PhD Student in Information Science at University of Colorado Boulder
You Are Not a GadgetLanier, Jaron. You Are Not a Gadget. United States, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2010.
Lanier's book opens with a critique of the "web 2.0" of the 21st century, particularly its shift in interpersonal interaction to the impersonal. He argues that technology changes people. That when we are asked to interact with a computer as if it were a person, part of us is encouraged "to accept in some corner of your brain that you might also be conceived of as a program" (pg. 4). He discusses the difficulty of designing the web - although, the current web's design was not inevitible. In particular, the difficulty of scaling programs and mantaining them. This often causes programs to become abandoned or frozen in a current state. He argues that those thinking about small, delightful to build programs are not thinking realistically. "Ideal computers can be experiences when you write a small program. They seem to offer infinite possibilities and an extraordinary sense of freedom. Real computers are experienced when we deal with large programs. They can trap us in tangles of code and make us slaves to legacy ... Real computers reify our philosophies through the process of lock-in before we are ready" (pg. 119). He points out that once a design fills some niche, it often becomes unalterable, its design permanent and entrenched, despite potential better designs (Moore's Law). He refers to these as "lock-ins." His concern in bringing up the calcification of design is how design might calcify the human being. He feels that humans have become "a source of fragments exploited by others" (pg. 21). He believes that people degrade themselves to view a machine as smarter than it really is, that they lower their standards of intelligence to believe in the intelligence of machines.
In particular, Lanier takes issue with technologies that are antihuman and look to replace humanity with technology. He argues that "the digital hive is growing at the expense of individuality" (pg. 26). He takes issues with tech perspectives on authorship, the individual point of view of an author, being devalued by tech ideologies - a "digital flattening of expression" (pg. 47). His major issues center around the aggregation of information in The Cloud and the collective hivemind of Crowdsourcing. He rejects the obsession with scale that leads tech culture to view quantity as leading to quality. He criticizes how the affordances of both anonymity and crowds lead to trolling brigades. He writes that "the user interface designs that arise from the ideology of the computing cloud make people ... less kind" (pg. 61). Trolling has become a status quo of the Internet. He argues that an ideology of violation also permeates academia, with an example of researchers describing how to hack a pacemaker in order to kill someone in 2008 (pg. 65).
He laments that advertising is now "the only form of expression meriting genuine commercial protection" (pg. 82). He feels that money flowing into advertising over content, like journalism or art, showcases our culture being obsessed with manipulation over truth or beauty. Artists and journalists are expected to give up their intellectual content for the benefit of the hive.
He seems critical of the new form of technocapitalism, where many jobs are becoming or will become obsolete and money is centralized to who owns technical infrastructures. Freely uploaded user-generated content on sites like YouTube are now viewed as more reliable money makers for execs than cable. Lanier argues for a more libertarian perspective, also displeased by the notion of a more Marxist approach and embracing meritocracy. He calls the Marxist/digital Maoist approach "open culture," with no belief in free will or personhood. He is against copying of digital artifacts due to it depleting the artificial scarcity that our economy runs on. He embraces Ted Nelson's idea that instead of copying digital media, there is only ever one copy of each media (e.g., a book, song) and the author would be paid a small amount everytime that media is accessed. Creators rather than cloud owners would be paid, and those who have the best content would make the most money. He very cautiously recommends, against the hyper-libertarianism of Silicon Valley, potential government intervention in the current digital market towards this single-copy access to digital goods.
He recommends three possible future directions for the devaluing of human individuality: (1) Telegigging, where you can hire an artist for digital, immersive, long distance shows; (2) Songles, a dongle that would be able to play purchased music; and (3) Formal Financial Expression, AI-techniques for formalizing and constraining certain financial instruments, detailed more on page 113.