Mykle's Reviews > You Are Not a Gadget

You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
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did not like it
bookshelves: feeding-to-a-giant-squid
Recommended for: Jaron's dealer

This book is all jism and dope smoke.

Jaron Lanier is really, really bothered by a laundry list of standard arch-conservative nemeses (Marxism! today's kids! filesharing! the breakdown of the social contract! foreigners stealing our jobs!) as well as a basket of useful-yet-imperfect modern technologies (Wikipedia! Blogs! MIDI! Linux!) He is aware of a sinister cabal of cybernetic totalists who are hard at work on a machine to xerox his brain and force him to use Facebook to meet girls. But they'll never win, because humans are special, as PROVEN by the magical fact that Jaron Lanier cannot describe what makes humans special.

Meanwhile, the Internet is full of trolls, nobody speaks HTML anymore and Jaron can't make a living as a musician! Clearly, the Digital End Times are at hand. He wants to lay the blame on a digital culture that's too standardized and too free; on the evils of open source software and democratic communication.

Well, he had his chance to do that and he flubbed it. Jaron Lanier cannot construct a convincing argument; only about half the time can he even link two paragraphs. He contradicts himself whenever it is convenient to do so. He regularly starts a section with the assertion of a Great Digital Evil (the record industry is dying! bloggers don't spell check!), then insinuates a link to his vague overarching thesis. When he does try to convince a skeptical reader of the connection, he usually fails; more often he just mutters, "Clearly, there is a connection!" I guess he's trying to win over the reader with the depth and emotional sincerity of his whining plea for sanity. I feel bad for whoever buys it.

Then he spends the last quarter of the book trying to convince us that whatever random projects he's been working on lately are intimately connected with his desire to save the world from the Great Digital Evil he has not quite described. Apparently people need to be more like squids - while remaining uniquely special humans, of course. Also, financial contracts should be written in LISP. And pop songs should live in coffee mugs so they can't be downloaded. I kid you not.

Jaron & I & many other computer nerds over forty have lived through a bona fide computer revolution over the last two decades. But Jaron's memory of the facts is somewhat different than mine. He's good at spinning sad, scary yarns about the evolution of the Internet, of paradises promised and lost, but he's regularly full of shit. I won't call it lying because I'm sure it's true to him, but the real history is out there and can be looked up! This book has ten pages of index but cites NO REFERENCES. I would love to see it ruthlessly fact-checked, but apparently Allen Lane Publishing (a Penguin imprint) is too hobbled by the impending (sad, scary) obsolescence of literature to employ a fact checker. Or maybe they just figured the book wouldn't survive the process.

I still think there's something creepy out there. I still think the internet doesn't smell as rosy as it used to, and I still think Facebook is a big fat waste of time, both human and computational. I think the ways software can control its users are important to recognize and beware of. But this book is just a paranoid, incoherent neoliberal bitchfest with digital pretensions - from Jaron Lanier, of all people.

UPDATE: Jaron collected his thoughts, found a real editor, and wrote a much better book! Read that one instead:
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Reading Progress

October 25, 2011 – Started Reading
October 25, 2011 – Shelved
October 25, 2011 –
page 32
14.48% "I'm trying to give Jaron a fair listen here, but he's making unsupported assertions, using poor logic and inventing straw men on every page."
October 25, 2011 –
page 47
21.27% "He makes a good point on p. 46 -- oops, he contradicted himself on p. 47."
October 25, 2011 –
page 80
36.2% "A partial list of things Jaron Lamier hates: midi, unix, files, wikipedia, blogs, web 2.0, artificial intelligence, communism, kids today, research, fact-checking."
October 25, 2011 –
page 112
50.68% "Poor Jaron can't make a living as a musician! Curse you, web 2.0!"
October 25, 2011 –
page 157
71.04% ""Eventually data and insight might make the story more specific, but for the moment we can at least construct a plausible story of ourselves in terms of grand-scale computational natural history" ... this pretty much summarizes the book, except I would debate the "plausible" part."
October 25, 2011 – Shelved as: feeding-to-a-giant-squid
October 25, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by Ryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ryn Shane-Armstrong Mykle,

Respectfully, I totally disagree with you critique of Lanier. I think maybe you've forgotten a very key word in the title of the book: "manifesto." By their very nature, manifestos are not designed to be air-tight in their steely objectivity; they're designed to be hyperbolic, expansive, and, quite frankly, a little romantic. It is a mistake to consider this work through the same lens one might view an academic text. I mean, would you similarly condemn a haiku for failing to follow the rules of a dissertation?

Also, I think it's an unfortunate characteristic of postmodern thinking to assume anything that isn't gleefully optimistic about technological or scientific advancement is somehow inherently regressive or politically "neoliberal," as you referred to it. Lanier is not a right-wing fear mongerer. If anything, his tone is one of sorrow, the kind of sentiment a mad scientist feels after discovering he's complicit in the creation of a global Frankenstein. In the end, he's just a man who's changed his mind about internet technology. We shouldn't begrudge him this development, even if it isn't one we necessarily share.

In any case, there are far more well-organized and articulate voices on this important subject. I recommend Douglas Rushkoff, Sherry Turkle, and Nicholas Carr for starters -- they'll have more than enough citations and references to appease your deconstruction lust.

So hold off on tossing this one into the giant squid tank for now, my friend.



Zach Glad to see someone in the "over-40 crowd" thought he was as full of hot air as I did.

Lillian I agree with you Mykle. The lack of sources drove me batty. Definitely throw it to the giant squid.

message 4: by Adam (new) - rated it 1 star

Adam Spot on, man. Spot on.

message 5: by Grumpus (new)

Grumpus McGrouchy Jism and dope smoke? SOLD!

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Agreed, Mykle!

message 7: by Emanuel (new) - added it

Emanuel Landeholm Dope review!

Me, I'm more of a Dennet type of guy, but tomorrow-ology is always super relevant.

I will download this book ... illegally.

Mykle Oh cyber-snap!

Pete I take it you didn't like it - chuckle.

Personally, I found the book to both thoughtful and insightful - in summary excellent.

My sense is one could argue on the merits of the manifesto but I myself found it to be a useful counterpoint. Whether you agree with it or not it is I feel useful to look at the alternatives. My sense is this provides a nice backdrop to question and review today's current state of affairs.

PS. Your rant is for me at least a perfect example of the type of response one sees today. That is profane, incoherent and personal in its attacks. Frankly a sad outcome but there you have it.

message 10: by Mykle (new) - rated it 1 star

Mykle Pete wrote: "PS. Your rant is for me at least a perfect example of the type of response one sees today. "

I ranted this rant six years ago. Are you saying I was ahead of my time? I'll take that as a compliment, I guess ...

All joking aside, I'd much rather read your review of this book than try to push mine on you.

Genndy You are an ideology-driven hypocrite.

message 12: by Mykle (new) - rated it 1 star

Mykle How so?

message 13: by Jim (new)

Jim Love this review.

It makes me want to:

1. Read this book.

2. Read Mykle's books.

message 14: by Laurie (new)

Laurie Wright I may not read his book but I'm enjoying his interview on Amanpour

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Myrkle wrote; "but the real history is out there and can be looked up."

Not the parts which have been deleted, censored, and mangled. Your statement seem so naïve, I must take it as sarcasm.

message 16: by Mykle (last edited Jan 17, 2019 04:50PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Mykle BlairB wrote: "Myrkle wrote; "but the real history is out there and can be looked up."

Not the parts which have been deleted, censored, and mangled. Your statement seem so naïve, I must take it as sarcasm."

Okay sure not those parts ... but definitely all the other parts. =)

Seriously, I have lived the modern history of tech, and it's heavily documented. Many, many witnesses are still living who agree upon events. It's not like we're discussing the murder of JFK.

Is there a specific big cover-up you're alluding to here? Was there an accusation of such a cover-up in this book?
If there is a real conspiracy afoot to delete/mangle/censor the history of the internet and modern tech, I want to know about it!

I trust you don't just go around insinuating that controversy exists where it doesn't. There's controversy enough in the world already.

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