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You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto [Paperback]

Jaron Lanier
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 8 2011 0307389979 978-0307389978 Reprint

A NATIONAL BESTSELLER

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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Review

A New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe Bestseller

“Lucid, powerful and persuasive. . . . Necessary reading for anyone interested in how the Web and the software we use every day are reshaping culture and the marketplace.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Persuasive. . . . Lanier is the first great apostate of the Internet era.”
Newsweek

“Thrilling and thought-provoking. . . . A necessary corrective in the echo chamber of technology debates.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Mind-bending, exuberant, brilliant. . . . Lanier dares to say the forbidden.”
The Washington Post

“With an expertise earned through decades of work in the field, Lanier challenges us to express our essential humanity via 21st century technology instead of disappearing in it. . . . [You Are Not a Gadget] compels readers to take a fresh look at the power—and limitations—of human interaction in a socially networked world.”
Time (“The 2010 Time 100”)

“Lanier is not of my generation, but he knows and understands us well, and has written a short and frightening book, You Are Not a Gadget, which chimes with my own discomfort, while coming from a position of real knowledge and insight, both practical and philosophical.”
—Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books

“Sparky, thought-provoking. . . . Lanier clearly enjoys rethinking received tech wisdom: his book is a refreshing change from Silicon Valley’s usual hype.”
New Scientist
 
“Important. . . . At the bottom of Lanier’s cyber-tinkering is a fundamentally humanist faith in technology. . . . His mind is a fascinating place to hang out.”
Los Angeles Times
 
“A call for a more humanistic—to say nothing of humane—alternative future in which the individual is celebrated more than the crowd and the unique more than the homogenized. . . . You Are Not a Gadget may be its own best argument for exalting the creativity of the individual over the collective efforts of the ‘hive mind.’ It’s the work of a singular visionary.”
Bloomberg News
 
“A bracing dose of economic realism and Randian philosophy for all those techno utopianists with their heads in the cloud. . . . [Lanier is] a true iconoclast. . . . He offers the sort of originality of thought he finds missing on the Web.”
The Miami Herald
 
“For those who wish to read to think, and read to transform, You Are Not a Gadget is a book to begin the 2010s. . . . It is raw, raucous and unexpected. It is also a hell of a lot of fun.”
Times Higher Education
 
“[Lanier] confronts the big issues with bracing directness. . . . The reader sits up. One of the insider’s insiders of the computing world seems to have gone rogue.”
The Boston Globe
 
Gadget is an essential first step at harnessing a post-Google world.”
The Stranger (Seattle)
 
“Lanier turns a philosopher’s eye to our everyday online tools. . . . The reader is compelled to engage with his work, to assent, contradict, and contemplate. . . . Lovers of the Internet and all its possibilities owe it to themselves to plunge into Lanier’s manifesto and look hard in the mirror. He’s not telling us what to think; he’s challenging us to take a hard look at our cyberculture, and emerge with new creative inspiration.”
Flavorwire
 
“Poetic and prophetic, this could be the most important book of the year. . . . Read this book and rise up against net regimentation!”
The Times (London)
 
“[Lanier’s] argument will make intuitive sense to anyone concerned with questions of propriety, responsibility, and authenticity.”
The New Yorker
 
“Inspired, infuriating and utterly necessary. . . . Lanier tells of the loss of a hi-tech Eden, of the fall from play into labour, obedience and faith. Welcome to the century’s first great plea for a ‘new digital humanism’ against the networked conformity of cyber-space. This eloquent, eccentric riposte comes from a sage of the virtual world who assures us that, in spite of its crimes and follies, ‘I love the internet.’ That provenance will only deepen its impact, and broaden its appeal.”
The Independent (London)
 
“Fascinating and provocative. . . . Destined to become a must-read for both critics and advocates of online-based technology and culture.”
Publishers Weekly

About the Author

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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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars
2.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Manifesto For Cyber-Humanism March 16 2010
Format:Hardcover
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.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By David Wineberg TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
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?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading Feb. 13 2011
Format:Hardcover
A thought-provoking book which, while at times overly verbose and schizophrenic, raises some interesting questions (and possible solutions) regarding our increasingly connected culture.
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