You Are Not a Gadget

Right now I’m reading, You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier.  I picked it up because the beginning pages mention web 2.0 and singularity, a belief in a technological rapture that has intrigued me since last year’s Burning Man.  Subheadings like, “Fragments Are Not People”, “Moral Imperative to Create the Blandest Possible Bible” and “What do you do when the Techies are Crazier than the Luddites” take you into the past, present and future of the internet with all its aggregates,  locked-in design and potential humanitarian benefits.  It’s an exciting read.  Here is an excerpt about social media sites such as Facebook that I find especially compelling.

“It Is Still Possible to Get Rid of Crowd Ideology in Online Design”

From and engineering point of view, the difference between a social networking site and the web as it existed before such sites were introduced is a matter of small detail.  You could always create a list of links to your friends on your website, and you could always send emails to a circle of friends announcing whatever you cared to.  All that the social networking services offer is a prod to use the web in  a particular way, according to a particular philosophy.
If anyone wanted to reconsider social network designs, it would be easy enough to take a standoffish approach to describing what goes on between people.  It could be left to people to communicate what they want to say about their relationships in their own way.

If someone wants to use words like “single” or “looking” in a self-description, no one is going to prevent that.  Search engines will easily find instances of those words.  There’s no need for an imposed, official category.

If you read something written by someone who used the term “single” in a custom-composed, unique sentence, you will inevitably get a whiff of the subtle experience of the author, something you would not get from a multiple-choice database.  Yes, it would be a tiny bit more work for everyone, but the benefits of semi-automated self-presentation are illusory.  If you start out by being fake, you’ll eventually have to put in twice the effort to undo the illusion if anything good is to come of it.

Jaron also offers a code of ethics in the section, “Why It Matters” where he asks us to do things like, “Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger” and “Post a video once in a while that took you one hundred times more time to create than it takes to view”.  Why?  Read his book, You Are Not a Gadget, to find out!


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