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? Zilch - is my point.
But don't let that deter you, as it distracted him. The original message is important. People create. Software does not. Software restricts. Lanier says: don't leave anonymous contributions. Build a creative website of your own design. Probe deeply and uniquely - beyond Wikipedia. Reflect before you blog.
He says our humanity and creativity are being put at risk by the miasma foisted on us by the incredible leveling machine of the internet. Instead of becoming exciting, the internet has become boring. Instead of creating new music, it has assassinated the entire industry. Instead of bringing people together, it lets them off the hook. That's worth exploring, and for about 100 pages, Lanier does a grand job of it.