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“You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier (Book Recommendation)

Jaron Lanier is a pioneer in the computer field…a true trailblazer. For instance, he helped to create and popularize the field of virtual reality. He is also a renaissance man to boot, as he is accomplished in diverse fields such as mathematics and music. He is an absolute Genius, and I’m capitalizing the word because he deserves it.

I don’t think it exactly counts as an irony (too many people use that word inappropriately – yes, I’m talking to you, Ms. Morissette), but I listened to the unabridged audiobook version of You Are Not a Gadget on my iPod. DOH! Still, the reader was excellent, and I found myself highly engaged in this book. Be warned – it is fairly dense and, like me, you’ll probably read/listen to this and bemoan to yourself, “Oh how I wish that I was as smart as this guy!”

Undoubtedly, the line between us and technology is blurring…as I blog about this, ahem. In this “manifesto,” Lanier, who clearly loves technology overall, expresses concern over “Web 2.0,” or at least how some enthusiasts (or technologists) view it as inherently good. Web 2.0, in brief, includes more recent technologies such as social media/networking, user created content, information sharing, and so on. It is the difference between Encyclopedia Brittanica Online and Wikipedia.

Lanier presents compelling arguments as to why we should be careful about where Web 2.0 is taking us (or we are taking ourselves with it?). Despite his many protestations and caveats, I did get the sense that Lanier has a tinge of that common phenomenon in which the older generation views the newer generation as…I dunno…inferior. “Back in my day, we used dial-up to get onto the Internet, and it would take us 20 minutes to send an email…and WE LIKED IT!!”

Okay, I’m jesting a bit (my apologies, Jaron!). Lanier understands that people may have perceptions that he is glorifying the past and diminishing aspects of current/emerging technologies. Nonetheless, the fact remains that most of his arguments still have great merit. There are dangers woven into the technologies that we are using.

For instance, I hate to admit this, but I fear my attention span has diminished because of my iPod, iPhone, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, email, texting, gaming, and so on. Maybe having 2 young kids partly contributes to this drop, but I believe that technology has crept into my life (and the lives of billions of others) and is at least partly to blame.

As I’ve written before, technology isn’t good or bad, it just is. However, unless we are careful…unless we truly step back from technology and ask what whether it is enhancing or diminishing our lives…there is a very real danger that it can make our lives worse and not better. We don’t want to lose the qualities that make us most “human” as we lose ourselves in the technologies that we have created to enhance our lives. Indeed, we are not gadgets, and Lanier is trying to make damn sure that we don’t lose track of this fact as we keep forging ahead at a breakneck pace. I say this as I finish my blog at 12:10 AM on Sunday morning. Hey, I guess this is ironic.


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