At first glance Jason Lanier’s You are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto takes a surprisingly negative look at the effects of the world-wide web. Especially considering it was written by a guy who helped shape the technologies that the book so frequently bashes. Jason Lanier has written extensively for Discover and other publications about technology and its effects on society. Fans of these articles will be immediately mesmerized by this book and the concepts discussed in it.
On my initial reading of You are not a Gadget, I thought Lanier was far too intellectual for me to have a meaningful connection with his message. Continuing on I was presently surprised at how his style of writing could maintain its intellectual tone while still remaining accessible to those of us reading the book that don’t have a computer-science background. Lanier wastes no time jumping into the subject matter, laying out complex concepts about the history and early design of the Internet in a simple manner. Lanier builds the reader's understanding of how technological decisions of early computer programming have shaped the technologies of today. Lanier skillfully educates the reader for further exploration into these subjects later on in the book.
Throughout the book, Lanier criticizes the direction the web is taking and the effects it is having on society. Lanier creates brilliant terms like “hive mind, lock in” and “inner Troll” to describe and criticize our society and current technological direction. Lanier has been writing about these issues for years and brilliantly sums up his views in this book. Many books have been written recently on the negative effects of the Internet on our culture. Having such an accomplished technology innovator lay out the facts about these negative effects gives this book added credibility.
Lanier has lived an interesting and accomplished life. In the 80s, Lanier pioneered Virtual Reality and continued that work through the end of the last century. Lanier is actually credited with coining the term virtual reality and founded VPL research, which developed the first implementations of virtual reality for medical procedures and countless other uses. Lanier has worked and consulted for numerous technology companies throughout his career, most notably Microsoft.
Lanier has an interesting perspective on the evolution of technology. Lanier has developed technologies for video games since the 80’s and has been a consultant in the development of Nintendo’s Power Glove and most recently the Microsoft Xbox Kinect motion sensor. There is much more to Lanier than his technological accomplishments. For starters he looks more like an extra from a Rob Zombie video than an accomplished technologist.
Lanier is also an accomplished author, visual artist and composer. Lanier’s musical achievements are almost as impressive as his technological ones. Lanier owns one of the most extensive collections of rare musical instruments in the world. Lanier has been heavily involved in new classical music since the 70s, composing countless symphonies and soundtracks. Lanier has performed with an impressive list of world famous musicians ranging from Yoko Ono to George Clinton.
Lanier’s musical interests are present in his book, as he laments the effects of MIDI technology on the diversity of music today. Lanier also devotes an entire chapter to the effects of the Internet and file sharing on the musicians of today. Another chapter details how Internet content lacks innovation; estimating that half of the content available online originated from a traditional media source. Lanier theorizes that this retro culture has similarly affected innovation in pop music.
In the final part of this book, the author puts down his skepticism for a moment and presents some hopeful ideas on where the technical innovation of the Internet could and should take us. This part includes some great stories from the early development of virtual reality. Lanier has some intriguing ideas on how to change the direction technology is taking and its effects on our lives.
Jaron Lanier has written three books and countless essays on business and technology. He was named one of the 100 most influential people by Time Magazine and has received numerous awards for his technological innovation. Lanier has had a huge influence on the design of the internet and technology, yet he is an outspoken critic of these technologies. As such a revered scholar in the world of technological innovations, Lanier brilliantly applies his unique perspective to his criticisms of a world he helped create.
Lanier will probably be remembered for years to come as a pioneer of this digital age. His influence has led to numerous innovations and will probably continue to do so for years to come. In You are not a Gadget: A Manifesto Lanier's genius applies to his writing as well.