You Are Not A Gadget

I know I am not a gadget, do you? That statement is actually the title of a book by Jaron Lanier. The full title is “You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto.” I haven’t had the chance to read the book, but the reviews I have read make it seem interesting enough for me to try and get my hands on a copy.

From what I have read, what Lanier does in his book is to philosophically analyze what we take for granted on a daily basis: online tools and other related technology. An old saying came to mind: “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” Perhaps, after reading what Lanier has to say, we can put a twist to that saying and come up with a modern one: “Tell me what your gadgets are (and how you use them) and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Amazon had a Q&A with Lanier and asked two important questions. The first one is “Two decades later, how has the internet transformed our lives for the better?” Lanier’s reply:

The answer is different in different parts of the world. In the industrialized world, the rise of the Web has happily demonstrated that vast numbers of people are interested in being expressive to each other and the world at large…In the developing world, the Internet, along with mobile phones, has had an even more dramatic effect, empowering vast classes of people in new ways by allowing them to coordinate with each other.

I couldn’t agree more. Just take a look at how easy it us to communicate with everyone now.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum, the second question is raised: “How has the internet transformed our lives for the worse?” Lanier’s answer:

The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called “Web 2.0” designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. There are so many things wrong with this that it takes a whole book to summarize them. Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor. This is why newspapers are dying. It might sound like it is only a problem for creative people, like musicians or writers, but eventually it will be a problem for everyone. When robots can repair roads someday, will people have jobs programming those robots, or will the human programmers be so aggregated that they essentially work for free, like today’s recording musicians? Web 2.0 is a formula to kill the middle class and undo centuries of social progress.

I am not sure I get it. Perhaps I really do need to read that book. Interested?

You can get a copy at Amazon for $13.44.

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