You Are Not a Gadget – A Manifesto

As I explore the possibilities of leveraging some of the so-called web 2.0 tools for competence-building and change management, tools such as Facebook, YouTube etcetera, I am also interested in some of the unforeseen or unintended consequences of these tools.

A book that I found thought-provoking is Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget – A Manifesto. Published last year, I think its Preface sums up best the warning and hope that Lanier’s book conveys:

It’s early in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons—automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The words will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in remote, often secret locations around the world. They will be copied millions of times by algorithms designed to send an advertisement to some person somewhere who happens to resonate with some fragment of what I say. They will be scanned, rehashed, and misrepresented by crowds of quick and sloppy readers into wikis and automatically aggregated wireless text message streams.

Reactions will repeatedly degenerate into mindless chains of anonymous insults and inarticulate controversies. Algorithms will find correlations between those who read my words and their purchases, their romantic adventures, their debts, and, soon, their genes. Ultimately these words will contribute to the fortunes of those few people who have been able to position themselves as lords of the computing clouds.

The vast fanning out of the fates of these words will take place almost entirely in the lifeless world of pure information. Real human eyes will read these words in only a tiny minority of the cases.

And yet it is you, the person, the rarity among my readers, I hope to reach.

The words in this book are written for people not computers.

I want to say: You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.

One phenomenon that Lanier addresses is the nature of human relationships as affected by software such as Facebook:

I know quite a few people, mostly young adults but not all, who are proud to say that they have accumulated thousands of friends on Facebook. Obviously this statement can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced…It is also important to notice the similarity between the lords and peasants of the cloud. A hedge fund manager might make money by using the computational power of the cloud to calculate fantastical financial instruments that make bets on derivatives in such a way as to invent out of thin air the phony virtual collateral for stupendous risks. This is a subtle form of counterfeiting, and is precisely the same maneuver a socially competitive teenager makes in accumulating fantastical numbers of “friends” on a service like Facebook.


One Comment on “You Are Not a Gadget – A Manifesto”

  1. […] 2010 book You Are Not a Gadget warns of the unintended consequences of our headlong rush into a 24/7 social media life. 6 years […]


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