10 Things I Learned from Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not A Gadget”

I have been wanting to blog about this book for three months now. o.0

Jaron Lanier is known as the father of virtual reality. Essentially the book asks the reader to think about the design of the internet and Lanier also asks the reader  to question the idea of the wisdom of the crowds. Lastly he asks you to interrogate the role that engineers play in creating hardware and software.

I have listed quotes below. Some of them have comments that I have left. My words are italicized.

#1: On the Power that Engineers Have on the Internet

It only takes a tiny group of engineers to create technology that can shape the entire future human experience with incredible speed. Therefore, crucial arguments about the human relationship to technology should take place between developers and users before such direct manipulations are designed. This book is about those arguments.

#2 The Concept of “Lock In” and How it Shapes Software and Hardware

“Lock in” is a term that describes how older software can shape how newer software is created. He goes on to use MIDI as an example.

The brittle character of mature computer programs can cause digital designs to get frozen into place by a process known as lock-in. This happens when many software programs are designed to work with an existing one. The process of significantly changing software in a situation in which a lot of other software is dependent on it is the hardest thing to do. So it almost never happens.

#3 Why Humanistic Web Design is Important

He lists several things that you can do online to “be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others”.

His reasoning for humanistic web design is that:

Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people they revert to bad moblike behaviors….

….But in the case of digital creative materials, like MIDI, UNIX or even the World Wide Web, it’s a good idea to be skeptical. These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist going into the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a  medium made of software, there’s danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s recent careless thoughts. Struggle against that!”

#4 Making a Connection Between Chess and Computers

…Modern computers were developed to guide missiles and break secret military codes. Chess and computers are both direct descendants of the violence that drives the evolution  in the natural world, however sanitized and abstracted they may be in the context of civilization.

#5 How are Facebook and No Child Left Behind Connected?

What computerized analysis of all the country’s schools tests has done to education what Facebook has done to friendships. In both cases, life is turned into a database. Both degradations are based on the same philosophical mistake, which is the belief that computers can represent human thought or human relationships. These are things computers cannot currently do.

#6 The Significance of Small Spaces on the Internet

This had particular relevance to me, and my thinking about my blog as I work on new, more expansive and collaborative ideas. He has forced me to think about how I want to grow this space, on my own terms, and to be explicit about what that growth looks like.

I worry that any little special place on the internet can be ruined if it gets too much attention….

The places that work online always turn out to be the beloved projects of individuals, not the automated aggregation of the cloud….

It is the people that make the forum, not the software. Without the software, the experience would not exist at all, so I celebrate the software as flawed as it is.

Page views are not the same as community. Honestly, audience is not the same as community both on and offline. The above quote reminds me of this distinction.







#7 Lack of Curiosity on the Limits of Crowd Wisdom

The wisdom of crowds effect should be thought of as a tool. The value of a tool is its usefulness in accomplishing a task. The point never should be the glorification of the tool….

…There’s and odd lack of curiosity about the limits of crowd wisdom.

#8 Rethinking Digital Economies

..instead of copying digital media, we should effectively keep only one copy of each cultural expression- as with a book or a song- and pay the author of that expression a small, affordable amount whenever it is accessed…as a result, anyone might be able to get rich from creative work. The people who make a momentarily popular prank video clip might earn a lot of money in a single day, but an obscure scholar might eventually earn as much over many years as her work was repeatedly referenced. But note that this is a very different idea from the long tail, because it rewards individuals instead of cloud owners.

This is interesting in that it discussing another way of structuring economies within digital spaces. As a feminist I am CERTAINLY interested in how this impacts both women in general, women of color in particularly. #equity.


#9 Online Chatter {as a Parasite} feeding off of Old Media Cultures

It is astonishing how much of the chatter online is driven by fan responses to expression that was originally created within the sphere of old media and that is now being destroyed  by the net. Comments about TV shows, major movies, commercial music releases, and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but since the web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating it’s own seed stock.

Honestly I had never thought about this before. I am aware that a blog can serve it’s audience OR it’s advertisers, rarely both (shout out to Rafi).

#10 The Limits of Open Source Software

Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970′s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designed as if they were facts of nature….I am not anti open source…but the politically correct dogma that holds open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation is not borne by the facts.

He cites the fact that the iphone was created in a “closed” environment as an example of how the most significant tech innovations don’t always occur in open source settings.

Do you know Jaron Lanier’s work?

Fascinating no?