January 21, 2017

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto

500 million people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard Sophomore.

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What’s it about?

Jaron Lanier, a master programmer and virtual reality pioneer, writes a book about the ways people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate.

In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for a person. We all profess to know this, but when we get online it becomes easy to forget. In Facebook, as it is with other online social networks, life is turned into a database, and this is a degradation.

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto:

  1. We know that having two thousand friends on Facebook is not what it looks like and we know that we are using software to behave in a certain, superficial way towards others. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us?
  2. Software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible.
  3. Imagine a computer without the files. Or consider MIDI, an inflexible, early eighties digital music protocol for connecting different musical components, such as a keyboard and computer. It’s the basis of all the music we hear today, despite its limited musical range.
  4. Designs are often taken up in a slap-dash last minute manner and then become “locked-in.” Because they are software used by millions of people, they are too difficult to adapt or change.
  5. Is the software we are locked into really fulfilling our needs? Or are we reducing ourselves to the software? Giving it power it doesn’t have. Fetishizing technology, because we believe if it’s new it must be good.
  6. Lock-in happens quickly and we forget what exactly we are locking into. Facebook was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? Do you have a life – prove it, post pictures. Do you like the right sorts of things – movies, music, books and television, (but not architecture, ideas, or plants).


These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a medium made of software, there’s a danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s careless thoughts. Fight against this!

The Careless thoughts of a Harvard Sophomore

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. We’re preoccupied with personal trivia because that’s what Mark Zukerberg thinks friendship is.

Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?


Take Away Points and Context

  • Because society places such an emphasis on new technology, it’s easy to believe that what is new is good. We seldom stop to think about whether the adoption of a technology is right.
  • In a sense, the big social media companies have pulled off a massive coup. We give them our time and attention and they make millions selling us stuff through advertisements.
  • Technological lock-in can happen quick: 500 million people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard Sophomore (and, no I don’t want to poke you).


Full Article:

Generation Why?

Zadie Smith


You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

by Jaron Lanier
Knopf, 209 pp., $24.95


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