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You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
by Jaron Lanier
Edition: Hardcover
102 used & new from $0.01

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mass Collaboration and Soviet Collectivism are really polar opposites, March 25, 2010
Marshall McLuhan, patron saint of Wired magazine and cameo star of Woody Allen's Oscar-winning Annie Hall, explained how communications revolutions disrupt old ways of behaviour. As such they are received with enthusiasm but also coolness, skepticism, hostility and even mockery.
This has never been truer than with the Internet. In the 1990s, writer Robert Bly (The Sibling Society) argued that the Internet was "eating the human neo-cortex." Astronomer Clifford Stoll achieved fame in 1995 by writing how e-commerce was Silicon Snake Oil.

Now with the rise of social networking, and the so-called Web 2.0, the skeptics are insurgent. Pundit Nicholas Carr made the case last year in The Atlantic that Google is making us "stoopid." After publishing The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture, Andrew Keen has been described as the bÍte noire of the Web 2.0 revolution. In The Dumbest Generation, English Professor Mark Bauerlein says the Internet "stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future." James Harkin argues that we've all ended up Lost in Cyburbia, "a peculiar no man's land, populated by people who don't really know each other, gossiping, having illicit encounters and endlessly twitching their curtains."

One of the most articulate critics is Jaron Lanier, who, unlike many, has a lot of street cred. Being a forerunner in virtual reality, he can't be dismissed as a Luddite by technology evangelists. His much-awaited first book, You are Not a Gadget, is certainly the most erudite, albeit slightly disjointed, discussion of the downside of the digital age to date.

Lanier argues that the Web has created a "hive" mentality that emphasizes the crowd over the individual, and is changing what it means to be a person. "Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks, and lightweight mash-ups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communications has demeaned interpersonal interaction." Having grown up digital, "a new generation has come of age with a reduced expectation of what a person can be, and of who each person might become."

As a result, we behave like gadgets. We are all suffering from a "digital reification," where the basic characteristics of underlying technology algorithms are now determining how we relate to each other. In particular, Lanier seems concerned about new form of online "collectivism" that is suffocating authentic voices in a muddled and anonymous tide of mass mediocrity. He laments the idea that the collective is all-wise, and compares mass collaborations to totalitarian regimes. This collectivist mentality is led by a subculture of "digital Maoists," who are the "folks from the open culture, Creative Commons world, the Linux community, and the Web 2.0 people." To him, "online culture is filled to the brim with rhetoric about what the true path to a better world ought to be, and these days it's strongly biased toward an authoritarian way of thinking."

To be sure, the effects of the digital revolution on humans are largely unknown. But Lanier's critique often seems misplaced. He writes that Internet-enabled collaborations produce mediocre outcomes when compared with the secretive, closed-shop approach to innovation that dominated the previous century. "When you have everyone collaborate on everything," Lanier argues, "you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don't get innovation."

Lanier dismisses Linux, the open source operating system, as "ordinary," and claims that the most sophisticated, influential and lucrative examples of technology stem from proprietary development.
But he's wrong about Linux. When Helsinki-born Linus Torvalds first posted a fledgling version of Linux on an obscure software bulletin board, no one - apart from the most diehard open source evangelists - would have predicted that open-source software would be much more than a short-lived hackers' experiment. And yet, within a few short years Linux became the largest software engineering project on the planet and spawned a multibillion-dollar ecosystem that upset the balance of power in the software industry.

Today, Linux is used in everything from the smallest consumer electronics to the largest super computers. It helps run Germany's air-traffic-control systems. It also runs a number of nuclear power plants (whose names cannot be disclosed for reasons of national security). If you drive a BMW, chances are it is running Linux. And, at the time of writing, more than 500 million users of set-top cable boxes, TiVos, Android phones and other home appliances use Linux, and more than 1.5 billion people use it indirectly every day whenever they access Google, Yahoo or myriad other websites.

So what's Lanier's answer? If you want to foster creativity and excellence, you have to introduce some boundaries. "Teams need some privacy from one another to develop unique approaches to any kind of competition. Scientists need some time in private before publication to get their results in order." Making everything open all the time creates what Lanier calls "a global mush."

Unfortunately, Lanier mischaracterizes the nature of innovation today and fails to appreciate that mass collaboration is not about "everyone doing everything;" it's about bringing together the complementary skills and knowledge required to create a new product or solve a problem. Take Apple's iPhone, which Lanier erroneously singles out as the epitome of "closed-shop" development. The iPhone is, in fact, the result of a massive networked-based collaboration involving thousands of companies. Various partners help to design the product. A Taiwanese company does the technical specs, manufacturing and assembly collaborating with hundreds of their own suppliers. And most of the software - supposedly Apple's main source of competitive advantage - is developed not by Apple, but by an army of third-party developers who have created more than 150,000 applications for the App Store.

Lanier gets closer to hitting the mark when he writes about the detrimental impact of the "free culture" movement on knowledge producers who increasingly rely on indirect methods such as advertising to reap economic rewards for their efforts.

One of the Internet's great promises is a universally accessible library of all human knowledge and culture that could be made widely and freely available for education, entertainment and research. But Lanier appropriately questions what happens to the incentives for artistic and scientific creation in a system where every knowledge-based product is free.

Like Lanier, we are very sympathetic to the need for everyone from artists and writers to scientists and filmmakers to be able to control how their works are disseminated and repurposed on the Internet. For some people, that means giving it away to maximize exposure and reap rewards through some complementary avenue. But we tend to agree with Lanier when he argues that the world will be a poorer place if nobody pays directly for high-quality content any more.

The most disappointing aspect of Lanier's book is his troubling equation of the collaborative communities on the Web with Stalinist-style collectivism. Mass collaboration and Soviet collectivism are really polar opposites. Collaboration is based on self-organization, decentralized power and knowledge, and freedom of action. Collectivism is based on coercion and centralized control. Whereas communism stifled individualism, mass collaboration is based on individuals and organizations working to achieve shared outcomes through loose voluntary associations. One produced the Gulag; the other produced Linux, Wikipedia, myriad large-scale scientific collaborations and the Twitter-inspired Iranian youth mobilization for freedom and a secular society, among other things.

Lanier is a contrarian of the digital age and an effective one at that. However, the debates that he and others have stimulated about the nature of the Web and its impact on how we work, learn, live and think, ironically belie his core thesis that we are all becoming mindless gadgets marching to some unitary, authoritarian collective voice.


33: Understanding Change & the Change in Understanding
33: Understanding Change & the Change in Understanding
by Richard Saul Wurman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.00
16 used & new from $12.99

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I nibbled on this book for a month -- it was very tasty., January 19, 2010
Leave it to Richard Saul Wurman to once again break the mold on a book. I put 33: Understanding Change & The Change in Understanding by my night table (and other frequently visited places in my home) and had a short read over a few weeks. Each sampling was like a new hors d'oeuvre tittalating my mental palette. (Not sure this metaphor is working, but you get the idea...) By the time I'd got through it had become an extended bonne fete and I was fully satiated.

The story is a fable of kinds, full of delightful graphic material. The Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination who wanders around a strange land of which only Richard could dream up -- What-If in the land of Could-Be. As he trys to make sense of things, things made more sense for me.

Feast away!


Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World
Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World
by Matthew Bishop
Edition: Hardcover
72 used & new from $0.01

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearing the Windshield about Social Investing, January 4, 2009
I'm generally disappointed by business, and for that matter non-fiction books. It's rare to get a fresh idea, let alone one that is argued well. I've followed Mathew Bishop's work over the years was was excited to learn he had a new book. But I confess to some skepticism when I saw he had co-authored a book with a subtitle "How the Rich Can Save the World." When I look at the problems facing the world it seems to me that the rich, more than any other group have messed it up. And what a mess we have.

However, Philanthrocapitalism is a great book, and I can't think of any category of educated person who should not read it. For starters there is a lot of mud on the windshield when it comes to social investing, venture philanthrophy, philanthropreneurship, social innovation, social entrepreneurship and the like. The book provides a vivid and reach exposure to how wealth is increasingly being applied to improve the state of the world. I learned about the ecosystems of social investing, and was stunned to learn what's actually happening in this area.

For some time there has been the expression among the Corporate Social Responsibility community "You do well by doing good." I don't think this has been true. Many companies have done well by being awful - by having terrible labor practices, bad products bolstered by good advertising, externalizing costs (such as industrial emissions) on society and the like. However increasingly in the age of transparency everyone is being held to higher standards. And a new generation of people with wealth are beginning to understand that you can't succeed in a world that is failing.
And what a great read. Every single chapter was packed with interesting stories about the players who are making this happen.

I expect the book will be widely read, and so it should. But my greatest hope is that people with wealth will read it and follow the lead of their most progressive peers. How ironic, should the rich actually end up being key to making this smaller world our children inherit a better and more sustainable one?

Don Tapscott, author Grown Up Digital, Wikinomics, The Naked Corporation and other books.


The Internal Economy: How to Apply Market Principles within Organizations to Make Sense of Budgeting, Rate-Setting, Project-Approval, and Accounting Processes
The Internal Economy: How to Apply Market Principles within Organizations to Make Sense of Budgeting, Rate-Setting, Project-Approval, and Accounting Processes
by N. Dean Meyer
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from $0.87

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breakthrough approach, April 15, 2004
In today's volatile business world, firms can no longer allocate their precious resources based on yesterday's budgets. To compete, companies need their capabilities well orchestrated and aligned with business strategies. "The Internal Economy" sweeps away old thinking about managing resources. Bringing the tonic of the marketplace to bear, it provides a breakthrough approach for planning and budgeting.


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