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You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto Paperback – February 8, 2011
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A New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe Bestseller
“Lucid, powerful and persuasive. . . . Necessary reading for anyone interested in how the Web and the software we use every day are reshaping culture and the marketplace.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Persuasive. . . . Lanier is the first great apostate of the Internet era.”
“Thrilling and thought-provoking. . . . A necessary corrective in the echo chamber of technology debates.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Mind-bending, exuberant, brilliant. . . . Lanier dares to say the forbidden.”
—The Washington Post
“With an expertise earned through decades of work in the field, Lanier challenges us to express our essential humanity via 21st century technology instead of disappearing in it. . . . [You Are Not a Gadget] compels readers to take a fresh look at the power—and limitations—of human interaction in a socially networked world.”
—Time (“The 2010 Time 100”)
“Lanier is not of my generation, but he knows and understands us well, and has written a short and frightening book, You Are Not a Gadget, which chimes with my own discomfort, while coming from a position of real knowledge and insight, both practical and philosophical.”
—Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books
“Sparky, thought-provoking. . . . Lanier clearly enjoys rethinking received tech wisdom: his book is a refreshing change from Silicon Valley’s usual hype.”
“Important. . . . At the bottom of Lanier’s cyber-tinkering is a fundamentally humanist faith in technology. . . . His mind is a fascinating place to hang out.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A call for a more humanistic—to say nothing of humane—alternative future in which the individual is celebrated more than the crowd and the unique more than the homogenized. . . . You Are Not a Gadget may be its own best argument for exalting the creativity of the individual over the collective efforts of the ‘hive mind.’ It’s the work of a singular visionary.”
“A bracing dose of economic realism and Randian philosophy for all those techno utopianists with their heads in the cloud. . . . [Lanier is] a true iconoclast. . . . He offers the sort of originality of thought he finds missing on the Web.”
—The Miami Herald
“For those who wish to read to think, and read to transform, You Are Not a Gadget is a book to begin the 2010s. . . . It is raw, raucous and unexpected. It is also a hell of a lot of fun.”
—Times Higher Education
“[Lanier] confronts the big issues with bracing directness. . . . The reader sits up. One of the insider’s insiders of the computing world seems to have gone rogue.”
—The Boston Globe
“Gadget is an essential first step at harnessing a post-Google world.”
—The Stranger (Seattle)
“Lanier turns a philosopher’s eye to our everyday online tools. . . . The reader is compelled to engage with his work, to assent, contradict, and contemplate. . . . Lovers of the Internet and all its possibilities owe it to themselves to plunge into Lanier’s manifesto and look hard in the mirror. He’s not telling us what to think; he’s challenging us to take a hard look at our cyberculture, and emerge with new creative inspiration.”
“Poetic and prophetic, this could be the most important book of the year. . . . Read this book and rise up against net regimentation!”
—The Times (London)
“[Lanier’s] argument will make intuitive sense to anyone concerned with questions of propriety, responsibility, and authenticity.”
—The New Yorker
“Inspired, infuriating and utterly necessary. . . . Lanier tells of the loss of a hi-tech Eden, of the fall from play into labour, obedience and faith. Welcome to the century’s first great plea for a ‘new digital humanism’ against the networked conformity of cyber-space. This eloquent, eccentric riposte comes from a sage of the virtual world who assures us that, in spite of its crimes and follies, ‘I love the internet.’ That provenance will only deepen its impact, and broaden its appeal.”
—The Independent (London)
“Fascinating and provocative. . . . Destined to become a must-read for both critics and advocates of online-based technology and culture.”
About the Author
Jaron Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality technology and has worked on the interface between computer science and medicine, physics, and neuroscience. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Visit the author's website at www.jaronlanier.com.
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The author seems limited in his exposure to social networks to some amorphous mob of illiterate, purposeless, yet technology-literate people. His put-down of anonymous crowd-sourced content refuses to see that it should be treated in its own terms. Wikipedia is not the Bible, it is not Shakespeare, and it is not the Encyclopedia Britannica. But neither is any of those the others. A simple example to refute his hypothesis is the use of social networks for social revolution. Surely this could not have come about if some very clever programmer had set out to create software for that purpose. What's great about these amorphous crowd contribution systems is their emergent properties, including uses that could not have been foreseen by some intelligent design.
Having started off with a flawed basis, the book continues to build a flawed edifice to contrarian thought. Certainly useful for defining what to disagree with.
It sounds like Lanier recommends friends don't let friends communicate via Facebook - they do it on the phone or in person. But the direction we are taking instead reduces interaction, kills creativity, journalism, music, science....it's not as pretty as predicted.
These are truly valuable criticisms, and this is an important, if flawed book. Flawed because after a hundred page pounding of logic and evidence, Lanier spends the second hundred pages telling us how wonderful it is to be a scientist and play with humans and cuttlefish. I was particularly annoyed with a gratuitous couple of paragraphs devoted to swearing, which which he says might be connected to parts of the brain controlling orifices and obscenity.
Well, to my knowledge, swearing is purely cultural, not physiological. In Quebec, the worst swearing is against the Catholic Church, Translated into English "Christ Tabernacle" sounds like something WC Fields said to skirt the censors. But it's the most vile thing you can say in polite conversation in Montreal. On the other hand Motherf----r doesn't translate into French at all. And what's any of this got to do with online reductionism? Zilch - is my point. The last 100 pages is full of such diversions.
Others have pointed to other sections they disagree with, and they all seem to occur in the last half of the book. But don't let that deter you, as it distracted him. The original message is important. People create. Software does not. Software restricts. Don't leave anonymous contributions. Build a creative website of your own design. Probe deeply and uniquely - beyond Wikipedia. Reflect before you blog.
Lanier says our humanity and creativity are being put at risk by the miasma foisted on us by the incredible leveling machine of the internet. Instead of becoming exciting, the internet has become boring. Instead of creating new music, it has assassinated the entire industry. Instead of bringing people together, it lets them off the hook. That's worth exploring, and for about 100 pages, Lanier does a grand job of it.
Jaron Lanier is a household name for those who follow the world of computers and virtual reality and his book is nothing more than a manifesto warning us that there is a dark side to the Internet. Even innocuous websites such as Facebook and Google, "lords of the cloud" do not escape Lanier's expose. "Emphasizing the crowd means de-emphasizing individual humans" and that, in the end, leads to "mob" behavior. Utterly true.
As I flipped through the book, the point that resonated most loudly to me was the impact `anonymity' has had on our virtual world (and maybe the real world as well). I can remember visiting a chat room that was dedicated to "Books and Literature" in 2000 or 2001. As a librarian I was naturally drawn to a space that I thought would be filled with others like me who had a love of the written word and for good books. Did that assumption back fire? You bet! What I found was a chat area filled with virtual people who wanted to chat about anything but books and literature. If I were to post a question about what people were reading or what they thought of a given book I was torn (virtually) from limb to limb. Having served in the military I have a pretty good operational understanding of foul language, and I'm pretty good at throwing the words around when necessary. However, that this language would be used in that particular venue by people who could remain anonymous was a shock. I'm pretty certain that most of the visitors to that website hadn't read a book in years and had no problem violating the most basic rules of civility. Lanier is correct when he argues that this is not a step in the right direction. (Please forgive this personal observation)
Obviously I'm a fan of the virtual world. I post reviews online for free (which is another point Lanier makes) but the joy isn't the posting of reviews but in reading the books; real books. What Lanier has to say should be of interest to all of us.
You Are Not a Gadget is written for the ordinary reader with a minimal background in computers. Lanier floats from idea to idea not necessarily fully exploring a point, but instead simply raising an issue and then moving on. Very effective!
I predict that You Are Not a Gadget is destined to become a cultural icon in the future. We now point to books such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and I'm Ok, You're Ok by Dr. Thomas Harris as books that changed society and altered the future. I suspect that You Are Not a Gadget may become that type of sign post.
I highly recommend.