“You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier – the first Must-Read book of 2010

January 29, 2010

“Children want attention. Therefore, young adults in their newly extended childhood can now perceive themselves to be finally getting enough attention through social networks and blogs. . . Separation anxiety is assuaged by constant connection. Young people announce every detail of their lives on services like Twitter not to show off, but to avoid the closed door at bedtime, the empty room, the screaming vacuum of an isolated mind.” — Jaron Lanier

I don’t normally seek to force feed my interests and  obsessions on others but I’ll make an exception in the case of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget.

If you want to hang with me, you’ve got to read this book. (Just like Eric Clapton who explained that, back in the 1960s, if you didn’t know who Robert Johnson was, he didn’t want to talk to you).

In a just and equitable world You Are Not A Gadget would reach an audience the size of the one for Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. As much as I enjoyed Tipping Point, I think this is a more important and profound book. Perhaps Lanier has made a tactical error by subtitling his work as “a manifesto,” a billing that will likely cut down his readership. Personally, I would file this under ‘cogent analysis’ rather than ‘manifesto.’

“. . . popular music created in the industrialized world from the late 1990s to the late 2000s doesn’t have a distinctive style—that is, one that would provide an identity for the young people who grew up with it. The process of the reinvention of life through music appears to have stopped.” — Jaron Lanier

Read this to understand important concepts like “lock-in” as it relates to software development and the “hive mind”  aspect of Web 2.0 social media. Find support here if you, like me, can’t stand Twitter and FaceBook.

If you question the recently promoted idea of  ‘the wisdom of crowds,’ as I do (strenuously), rest assured that Lanier knocks the intellectual under pinnings of that concept into a cocked hat. I think events like the Internet bubble (and subsequent bust) of the early 2000s and the housing bubble and bust of the late 2000s are great examples of ‘the ignorance of crowds.’ Keep in mind that 50% of the adult American population is below average in intelligence. It’s no surprise that when the majority of them gather online they have nothing interesting, insightful or useful to say.

Read the NY Times review here (quick! before it disappears behind the pay wall) and an essay about it by John Tierny here.


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