You are Not a Gadget - by Cathy W.

Welcome to our new blogger Cathy, who says of her reading tastes, "I love all kinds of books, music, films, comics, zines and web stuff. Basically, I eat from all 5 food groups, including junk food." More about Cathy and all of our bloggers here.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, if someone called you the L word, if it didn’t refer to your sexuality, it meant you’d been outed as a liberal. But that L word is so last century. In today’s hallowed halls of Web 2.0, the latest 12th-letter indictment is Luddite. So why is Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley visionary, musician, and one of the web’s big supporters in the 1980s, now having to fend off that label? Lanier’s recent book You Are Not a Gadget- a self-proclaimed manifesto - is his answer to all the mudslingers. 
I love how this book asks lots of “taboo” questions about the Web. His FAQs preface the book by saying “it ought to be possible to criticize aspects of digital experience without criticizing the whole of it.” Here are just some of the provocative issues he raises:


  • Computer scientists create a standard, like storing information in files. It makes sense while their system is small, but when the system expands (think Microsoft), it gets “locked in” - now we all must use it, whether it’s outdated, inefficient, or unaesthetic. What happens when the ‘lock-in” is your personal profile, on a social network like Facebook?
  • Regarding crowd decision-making on the Web: “Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual – and, in important cases, stupider. The interesting question is whether it’s possible to map out where the one is smarter than many." 
  • It has been a decade since music migrated to the Web. Are musicians actually better off? What does the online music world forecast for other fields, like journalism?
  • Why was advertising the villain in the 1960s and 1970s, but now can do no wrong? Lanier’s answer is because it’s what pays for the Web, and what allows content to be available for free. So what happens to culture when advertising is sacrosanct? 

Lanier is no naysayer; he’s open to debate, and he proposes intriguing alternatives. This book's guaranteed to start great discussions, whether you’re a computer geek or a rank and file Web user.