During the last decade printed books by digi-gurus have become increasingly popular. These books have progressed from those by the accessible but academic god father Henry Jenkins to the seductive social change champion Clay Shirky through to the savvy strategist and business commentator Jeff Jarvis whose What Would Google Do was a paperback bestseller which you could reasonably consume on a train journey from Edinburgh to London.
Not so the first major publication by a digi-guru this decade. You are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier was snapped up by the cultural digerati although not so easily digested. Lanier is a philosopher and computer scientist who is one of the biggest brains engaged in thinking and philosophising about technology and culture. A musician, he is famous for his design and engineering work, credited with coining the term ‘Virtual Reality’ and creating the world’s first immersive avatars.
Lanier rails against the unchallenged ascendant tribe characterised by Creative Commons and Wired, what he calls the ‘cybernetic totalist tribe’. He deplores irresponsible behaviour on the internet, where people abdicate their own individuality and become like gadgets making up part of the digital world. He describes the way we have ‘locked in’ our creativity through hardwiring software which then becomes the ruler of creative expression rather than the tool for it, like the digital music standard MIDI. “Should a digital artist just give in to lock in and accept the infinitely explicit, finite idea of a MIDI note?” he ponders.
His manifesto has had mixed reviews – this one is good – partly because of the complexity of some of his ideas. He ends up sharing his vision for creative activity enabled by a technology where humans can morph like celaphods(octopusses, squid etc).
Some of this is pretty hard to swallow. But its great to read a book which is not all about how the internet and technology change everything and which makes us stop and think instead of uncritically evangalising about the benefits of the Web 2.0 world.