You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto [NOOK Book]



A programmer, musician, and father of virtual reality technology, Jaron Lanier was a pioneer in digital media, and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture. Now, with the Web influencing virtually every aspect of our lives, he offers this provocative critique of how digital design is shaping ...

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You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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A programmer, musician, and father of virtual reality technology, Jaron Lanier was a pioneer in digital media, and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture. Now, with the Web influencing virtually every aspect of our lives, he offers this provocative critique of how digital design is shaping society, for better and for worse.
Informed by Lanier’s experience and expertise as a computer scientist, You Are Not a Gadget discusses the technical and cultural problems that have unwittingly risen from programming choices—such as the nature of user identity—that were “locked-in” at the birth of digital media and considers what a future based on current design philosophies will bring. With the proliferation of social networks, cloud-based data storage systems, and Web 2.0 designs that elevate the “wisdom” of mobs and computer algorithms over the intelligence and wisdom of individuals, his message has never been more urgent.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
…lucid, powerful and persuasive. It is necessary reading for anyone interested in how the Web and the software we use every day are reshaping culture and the marketplace…provocative and sure-to-be-controversial
—The New York Times
Ellen Ullman
t's not often that one of the creators of our new digital culture comes forward to say: I made a mistake; this is not what I intended. But Jaron Lanier, a pioneer in the invention of virtual reality, has done just that…This book is very much like the Jaron Lanier he shows in his public appearances: mind-bending, exuberant, brilliant, thinking in all directions…Overall, the book is a delight…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Computer scientist and Internet guru Lanier's fascinating and provocative full-length exploration of the Internet's problems and potential is destined to become a must-read for both critics and advocates of online-based technology and culture. Lanier is best known for creating and pioneering the use of the revolutionary computer technology that he named virtual reality. Yet in his first book, Lanier takes a step back and critiques the current digital technology, more deeply exploring the ideas from his famous 2000 Wired magazine article, “One-Half of a Manifesto,” which argued against more wildly optimistic views of what computers and the Internet could accomplish. His main target here is Web 2.0, the current dominant digital design concept commonly referred to as “open culture.” Lanier forcefully argues that Web 2.0 sites such as Wikipedia “undervalue humans” in favor of “anonymity and crowd identity.” He brilliantly shows how large Web 2.0–based information aggregators such as—as well as proponents of free music file sharing—have created a “hive mind” mentality emphasizing quantity over quality. But he concludes with a passionate and hopeful argument for a “new digital humanism” in which radical technologies do not deny “the specialness of personhood.” (Jan.)\
Library Journal
Popularly known for his ruminations on the social pathology of information technology, computer scientist Lanier is immensely concerned that the design patterns of today's omnipresent 2.0 web services are about to be locked in. He argues that technology prophets from many disciplines have us blissfully ignorant of the sacrifices we make when submerging our individual identities into online collectives like Facebook. In addition, the web's early promise in terms of innovation, democracy, and interpersonal communication has not come to be; instead, an online culture has emerged that undermines the foundation of the knowledge economy. Flows of information, Lanier notes, are more important than what is being shared, whole expressions of creativity and arguments are replaced by fragments, and authors are successful by simply reusing the past instead of producing genuinely new works. Still, Lanier is optimistic that it's not too late to move away from cybernetic totalism by taking the "red pill" his book offers—for the web does not design itself, we design it. VERDICT If you can't imagine a world without today's social technologies, this is a must read for 2010. [100,000-copy first printing; see Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/09.]—James A. Buczynski, Seneca Coll. of Applied Arts & Technology, Toronto
Kirkus Reviews
Quirky but sprawling indictment of our Internet-dominated society. Lanier, an iconoclastic speaker, columnist, computer scientist, musician and innovator of virtual-reality experiments in the 1980s, skewers the degeneration of the modern digital world. The author convincingly argues that changes in digital and software design affect human behavior, just as small changes in virtual-reality simulations modify the player's experience. One of the problems with the modern Internet culture, he writes, is that people get locked in, or confined, in their responses by the software they use, and hence lose their sense of individuality. They must conform to pre-defined categories in Facebook, and get automatically directed by Google search engines to Wikipedia entries that are bland and uninspiring. Lanier is particularly incensed by the "hive mind" mentality, which posits that group-think articles in Wikipedia are better than a creative, inspired article by someone who is a true expert on the subject. The flat structure of the Internet not only results in mediocre content, but allows for trolls, or anonymous users, who use their anonymity to behave badly and to trash others. It was also a blind belief in technology, Lanier asserts, that led to the financial debacle, as rogue traders relied on sophisticated computer algorithms without understanding what they were doing. The author is less convincing when he moves to a larger systemic argument about how an advertising-focused capitalist system directs money where the most clicks go, instead of toward individual talent. It's a difficult argument to prove, and his example of how pop music is less innovative now compared to music in the 20th century,while intriguing, seems a bit removed from the wider claims he makes about the creativity-stifling effects of big business. The last section, in which Lanier describes some inspiring potentials of modern computing, is a disjointed attempt to put a positive spin on a pessimistic view of modern technological culture. A well-intended and insightful but messy treatise. First printing of 100,000. Agent: John Brockman/Brockman Inc.
From the Publisher

A New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe Bestseller

“Lucid, powerful and persuasive. . . . Necessary reading for anyone interested in how the Web and the software we use every day are reshaping culture and the marketplace.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Persuasive. . . . Lanier is the first great apostate of the Internet era.”

“Thrilling and thought-provoking. . . . A necessary corrective in the echo chamber of technology debates.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Mind-bending, exuberant, brilliant. . . . Lanier dares to say the forbidden.”
The Washington Post

“With an expertise earned through decades of work in the field, Lanier challenges us to express our essential humanity via 21st century technology instead of disappearing in it. . . . [You Are Not a Gadget] compels readers to take a fresh look at the power—and limitations—of human interaction in a socially networked world.”
Time (“The 2010 Time 100”)

“Lanier is not of my generation, but he knows and understands us well, and has written a short and frightening book, You Are Not a Gadget, which chimes with my own discomfort, while coming from a position of real knowledge and insight, both practical and philosophical.”
—Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books

“Sparky, thought-provoking. . . . Lanier clearly enjoys rethinking received tech wisdom: his book is a refreshing change from Silicon Valley’s usual hype.”
New Scientist
“Important. . . . At the bottom of Lanier’s cyber-tinkering is a fundamentally humanist faith in technology. . . . His mind is a fascinating place to hang out.”
Los Angeles Times
“A call for a more humanistic—to say nothing of humane—alternative future in which the individual is celebrated more than the crowd and the unique more than the homogenized. . . . You Are Not a Gadget may be its own best argument for exalting the creativity of the individual over the collective efforts of the ‘hive mind.’ It’s the work of a singular visionary.”
Bloomberg News
“A bracing dose of economic realism and Randian philosophy for all those techno utopianists with their heads in the cloud. . . . [Lanier is] a true iconoclast. . . . He offers the sort of originality of thought he finds missing on the Web.”
The Miami Herald
“For those who wish to read to think, and read to transform, You Are Not a Gadget is a book to begin the 2010s. . . . It is raw, raucous and unexpected. It is also a hell of a lot of fun.”
Times Higher Education
“[Lanier] confronts the big issues with bracing directness. . . . The reader sits up. One of the insider’s insiders of the computing world seems to have gone rogue.”
The Boston Globe
Gadget is an essential first step at harnessing a post-Google world.”
The Stranger (Seattle)
“Lanier turns a philosopher’s eye to our everyday online tools. . . . The reader is compelled to engage with his work, to assent, contradict, and contemplate. . . . Lovers of the Internet and all its possibilities owe it to themselves to plunge into Lanier’s manifesto and look hard in the mirror. He’s not telling us what to think; he’s challenging us to take a hard look at our cyberculture, and emerge with new creative inspiration.”
“Poetic and prophetic, this could be the most important book of the year. . . . Read this book and rise up against net regimentation!”
The Times (London)
“[Lanier’s] argument will make intuitive sense to anyone concerned with questions of propriety, responsibility, and authenticity.”
The New Yorker
“Inspired, infuriating and utterly necessary. . . . Lanier tells of the loss of a hi-tech Eden, of the fall from play into labour, obedience and faith. Welcome to the century’s first great plea for a ‘new digital humanism’ against the networked conformity of cyber-space. This eloquent, eccentric riposte comes from a sage of the virtual world who assures us that, in spite of its crimes and follies, ‘I love the internet.’ That provenance will only deepen its impact, and broaden its appeal.”
The Independent (London)
“Fascinating and provocative. . . . Destined to become a must-read for both critics and advocates of online-based technology and culture.”
Publishers Weekly

The Barnes & Noble Review
The hero of the science fiction film The Matrix, Keanu Reeves's Neo, begins the story unaware of his fated role and mystified by the strange conspiracy in which he is suddenly embroiled. His enlightenment comes via Morpheus, the shades-wearing Virgil played by Laurence Fishburne, who offers, in a memorable scene, the choice of two pills: a blue capsule that will return Neo to the status quo, or a red one that will reveal the true nature of the dystopian virtual reality in which he lives.

If the Internet is the Matrix, then Jaron Lanier may be its Morpheus, goading us to question the system with a shake of his dreadlocks and a glissando on his oud. He's a rare computer visionary who doesn't believe the world is made of bytes -- and he would have us remember that we are not made of them either, not yet. His new book offers readers a choice: You take the blue pill -- you wake up in your own bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and Jaron Lanier (to quote Morpheus) shows you "how deep the rabbit-hole goes." But which will you choose: the red pill or the blue? In the Matrix scenario, You Are Not a Gadget is the red pill: a small, elegant bibliopharmaceutical, it delivers a powerful reminder of the limits of the Web's capacity to meet our needs -- and its power to shape us to its will.

Although Lanier calls his book a manifesto, it's better understood as a polemic against the Internet's tendencies toward crowd-sourced hive culture and the social media's penchant for taking cookie cutters to our personalities. But Lanier is a polemicist of a different stripe. He's no crabby litterateur pining for oak-lined studies and leatherbound volumes, hankering for the old days of scholarly authority and bourgeois intellectual striving. He knows the Internet from the inside, as one of its early denizens and architects, an inventive designer and user of digital technologies of all kinds. As a pioneer of virtual reality he paved the way for immersive interactive worlds like Second Life and set the stage for the techno-gnosticism of the Wachowski brothers, whose Matrix films plumbed the paranoid critique of the Internet with narrative and visual elan.

With Lanier's signal role in the development of computer culture acknowledged, it's important to recognize his outsider status. Ten years ago, virtual reality seemed like the future work and playspace; but its once-revolutionary potential has largely been eclipsed by other, more social models of interacting online. The lovely, loopy post-'60s cyberspace of Lanier's imagining -- a dreamland for wild-eyed digital shamans, a medium for romantic visionaries -- has given way to something more corporate and consumerist. Lanier is out in the cold, both philosophically and from a hard-nosed business point of view. But even if his ideas no longer shake up boardrooms and VCs, it's to the consumers, the users, and the "friends" of the Internet that Lanier speaks with urgency and inspiration.

Lanier's chief concern is the emergence of a dehumanizing ideology whose influence is unmistakable throughout the Web. The "cybernetic totalism" Lanier describes would eschew the human in favor of algorithm and automation, bits and bots. It's a disposition composed of an everyday surrender to the convenience and "fun" of the Web combined with a metaphysical belief in an eventual digital transcendence of the human: of hatred, disease, and mortality, but also individuality, creativity, and sensuous experience.

Lanier effectively eviscerates the consumerist social media, which entice us to surrender our personal information in exchange for short-lived serotonin highs. The model of personhood behind a service like Facebook, he argues, is as faulty as its business model. "The only hope for social networking sites from a business point of view," Lanier writes, "is for a magic formula to appear in which some method of violating privacy and dignity becomes acceptable." But while Facebookers may be complicit in a reductive downsizing of individuality and personality, advocates of the eschatological metaphysics of the "Singularity" are out to eradicate the human person altogether. Championed by Ray Kurzweil (another pioneering computer scientist), "Singularity" is the prophesied point at which progress becomes infinite: when "wealth creation" outstrips the speed at which we burn through natural resources; when medical advances increase longevity faster than we can live out our lifespans; when silicon processors leapfrog the complexity of the human brain and achieve consciousness, creating a "no?sphere" of minds rendered immortal -- albeit virtual. Like Wonderland's megalomaniacal queen, the Singularists try to believe six impossible things before breakfast; their zealous faith in technology, apocalyptic and transcendent, has achieved respectability among even people who believe themselves beyond the simple wiles of old-time religion. Lanier is at his most polemical when tearing apart the conceits of those who would download their psyches, and ours, onto servers.

The connection between the casual uploading of party pictures, the daily expansion of Wikipedia, and the hypersophisticated metaphysics of a few computer scientists may seem obscure. But to Lanier, it's perfectly clear: by surrendering our privacy to the networks, by defining culture and creativity as mash-up and remix, by downgrading the work of artists, writers, and musicians to so much information that "wants to be free," we may be setting ourselves up to be co-opted by a worldview that equates the mind with data and individual quirks with software bugs. As Lanier puts it, "when developers of digital technologies design a program that asks you to interact with a computer as if it were a person, they ask you to accept in some corner of your brain that you might also be conceived of as a program."

What would Lanier have us do, then? Clearly, abandoning the digital is not among his prescriptions. Quite to the contrary, he would have us use our tools with consciousness intact -- to make not mere remixes but new music together, online and in person; to tell new stories and create new, wide-awake social arrangements in which computers are tools, not arbiters. Lanier's vision of the enlightened Web is quirky and lovely, informed by his experiences creating and performing music using virtual and real-world instruments, by his lively play with philosophy and art -- even by his fascination with the cognitive faculties of the squid and the octopus, which furnish Lanier with his particular ideals of intelligence and communication. Lanier ends his book with an endearing, quixotic paean to the cephalopods, through which he imagines a radically different Internet -- one free of protocol and control, in which liberation and originality are infinite and self-sustaining.

The utopian impossibility of this vision is as obvious as its origins in the '60s ideals to which Lanier pays tribute. And yet for its brevity and ambition, his book is a marvelous antidote to our computerized complaisance. As You Are Not a Gadget bounces from anecdote to thought experiment, picking up and plugging in a dizzying array of ideas as if they were so many components in a big, beautiful computer, Lanier furnishes us with a model for engaged and thoughtful citizens of cyberspace.

The Web doesn't lack such independent minds and visionaries -- and when Lanier describes an Internet culture composed of nothing but viral memes and nostalgic mashups, he goes too far. There are novels being written, games being made and played, immersive worlds offering transcendent experiences; charismatic artists are using the Web's congeries of technologies to build audiences in powerful and compelling ways. Unfortunately, too few of us are or ever will be engaged and aware to such a visionary extent. There's a blind spot in Lanier's vision, an ironic one: exhorting us to remember the limits of code, he accidentally magnifies its powers. Neither computers nor their designers create the shortcomings Lanier enumerates. The biggest bugs on the Internet are not computer problems but human problems. Modern life promoted conformity and complaisance long before the advent of the Internet; if computers leverage and magnify those weaknesses, they do so by our leave and at our command. Perhaps it's axiomatic: we get the Internet we deserve. But even here there's a glimmer of hope. For with enough humane romantic dreamers, the Internet becomes not a mocking market but a library, an atelier, a stage. Yes, it's a mad hope. But perhaps what our Matrix needs is not a Morpheus but a Mad Hatter. --Matthew Battles

Matthew Battles is the author of Library: An Unquiet History. He has written about language, technology, and history for such publications as The American Scholar, The Boston Sunday Globe, and Harper's.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307593146
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/12/2010
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 502,772
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Jaron Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality technology and has worked on the interface between computer science and medicine, physics, and neuroscience. He lives in Berkeley, California.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

an apocalypse of self- abdication

THE IDEAS THAT I hope will not be locked in rest on a philosophical foundation that I sometimes call cybernetic totalism. It applies metaphors from certain strains of computer science to people and the rest of reality. Pragmatic objections to this philosophy are presented.

What Do You Do When the Techies Are Crazier Than the Luddites?

The Singularity is an apocalyptic idea originally proposed by John von Neumann, one of the inventors of digital computation, and elucidated by figures such as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil.

There are many versions of the fantasy of the Singularity. Here’s the one Marvin Minsky used to tell over the dinner table in the early 1980s: One day soon, maybe twenty or thirty years into the twenty- first century, computers and robots will be able to construct copies of themselves, and these copies will be a little better than the originals because of intelligent software. The second generation of robots will then make a third, but it will take less time, because of the improvements over the first

The process will repeat. Successive generations will be ever smarter and will appear ever faster. People might think they’re in control, until one fine day the rate of robot improvement ramps up so quickly that superintelligent robots will suddenly rule the Earth.

In some versions of the story, the robots are imagined to be microscopic, forming a “gray goo” that eats the Earth; or else the internet itself comes alive and rallies all the net- connected machines into an army to control the affairs of the planet. Humans might then enjoy immortality within virtual reality, because the global brain would be so huge that it would be absolutely easy—a no-brainer, if you will—for it to host all our consciousnesses for eternity.

The coming Singularity is a popular belief in the society of technologists. Singularity books are as common in a computer science department as Rapture images are in an evangelical bookstore.

(Just in case you are not familiar with the Rapture, it is a colorful belief in American evangelical culture about the Christian apocalypse. When I was growing up in rural New Mexico, Rapture paintings would often be found in places like gas stations or hardware stores. They would usually include cars crashing into each other because the virtuous drivers had suddenly disappeared, having been called to heaven just before the onset of hell on Earth. The immensely popular Left Behind novels also describe this scenario.)

There might be some truth to the ideas associated with the Singularity at the very largest scale of reality. It might be true that on some vast cosmic basis, higher and higher forms of consciousness inevitably arise, until the whole universe becomes a brain, or something along those lines. Even at much smaller scales of millions or even thousands of years, it is more exciting to imagine humanity evolving into a more wonderful state than we can presently articulate. The only alternatives would be extinction or stodgy stasis, which would be a little disappointing and sad, so let us hope for transcendence of the human condition, as we now
understand it.

The difference between sanity and fanaticism is found in how well the believer can avoid confusing consequential differences in timing. If you believe the Rapture is imminent, fixing the problems of this life might not be your greatest priority. You might even be eager to embrace wars and tolerate poverty and disease in others to bring about the conditions that could prod the Rapture into being. In the same way, if you believe the Singularity is coming soon, you might cease to design technology to serve humans, and prepare instead for the grand events it will bring.

But in either case, the rest of us would never know if you had been right. Technology working well to improve the human condition is detectable, and you can see that possibility portrayed in optimistic science fiction like Star Trek.

The Singularity, however, would involve people dying in the flesh and being uploaded into a computer and remaining conscious, or people simply being annihilated in an imperceptible instant before a new superconsciousness takes over the Earth. The Rapture and the Singularity share one thing in common: they can never be verified by the living.

You Need Culture to Even Perceive Information Technology

Ever more extreme claims are routinely promoted in the new digital climate. Bits are presented as if they were alive, while humans are transient fragments. Real people must have left all those anonymous comments on blogs and video clips, but who knows where they are now, or if they are dead? The digital hive is growing at the expense of individuality.

Kevin Kelly says that we don’t need authors anymore, that all the ideas of the world, all the fragments that used to be assembled into coherent books by identifiable authors, can be combined into one single, global book. Wired editor Chris Anderson proposes that science should no longer seek theories that scientists can understand, because the digital cloud will understand them better anyway.*

Antihuman rhetoric is fascinating in the same way that selfdestruction is fascinating: it offends us, but we cannot look away.

The antihuman approach to computation is one of the most baseless ideas in human history. A computer isn’t even there unless a person experiences it. There will be a warm mass of patterned silicon with electricity coursing through it, but the bits don’t mean anything without a cultured person to interpret them.

This is not solipsism. You can believe that your mind makes up the world, but a bullet will still kill you. A virtual bullet, however, doesn’t even exist unless there is a person to recognize it as a representation of a bullet. Guns are real in a way that computers are not.

Making People Obsolete So That Computers Seem More Advanced

Many of today’s Silicon Valley intellectuals seem to have embraced what used to be speculations as certainties, without the spirit of unbounded curiosity that originally gave rise to them. Ideas that were once tucked away in the obscure world of artificial intelligence labs have gone mainstream in tech culture. The first tenet of this new culture is that all of reality, including humans, is one big information system. That doesn’t mean we are condemned to a meaningless existence. Instead there is a new kind of manifest destiny that provides us with a mission to accomplish. The meaning of life, in this view, is making the digital system we
call reality function at ever- higher “levels of description.”

People pretend to know what “levels of description” means, but I doubt anyone really does. A web page is thought to represent a higher level of description than a single letter, while a brain is a higher level than a web page. An increasingly common extension of this notion is that the net as a whole is or soon will be a higher level than a brain. There’s nothing special about the place of humans in this scheme. Computers will soon get so big and fast and the net so rich with information that people will be obsolete, either left behind like the characters in Rapture novels or subsumed into some cyber-superhuman something.

Silicon Valley culture has taken to enshrining this vague idea and spreading it in the way that only technologists can. Since implementation speaks louder than words, ideas can be spread in the designs of software. If you believe the distinction between the roles of people and computers is starting to dissolve, you might express that—as some friends of mine at Microsoft once did—by designing features for a word processor that are supposed to know what you want, such as when you want to start an outline within your document. You might have had the experience of having Microsoft Word suddenly determine, at the wrong moment, that you are creating an indented outline. While I am all for the automation of petty tasks, this is different.

From my point of view, this type of design feature is nonsense, since you end up having to work more than you would otherwise in order to manipulate the software’s expectations of you. The real function of the feature isn’t to make life easier for people. Instead, it promotes a new philosophy: that the computer is evolving into a life-form that can understand people better than people can understand themselves.

Another example is what I call the “race to be most meta.” If a design like Facebook or Twitter depersonalizes people a little bit, then another service like Friendfeed— which may not even exist by the time this book is published— might soon come along to aggregate the previous layers of aggregation, making individual people even more abstract, and the illusion of high- level metaness more celebrated.

Information Doesn’t Deserve to Be Free

“Information wants to be free.” So goes the saying. Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, seems to have said it first.

I say that information doesn’t deserve to be free.

Cybernetic totalists love to think of the stuff as if it were alive and had its own ideas and ambitions. But what if information is inanimate? What if it’s even less than inanimate, a mere artifact of human thought? What if only humans are real, and information is not?

Of course, there is a technical use of the term “information” that refers to something entirely real. This is the kind of information that’s related to entropy. But that fundamental kind of information, which exists independently of the culture of an observer, is not the same as the kind we can put in computers, the kind that supposedly wants to be free.

Information is alienated experience.

You can think of culturally decodable information as a potential form of experience, very much as you can think of a brick resting on a ledge as storing potential energy. When the brick is prodded to fall, the energy is revealed. That is only possible because it was lifted into place at some point in the past.

In the same way, stored information might cause experience to be revealed if it is prodded in the right way. A file on a hard disk does indeed contain information of the kind that objectively exists. The fact that the bits are discernible instead of being scrambled into mush—the way heat scrambles things—is what makes them bits.

But if the bits can potentially mean something to someone, they can only do so if they are experienced. When that happens, a commonality of culture is enacted between the storer and the retriever of the bits. Experience is the only process that can de- alienate information.

Information of the kind that purportedly wants to be free is nothing but a shadow of our own minds, and wants nothing on its own. It will not suffer if it doesn’t get what it wants.

But if you want to make the transition from the old religion, where you hope God will give you an afterlife, to the new religion, where you hope to become immortal by getting uploaded into a computer, then you have to believe information is real and alive. So for you, it will be important to redesign human institutions like art, the economy, and the law to reinforce the perception that information is alive. You demand that the rest of us live in your new conception of a state religion. You need us to deify information to reinforce your faith.

*Chris Anderson, “The End of Theory,” Wired, June 23, 2008 ( 16- 07/pb_theory).

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Paperback Edition ix

Preface xiii

Part 1 What is a Person? 1

Chapter 1 Missing Persons 1

Chapter 2 An Apocalypse of Self-Abdication 24

Chapter 3 The Noosphere Is Just Another Name for Everyone's Inner Troll 45

Part 2 What Will Money Be? 73

Chapter 4 Digital Peasant Chic 77

Chapter 5 The City Is Built to Music 87

Chapter 6 The Lords of the Clouds Renounce Free Will in Order to Become Infinitely Lucky 94

Chapter 7 The Prospects for Humanistic Cloud Economics 100

Chapter 8 Three Possible Future Directions 108

Part 3 he unbearable Thinness of Flatness 117

Chapter 9 Retropolis 121

Chapter 10 Digital Creativity Eludes Flat Places 133

Chapter 11 All Hail the Membrane 138

Part 4 Making the Best of Bits 149

Chapter 12 I Am a Contrarian Loop 153

Chapter 13 One Story of How Semantics Might Have Evolved 158

Part 5 Future Humors 175

Chapter 14 Home at Last (My Love Affair with Bachelardian Neoteny 179

afterword to the Paperback Edition 193

acknowledgments 209

Index 211

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  • Posted June 23, 2010

    Disappointing Vanity Project by a Writer in Love with His Own Mind

    One of the most disappointing reading experiences occurs when you begin a book excited, and predisposed to agree with the author's premise, only to find the author does such a shoddy job of articulating that premise that he/she actually turns you AGAINST it. Such was the case with my reading of "You Are Not a Gadget," a book that by the end I found enough of a waste of my time that I opted against reading the final 30 or so pages. I'd simply had enough of Lanier's self-absorbed rantings. Now, the book is not a total lost cause. Embedded in it are some pretty fascinating discussions on how the Internet has evolved, with the concept of "lock-in" (the manner in which one way of doing things quickly becomes an irreversible industry standard) especially key. Music is apparently Lanier's second passion, and his chapter discussing the decline of popular music in the past 15 years is entertaining and informed. However, I thought he utterly failed to connect the dots in any convincing way that the decline of music (or most any other problem he mentions) is linked to the environment of anonymity on the Web. There simply is NO cause and effect where he implies there is... you are left to take his enlightened, ingenious word for it. As some academics tend to do, Lanier appropriates his own fanciful terms (the "hive mind," the "cloud") and runs them into the ground in an apparent attempt to prove how much smarter he is than you. In fact, these terms are needless, childish, and could have been explained in everyday language rather than Lanier's slang. Also, an ironic point about the concept of "lock-in:" Though he posits early on that he has no political bent, Lanier reveals himself throughout the book as a victim of a kind of intellectual lock-in, in that he paints with a broad brush in villifying wide swaths of people of virtually any sort of conservative view (the infamous "religious right," supporters of George W. Bush, etc...), all the while snobbishly assuming that no reasonable person actually AGREES with those rubes. It's a lazy snobbishness that is highly off-putting, and which betrays a conceited pseudo-intellectual who badly needs to get slapped out of his ivory tower, and back into the real world. Because if he'd get off his high horse and employ a bit of logic, Lanier really would have some very useful insight to be gleaned.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2010

    Insightful and Inspiring

    While Mr. Lanier's observations on the broken parts of Web 2.0 are often dead-on, I finished You are Not a Gadget wishing he had offered some more innovative suggestions on how these faulty parts could be repaired. Aside from some new rules for netiquette, the book is light on practical solutions that could feasibly be implemented in the near future. Still, reading about the author's thoughts on everything from computers to music to cephalopods to the Singularity was a joy. His love for humanity and technology's potential radiated off the pages. Let's hope it inspires other technologists to forge Web 3.0 into something that rewards with something other than ad revenue, and empowers individuals even when they dare challenge the wisdom and authority of the "hive mind."

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    Everyone should read this

    This is an eyeopening book that should be read by everyone whose life is affected by computers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2011

    Doesn't Work

    I have to admit that theres some timely insights here. Theres also a lot of sniping at successful internet companies though that comes across suspiciously like sour grapes from someone that missed the boat. This could have been a great magazine article, it just doesn't work as a book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2012

    Amazing book

    I will not say much here - but you need to read this book. How often is it that a sophisticated critique comes along about a common thing in society, something we just take for granted ? But we shouldn't - our consumer choices and sociopolitical awareness give us at least a small amount of power to affect how we use technology - and how it uses us. Read. This. Book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2011

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    Posted February 11, 2010

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    Posted September 26, 2010

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    Posted October 23, 2010

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    Posted April 5, 2010

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    Posted June 13, 2011

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    Posted March 10, 2011

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    Posted January 30, 2011

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    Posted June 14, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2010

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    Posted August 17, 2010

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    Posted May 27, 2011

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    Posted December 23, 2010

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    Posted January 22, 2010

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    Posted April 10, 2010

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