Friday, February 19, 2010

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier

I saw this book on display at my local Barnes & Noble. I began flipping through it and had to sit down and read whole sections. From there I knew I couldn't stop until I'd read the whole book, so I bought it.

Jaron Lanier talks about the lost potentials for the computers and the internet, and the even bigger consequence of how society at large and individual people are reshaping themselves to fit the internet. What makes his concerns carry so much weight and not come across as the ravings of an anti-technologist is that he's always been a forerunner in the world of computers, including the creator of Virtual Reality.

What made it resonate with me is that he points out things that I've noticed, but hadn't known what the cause was. For example, Frank pointed out to me in the early 90's that every decade has had a creative boom resulting in a huge influx of new music in a brand new style-- the 80's had New Wave, 70's had Disco, 60's revolutionized Rock (nowadays referred to as "Classic Rock"), the 50's invented Rock & Roll (nowadays referred to as "Doo-Wop"), etc... and soon after he and I had that conversation, the music scene exploded with Alternative / Grunge. So I kept waiting for the musical revolution of the 2000s to hit. It never did, and I've always wondered why not.

Here, Jaron Lanier observes the same thing, and he points out a connection I hadn't made-- that the decline of a revolution in new music coincides directly with the growth of the world wide web. He observes that the web has had the effect of flattening out the music world. Everything is now a mash-up of something that has come before. Everyone knows what an effect file-sharing sites have had on music sales, but I never made the connection of the effect that it's had on musical creativity.

(If I can extrapolate on my own about this for a moment, based on what I feel I learned from this book: the web has given us a great diversity in musical choices, so we don't need to stick to what the record companies feel we should be listening to. As a result of this and declining sales, the record companies are now afraid to take changes on what would would have been the 2000's equivelant of Nirvana or the Beatles. So they play it safe, giving us more of what they know sells. So there was no revolutionary sound of the '00s. And it will probably continue that way for the '10s if things don't change.)

But it's not all doom-and-gloom; he also presents ideas on how to turn things around, and possibilities for the future. It's not that he hates the technology, but quite the reverse-- he feels the technology is capable of so much more. And that the most important part is that it remain a tool to elevate the human user.

I won't pretend to say that I grasp everything he talks about. The concepts made sense to me, but I could tell I wasn't getting the full depth of everything he was saying. Still, it introduced me to such concepts as the noosphere (the "hive mind" of the internet that we put ourselves into) and the Singularity (the concept that we may be able to download our complete minds into the internet, achieving immortality). But I do feel it's opened my eyes up to what's happened as the real-world society and cyber-society have become more blended over the last 15 years, what's happening now, and where it could all go.

No comments:

Post a Comment