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Defining The Humanist's View of Information Technology


(I continue grabbing a couple of my old reviews of favorite books and dropping them onto this blog. This one is from 2010 and remains today a very useful reflection on all the technology in our lives.)
"You Are Not a Gadget" By Jaron Lanier
Darn. So there's a cultural dark side to all of the hot new tech in our lives? Author Jaron Lanier has been at the center of information technology thinking since the early days (he introduced the idea of virtual reality). Most credentialed digerati take a utopian view of information technology and the internet. Not so much Lanier. "We Are Not a Gadget" casts a very skeptical look at some fashionable information technology concepts. Read this book if you seek an insider's philosophical counter-argument to trendy ideas like social media, the wisdom of crowds, open source, web 2.0, and the singularity (man merges as machine).
Lanier looks at prevailing assumptions about computers of infinite intelligence, he assesses ideas like a world hive brain (Google) and he looks at the collective wisdom of crowds (Wikipedia). Then he drives a cultural counter-argument against it all. Lanier acknowledges that a social media like Facebook increase our connectivity but he also argues that social media narrows our humanity by essentially forcing it into a column (and a business model). Meanwhile, he argues that a consolidation of minds on Wikipedia is useful but only skin deep and not insightful (diversity within a single mind creates new things ... but a consolidation of minds does not").
Lanier adds himself to a growing list of thinkers who worry that the collectivist ideology of the internet quietly diminishes the individual and creativity and that it establishes the internet as an element of control (not liberation). I could go on but will simply say that this book is important and worth a read. Jaron Lanier establishes in reasonable terms a new humanist's point of view about the internet and the implications of how we are now designing computers and software (wrongly and narrowly in the interest of the "lords of the cloud" says he). More practically, he simply shows you a few tricks on how to be a heretic for the religions of Silicon Valley.  Here's Lanier's book if you're interested: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Vintage) Also, here's Jaron Lanier's website.

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