Lanier was an early developer and designer of computer software, including virtual reality. In this "Manifesto" he takes aim at the dehumanizing aspects of computer technology and warns that designers must be careful that the infrastructures they build are flexible enough to promote and encourage, rather than stifle, human individuality and creativity.
For me, his explanation of "lock-in" - the ease by which later software developers build on early foundations thereby forcing users to adapt to their structures - was interesting. Instead of encouraging creativity across digital culture, lock-in results in overwhelming blandness. This has a pernicious effect on society, and, along with a developing ideology, is a contributing factor to what Lanier sees as an emerging cybernetic totalism.
It is against this totalism that his manifesto is primarily aimed.
Lanier puts forward some interesting observations about how an anarchist anti-man/pro-machine ideology permeates the high ranks of digital and web culture. Many believe he web to be a living force - a conscious mind - giving it the status of being god-like, while actual living human beings are but a collective and undifferentiated mass. Lanier calls it the hive-mind. A pack mentality replaces the phenomena of individual intelligence.
Like Marxists of old, these new-age sci-fiists who consider themselves enlightened to the new world order act to promote the coming meta silicon consciousness and thereby strike out at naive individualism. It is the new religion of a collectivist 'singularity' in which people 'hope to become immortal by being uploaded into a computer someday.' This active ideology in which artificial intelligence replaces human intelligence does not require human morality.Read more ›
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What Jaron Lanier does is take us up 20,000 meters and allow us to view things with perspective. We have been overwhelmed by the unnoticed "lock-in" and simply adjust and reduce ourselves to fit the requirements of online dating, social media, forums, and the software we employ. He says Web 2.0 is homogenizing humanity, taking us down to the lowest common denominator instead of allowing or encouraging us to bloom in different directions. Everything we now "enjoy" seems to be backward looking - music is sampled and retro, news is criticized mercilessly, but very few are creating it any more, relationships are Tweets...
Friends don't let friends communicate via Facebook - they do it on the phone or in person. But the direction we are taking instead reduces interaction, kills creativity, journalism, music, science....it's not as pretty as predicted, he says. And he's one of those more responsible for it all.
These are truly valuable criticisms, and this is an important, if flawed book. Flawed because after a hundred page pounding of logic and evidence, Lanier spends the second hundred pages telling us how wonderful it is to be a scientist and play with humans and cuttlefish. I was particularly annoyed with a gratuitous couple of paragraphs devoted to swearing, which he says might be connected to parts of the brain controlling orifices and obscenity. To my knowledge, swearing is cultural, not physiological. In Quebec, the worst swearing is against the Catholic Church, Translated into English "Christ Tabernacle" sounds like something WC Fields said to skirt the censors. But it's the most vile thing you can say in polite conversation in Montreal. On the other hand Motherf----r doesn't translate into French at all. And what's any of this got to do with online reductionism?Read more ›
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