettling book explores some of the strange conundra created by our fascination with all things `web 2.0'. From the way one programmer's convenience becomes the next generation's strait-jacket, to the loss of identity in wiki-based knowledge, and the lowering of self-esteem among Facebook addicted youth, to the `ideal' of perpetual existence as a stream of electrons in a computer's `consciousness, this book takes science fiction and roots it deep into the rich manure of common current `culture'.

The concept that structure and process can speed up adoption and dissemination of new ideas by lowering volatility and improving message targeting is anathema to the proponents of wiki-style freedom. But is the freedom of information necessarily worth the sacrifice of individual expression, attribution and control? Proponents of the hive mind or noosphere would argue that case but Lanier takes an independent stance that values contribution of individuals as individuals, with their personal intelligence, experience and emotion, above the anonymous, often re-edited and variable outputs of agglomerated information mash-ups. It is a brave, but valid, stance and coherently reasoned.

The doctrine of crowd-based wisdom is infiltrating strategy and policy development processes. Whilst involvement is inherently useful, it appears obvious, upon reading this treatise, that there should be clear limits to the way in which crowds are used and scope for individual attributable contributions to retain relevance.

The use of pseudonyms and anonymous postings is definitely supporting the rise of `Trolls'. Trolls, in cyberspace, are people who are abusive towards other people or ideas. They have been implicated in cyber-bullying which leaves boards exposed to claims of failure to prevent harassment and/or discrimination. The move towards transparency is greatly hampered when organisations interact online with anonymous respondents.

As Lanier points out, "If you win anonymously no one knows, and if you lose, you just change your pseudonym and start over, without having modified your point of view one bit. If the Troll is anonymous and the target is known then the dynamic is even worse." Any company is at risk of a cyber-storm if their operations, brand or philosophy should offend a tribe of trolls. The case of Nestle and the palm oil debate is a dramatic illustration of this principle in action.

Another of Lanier's bugbears is the principle of `lock-in', where decisions made in the early stages of development establish constraints on decision-making in the later stages until they become ingrained as `facts'. Reducing the richness of individual experience to suit the templates of networking sites is a harrowing process to any innovative thinkers. Cutting the glissando of music into computer recognisable notes is anathema to many musicians. Both of these processes have enabled sharing and progress on a scale unparalleled in human history. Both are reducing the expression of future potential by fitting it into a template based on past expedience.

Lanier is one of the leading thinkers of the internet age and this book has set him apart, and at odds, from his fellows. It has also provided a necessary space for consideration in our headlong rush to the brave new lands of the internet fuelled universe. Like the maps of olden-times, at the edges of our current knowledge it would be well to mark the internet with signs stating `Here be Dragons'. They may only be dragons of our own invention but it is as well proceed towards them with due caution.

Highly recommended for both fans and sceptics of web 2.0 plus anyone who is still undecided.

Available at

* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of "Presenting to Boards", "Dilemmas, Dilemmas: practical case studies for company directors', "The Director's Dilemma", "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.
Dilemmas, Dilemmas: Practical Case Studies for Company Directors
Presenting to Boards: Practical Skills for Corporate Presentations (Volume 1)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mind Expanding, even if you do not agree with some key concerns, July 10, 2011
Nilendu Misra (California, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Paperback)
Rewind yourself back to 25 years ago. Well, no one does "rewind" any more, so just put the cursor of life to a frame quarter century ago. You see that you were reading a futurist proclaiming that in 25 years a humongous growth in computability will create two most exciting things - (a) a new version of encyclopedia that you too can write into and (b) instant ability to know how your friend's summer vacation in Europe is turning out to. Would you have been impressed back then?

Author Jaron Lanier asks ourselves why are we so amused now. Is "singularity" a bit like "rapture"? Does the "hive mind" destroy the immaculate touches of individualism? Why do our finest minds are tracking clickstream data to see what others are buying, and when? Introduction of MIDI to music composition brought an uniformity and ease at the cost of complex variability that only 10B neurons, albeit much slower ones than the 4 or 8 processors inside our computers, could afford, Lanier proclaims. In language, limited computation power of our brain is a blessing, with infinite 'cloud mind' like power one's vocabulary would need to be in billions of words. And then, not many people may understand her.

Lanier raises some interesting questions, posits some excellent metaphors ("when the computing cloud rains, the ground does not get water" -- to describe impact of file sharing on long-tail musicians) and - at least - ends with a positive note. Cephalopods, like Octopus, do not have a childhood. But they could change its form into many, say, pretend itself like a rock for food. The author suggests a similar application of Virtual Reality, using the boost in computing power, would be a much better example of progress than, say, singing paen to the 'mediocrity and libertarianism' of open source, for example.

Interesting book that may read like a drone at places but ends up raising some mind-bending questions.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good points, but lots of arrogance, June 13, 2010
Getting caught up in the excitement of technology, the internet, and web 2.0 is more or less inevitable in today's society. Almost every aspect of our lives involves some form of interconnectedness brought through the magic of the web. In his book You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier explores this connectedness and what he feels is a societal approach toward Singularity (that is the wisdom of the Cloud becoming the predominant mindset). Lanier makes his case through a variety of contexts and highlights the problems he sees with today's software development and information aggregation.

While I'll be the first to admit that Lanier puts out some particularly powerful points regarding the future of communication and our use of technology, his thoughts on the subject are obscured by academic elitism and a lack of connection with mainstream society. Lanier doesn't focus on the experience that the typical user has with social media, but instead offers relatively harsh criticisms focused on how the current path of computing is ill-suited to academics and intellectuals. Lanier certainly maintains the credentials to criticize technology in such a capacity, but the internet has long since evolved from being a platform solely for only the most studious of computing enthusiast into a platform for everyone.

Lanier rails against the Open Source crowd, maintaining that some of the most favored technological devices have originated from closed design processes (he uses the iPhone as an example of this which politicizes the credibility of his claim). He also speaks out against modern music and internet multimedia content pointing out its relative lack of sophistication. In all You Are Not a Gadget takes an extremely capitalist and bourgeois approach to computing claiming that the revolutions of user-created content are spawning nothing more than poor quality, unoriginal product.

It's easy to read You Are Not a Gadget and become defensive, especially if you are one of the people enthralled with the path that web 2.0 has launched the internet down. I did find some of Lanier's points to be utterly enlightening and I think the book is worth the time to read, but I don't agree with him. His obsession with the banality of YouTube and the redundancy of Wikipedia quickly became repetitive and detracted from his overall point. I also felt that he spent a large portion of the book celebrating his own accomplishments and glorifying his own worldview. The book lacks a certain focus and direction and it's easy to feel insulted by the arrogant tone simply because Lanier works so hard to elevate his own ideal vision of the web.
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23 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bourgeois Reaction to the Digital Revolution, February 25, 2011
This review is from: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Paperback)
Jaron Lanier invokes totalitarian collectivism in order to discredit contemporary internet culture. While the book contains a worthwhile critique of the corporations and software developers pulling the strings, Lanier conceives of the problem as a threat to middle-class privilege. The social shift toward free content erodes the position people such as Lanier who've had success selling their ideas in the marketplace. He employs the conventional conservative appeals to make this case, most notably in repeatedly describing the horror of the crowd or mob. Great dudes like Einstein drive history, not the ignorant masses. Lanier's rhetoric here comes out of a long elitist and specifically anti-radical tradition. His defense of intellectual property laws serves the interests of his class but harms the species as a whole. This ideology worries me every bit as much as Ray Kurzweil's - at least Singularitarianism allows for the possibility of a post-scarcity economy and thus effective end to capitalism. Lanier longs for perpetual competition, hierarchy, and want.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing but highly pessimistic look at the impact of the Net on society, February 15, 2010
Adam Thierer (technology policy analyst in Washington, DC area) - See all my reviews
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An intriguing but highly pessimistic look at the impact of the Internet and digital technology on our lives, culture, and economy. Like other Net skeptics, Lanier worries about the loss of individuality, the rise of "mob" behavior, the dangers of free culture, and the rise of a new sharecropper economy in which a small handful of capitalists are supposedly getting rich off the backs of free labor. As a respected Internet visionary, a gifted computer scientist, an expert on virtual reality, and a master wordsmith, the concerns Lanier articulates here deserve to be taken seriously -- even if one ultimately does not share his lugubrious worldview. And I don't.

He rightly castigates extreme varieties of quixotic techno-utopianism, which he labels "cybernetic totalism," or the belief by some extreme digital age optimists that a "hive mind" or "noosphere" is coming about. It's a vision of the Net as an organism powered by the wisdom of crowds. Lanier thinks such thinking is all bunk and, worse yet, that it has dangerous ramifications for humanity and individuality. He also asks us to think twice before taking too big of a gulp of the "free culture" kool-aid and extreme varieties of cyber-collectivism, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

But his critique is too sweeping and he refuses at times to acknowledge the many legitimate innovations associated with open source software or Web 2.0 technologies. He also gets so caught up in his critique of the free culture movement that he unfairly indicts the entire digital generation and wrongly claims most modern culture is moribund and little more than "a petty mashup of preweb culture." Sorry, but I just don't buy that. And it's entirely subjective, anyway.

I also found Lanier's "lords of the cloud" critique of social networking and advertising unpersuasive. Lanier seems to believe that Google, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 sites are all just part of the hive mind indoctrination scheme. Or, at a minimum, they are turning our brains into Jello, he claims, and destroying our individuality. But here Lanier is guilty of a form of hyper-nostolgia about those mythical "good 'ol days" when all was supposedly much better. The Web 1.0 world was any better than today's cyberspace; it had its own share of problems. And today'(tm)s leading cloud companies aren't exploiting us or manipulating our minds by offering us great platforms or free services. Indeed, they are offering us wonderful new avenues for self-expression and interaction with others.

Lanier doesn't seem willing to leave room for a middle ground position that rejects extreme techno-utopianism and the most extreme elements of the free culture mindset, but also acknowledges there is much good to be found in modern digital culture and online life. Despite that, his book is easily one of the most important information technology policy books of recent years and deserves a spot on your shelf. [You can find my complete review of Lanier's book on the Technology Liberation Front blog.]
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5.0 out of 5 stars This eye-opening book should be required reading for anyone who ..., November 9, 2014
This eye-opening book should be required reading for anyone who is online. Still just as relevant today as when it came out.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A clear concise and worldy critique of may of the ..., August 9, 2014
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A clear concise and worldy critique of may of the current assumptions of the digital world, also a warning.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every page is a new philosophical gem..., February 17, 2013
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This review is from: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Paperback)
I haven't finished the book yet, but it seems like every time I start reading it, I pull out some obvious yet ingenious tidbit of wisdom that makes me feel better about being a human being.

Thank you for writing this. It is great to see this insight from someone who really gets the digital world.
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You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier (Paperback - February 8, 2011)
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