Wednesday, November 10, 2010

You Are Not A Gadget

You Are Not A Gadget, by Jaron Lanier, is a manifesto criticizing and analyzing the way technology has developed over the past twenty years.  Amazon listed it as one of the best books of the year (so far), and I often find myself puzzling over the way technology advances have affected the human condition, so this seemed like a natural fit for my point of view.
Lanier makes several rather obvious observations in his book, except I've never taken the time to make those same notes.  For example, he insists that we, as a society, have put computers on a pedestal, rather than realizing that we make computers and software.  It's impressive when a chess prodigy is beaten by a computer, but mostly because a computer programmer has been able to successfully create a program to anticipate chess moves ahead of a person.  Why didn't I think of that?
It is also noted that Web 2.0 has encouraged people to limit themselves, rather than expand their creative boundaries.  Facebook forces people to categorize themselves by what books and movies they like, and formats each page the same way.  Web 2.0 has created a new encyclopedia, Wikipedia...which is exactly like print encyclopedias.  There isn't as much diversity online these days as programmers might have imagined twenty years ago.
Now, let's be frank.  I'm not a techie, and a lot of this book went over my head.  Yes, I could get the gist of the manifesto, but couldn't quite follow the descriptions of "songles" or follow some of the thought experiments mentioned.  For a lot of non-fiction, though, the gist is often good enough; this is Lanier's manifesto, after all, not mine.  I will say that You Are Not A Gadget took me over two weeks to get through, which I hadn't counted on.  It's great to read something that forces you to think outside of your comfort level, even if some of it is somewhat incomprehensible.


  1. You should read Zadie Smith's take on this book and The Social Network - it's a fantastic article.

  2. I won't be reading that one! Certainly not because I'm not technologically astute. I'm a firm believer that at some point this world has got to take a step back to the simple life in more ways than one. I think this book would depress and distress me.
    aunt nesi

  3. Thanks for the tip, Danielle! I found it on the NY Review of Books; anything Zadie Smith touches turns to poetry, doesn't it?
    And Aunt Nesi, this book was a bit depressing and distressing at time for me, too.