You Are Not A Gadget

Jaron Lanier is not only a unique person with his dread locks and khene mouth organ compositions, but he is also a unique author. Lanier calls You Are Not A Gadget a “manifesto,” but it reads more like a journal with scattered thoughts based around an idea. Lanier’s concern is “digital Maoism,” the ability to anonymously comment in a mob behavior, devaluation of individual accomplishments, and technology lock-ins. Some questions were raised as I read the first two parts of You Are Not A Gadget since Lanier’s position with the Internet is tricky to pin down. What does Lanier mean by the term “lock-in” and how do people become “locked in” to ideas? Since he advocated the World Wide Web, what were Lanier’s intentions while envisioning it? Has the computer really become more intelligent than humans?

The idea of “lock-in” is introduced in the second sentence and three times in the first paragraph of You Are Not A Gadget. Lanier presents “locked-in” before even defining what he means by the term. It is not until page 10 that Lanier conceptualizes “locked-in” as “a wave gradually washing over the rulebook of life, culling the ambiguities of flexible thoughts as more and more thought structures are solidified into effectively permanent reality.” He goes on to argue that digital systems tend to get locked into place because it is too difficult and expensive to switch or create a new system. Lanier sees an impending lock-in with new ideas of software that make us forget the lost freedoms we had in the digital past, making it harder to see the freedoms in the digital present. However, Lanier points out there is hope that we can change knowledge from becoming locked in place. Put an optimistic, idealistic philosophy in software, and it can become attainable.

Reading more into Jaron Lanier, it appears I was mistaken in calling him an “online pioneer” and as someone who helped produce the World Wide Web. It seems as though Lanier was more of a visionary at the time who was an advocate of the Internet’s open culture. He saw promise of the Internet transforming our lives for the better. Lanier saw that people would be interested in expressing themselves to each other and the world with the rise of the Internet. He saw people coordinating with each other. These ideas have become reality. Conversely, Lanier now sees the Internet as detrimental to our lives. With the creation of Web 2.0, the designs valued the information content of the web over individuals and turned people into dehumanized date.

Lanier goes into the idea that computers are evolving into a life form. In Microsoft Word, most of us have had an experience of auto correct, sometimes making our task harder than it had to be. This has made the distinction of roles between people and computers start to dissolve. Lanier believes this design feature in Word is nonsense and that its real function is to promote the philosophy that the computer understands people better than they do themselves. Lanier does not want this world to sit back and become gadgets. Instead, people should be in charge of technology. The human mind has extensive ability and people are the ones who should be controlling technology.

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