Spencer's Reviews > You Are Not a Gadget

You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
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's review
May 29, 12

bookshelves: nonfiction, philosophy
Read in May, 2012, read count: 1

As anyone who knows me could tell you, I'm a pretty heavy internet user. I'm on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and reddit. I've kept a smartphone on me since freshman year of college, and I use it regularly. The internet is a rather inextricable part of my life.

Jaron Lanier is a techie too; he's been involved in technological innovation since the '70s. And he, too, loves the internet. But Lanier is also a philosopher and a humanist, and in You Are Not a Gadget, he turns a critical eye toward the growing role of the internet in our daily lives, asking how it's affecting things like our creative expression, our views of the economy, and even our senses of self and personhood. The ways we interact with the internet, Lanier argues, are decidedly anti-human, and if we want to set a better course for technology, we ought to do that soon, before the legacy of our technology becomes monumental and stifling.

Throughout Gadget, Lanier tackles parts of internet culture that I would never have seen as issues before--like the open-source movement, for instance. Lanier maintains a civil appreciation for open-source technology and acknowledges its wide appeal, but also is unafraid to point out what so many open-source proponents, myself included, often refuse to admit: the open-source atmosphere is hardly generating innovation. Similarly, Lanier points out that for all its anticipated boons to creativity or the distribution of creative expressions (like music), the internet has hardly changed how expressions of culture are created or distributed. The internet, which has the potential to be a radically revolutionary force in how humans interact, create, and share, is more akin today to an armchair activist, dreaming big but hardly changing a thing.

I can't say I agree with everything Lanier writes. But much of his manifesto is so utterly original and unfamiliar that reading it forced me to challenge my own way of thinking. I see the internet in a new light now, and will be thinking hard about how I interact with it in the future. Whether you love Facebook or hate it, never log on or never log off, Lanier's unique perspective will give you plenty to think about.
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