Summer Reading Pick: You Are Not a Gadget

August 16, 2012[ssba]

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OgilvyNotes from Lanier’s SXSW Interactive presentation

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist and digital age philosopher credited with coining the term “virtual reality” and whose views on the impact of technology on society has landed him on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in the world in 2010. In 2006, Lanier made a splash with his highly controversial essay on “digital Maoism” — the so-called wisdom of crowds that fuels digital culture now: from Google’s search algorithms, to Wikipedia to American Idol.

His book You Are Not a Gadget (2010) is a further take-down of what this allegiance to collectivism means for society and culture. He argues that this hive-mind ethos results, not in the best designs or products or intellectual achievements, but in a kind of “cybernetic totalism” that diminishes the voice of the individual. According to Lanier, Web 2.0 actually have hindered innovation (open source programmers didn’t create the iPhone, he points out) and the communication of high quality information and ideas. This collective structure has precipitated a few lucky “lords of the clouds,” people who profit by their ability to concentrate content at strategic times and locations, rather than truly innovating.

Lanier provides some hearty food for thought to anyone interested in contemporary culture and how technology is shaping our world. You can download a PDF excerpt from the New York Times here.