Jaron Lanier: How a misused internet in part destroys creativity


General Culture

Colin today linked to this interview with Jaron Lanier. I’m sure by now you have heard of Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, and what you might have heard is perfectly mirrored in the introduction of the interview. The book is described as a “doom and gloom manifesto […] even if” - brace yourselves - “Lanier insists that it is, overall, an optimistic book.” You gotta ask yourself: What does the author know, when there’s a journalist to tell it like it is? When you read reviews you will come to the conclusion that the book cannot possibly be “an optimistic book” - except, of course, that it is. How do I know this? The very old-fashioned way: I bought the book, and I read it (I’ll review it here at some stage).

I got interested in it when I noted that it generated two kinds of reviews, namely the “I told you so, the internet is the end of culture” ones, and the “Lanier just doesn’t get how great the web is” ones - with nothing in between. So when Lanier asks the author of that interview whether she has actually read the book, he probably knows he’s dealing with yet another journalist who wants some snappy bits for a sensationalist article. Bingo!

The reception of the book reminded me a bit of what happens when an intellectual publishes something that seems to indicate that s/he isn’t fully on the side of some theory any longer. In the past Century, the most extreme cases had to do with Communism. It was almost inevitable that ardent anti-Communist would write the aforementioned “I told you so” articles, and people who still believed in Communism would denounce the “traitor”. These situations always resulted in utter confusion when the intellectual in question then declared that s/he in principle still believed in Communism, but just not in the way it was done in whatever country s/he was from.

Mind you, that was pre-internet - you can blame the net for a lot (because, if you’re a journalist, such a story almost writes itself), but not for these kinds of simplified debates.

So if you’re interested in what Lanier really has to say, buy You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto and read it. And don’t read too many reviews. They’re all pretty misleading.