The risks of defining ourselves by templates
You Are Not a Gadget Review: A Manifesto. By Jaron Lanier. Knopf, 209 pp., $24.95.
By Janice Harayda
Is the flowering of the Internet is turning us into a nation of container plants? Virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier thinks so. In this polemic, he argues that we believe we’re expressing our uniqueness when we launch blogs, join Facebook, or leave comments on websites.
But too often, we’re pruning our personalities to fit programming decisions made decades ago and the software designed around them. And the cost is steep for people who give away much of their best work online – all those “journalists, musicians, artists, and filmmakers who are staring into career oblivion because of our failed digital idealism.”
Lanier at times wanders into abstruse topics such as the difference between Bachelardian and Goldingesque neotony or seems to be auditioning for a spot on Oprah’s couch next to Eckhart Tolle. But he salts You Are Not a Gadget with enough life-giving anecdotes to find an appealing middle ground between writing for science-fair winners and for owners of PCs for Dummies. Yes, he tells us, it’s true: Computers scientists really have figured out “how to hack into a pacemaker and turn it off by remote control” in order to kill someone.
Best line: “The phase of life we call ‘childhood’ was greatly expanded in connection with the rise of literacy, because it takes time to learn to read.” “Am I accusing all those hundreds of millions of users of social networking sites of reducing themselves in order to be able to use the services? Well, yes, I am.”
Worst line: “Consciousness is attempting to will itself out of existence.”
Published: January 2010
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