You are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

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Alfred A. Knopf, 2010 - Computers - 209 pages
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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.

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This is an easy and enjoyable read. It is often thought provoking and raises a lot of interesting points. The author is a luddite in the true sense of the word in that he worries that new technology will damage jobs in music and the arts . He is not unbiased in this area as he is a musician as well as working in computer sciences. In this area he does have some points, but it is also possible that the period where musicians made money from recordings was an unusual time in history (and a side effect of the medium) and we have reverted to the more usual state of affairs (Artists dying of starvation in garrets).
He is probably correct about many of the risks of Web 2.0 life and in particular about the damaging effects of anonymity in the degradation of personality and behaviour. In general his warnings about crowd behaviour may yet prove prescient.
 

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About the author (2010)

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.
 
Visit the author's website at www.jaronlanier.com.

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