A Response to Jaron Lanier’s You are Not a Gadget
The internet is a tool. I believe this is something my generation often forgets. Growing up with a computer in my house since I was ten years old, I grew up with the internet. Like a human being, I watched it grow. I remember sending my first emails, playing online educational games at school, instant messaging after school, and when I first set up my Facebook account in high school. Although the internet has grown into an advanced entity of information flow, interactivity, and networking, it is not human.
This may may be a simplistic observation, but it’s important. Nothing on the internet gets there without human power, but do we ever stop to think of the face behind this tool? Jason Lanier is bold in his assertion of a prohuman perspective on our digital world. In the preface, he assures others that “personhood requires encapsulation”. We should own the ideas we post on Twitter, Facebook, etc. We should not give in to the mindless means of how we transport information, but we should look at human culture as an end to which technology can enhance.
I was particularly interested in Lanier’s perspective on Wikipedia. After reading positive reviews of Wikipedia, in regards to how quickly great information can be shared by a collaborative effort, You are Not a Gadget reminds us to think critically about the positive and negative attributes of open sources. I love how Lanier adores the “entries about geeky pop culture” as they are “lovingly crafted,” (Lanier 142). These subjects captivate the imagination and allow entries to be humanized. Lanier loves this aspect of Wikipedia, but he believes hard information articles may leave something to be desired.
Lanier pointed out another aspect of Wikipedia I never thought of: the ego involved with contributors. What is the intention behind those which contribute to the site? He gives an example of mathematicians, and those with the background to contribute to advanced mathematical theory. He concludes, “Individual thought-the opposite of wikiness-might not matter to mathematical truth, but it is the core of mathematical conversation,” (Lanier 147). He references a time, during the internet’s early stages when individuals flocked to the internet to publish there information, for innovative and educational purposes. Here, individual voice was admired. Human perspective was admired.
However, he states that most of these sites haven’t been updated since the time of Wikipedia, whose topics are prevalent amidst a wide variety of search engine topics. This may leave the reader something to be desired. Is it the individuals fault for delving no further into their topic than Wikipedia or a larger cultural problem regarding the dependency on Wikipedia?
I don’t know the answer to my own question, but I am a fan of Lanier’s humanistic approach. It’s important to remember the internet is a tool, and human beings should still take control of the direction of culture.