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Old 01-17-2010, 12:22 AM   #1
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A Rebel in Cyberspace, Fighting Collectivism

Michiko Kakutani reviews Jaron Lanier's new book in the New York Times book review today here:

LINK

QUOTES: Now, in his impassioned new book “You Are Not a Gadget,” Mr. Lanier expands this thesis further, looking at the implications that digital Maoism or “cybernetic totalism” have for our society at large. Although some of his suggestions for addressing these problems wander into technical thickets the lay reader will find difficult to follow, the bulk of the book is lucid, powerful and persuasive. It is necessary reading for anyone interested in how the Web and the software we use every day are reshaping culture and the marketplace.



Like Andrew Keen in “The Cult of the Amateur,” Mr. Lanier is most eloquent on how intellectual property is threatened by the economics of free Internet content, crowd dynamics and the popularity of aggregator sites. “An impenetrable tone deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship,” he writes, recalling the Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s 2006 prediction that the mass scanning of books would one day create a universal library in which no book would be an island — in effect, one humongous text, made searchable and remixable on the Web.

Mr. Lanier, a pioneer in the development of virtual reality and a Silicon Valley veteran, is hardly a Luddite, as some of his critics have suggested. Rather he is a digital-world insider who wants to make the case for “a new digital humanism” before software engineers’ design decisions, which he says fundamentally shape users’ behavior, become “frozen into place by a process known as lock-in.” Just as decisions about the dimensions of railroad tracks determined the size and velocity of trains for decades to come, he argues, so choices made about software design now may yield “defining, unchangeable rules” for generations to come.



In .....passages in this provocative and sure-to-be-controversial book he goes even further, suggesting that “pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise,” that “online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media.”

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Old 01-17-2010, 06:12 AM   #2
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Thanks for the link, but it sounds like a very whiny book.
Quote:
Like Andrew Keen in “The Cult of the Amateur,” Mr. Lanier is most eloquent on how intellectual property is threatened by the economics of free Internet content, crowd dynamics and the popularity of aggregator sites. “An impenetrable tone deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship,” he writes, recalling the Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s 2006 prediction that the mass scanning of books would one day create a universal library in which no book would be an island — in effect, one humongous text, made searchable and remixable on the Web.
Mr. Lanier, a pioneer in the development of virtual reality and a Silicon Valley veteran, is hardly a Luddite, as some of his critics have suggested. Rather he is a digital-world insider who wants to make the case for “a new digital humanism” before software engineers’ design decisions, which he says fundamentally shape users’ behavior, become “frozen into place by a process known as lock-in.” Just as decisions about the dimensions of railroad tracks determined the size and velocity of trains for decades to come, he argues, so choices made about software design now may yield “defining, unchangeable rules” for generations to come.
Most eloquent?
How shiny.
1. There is no "silicon valley" of "the internet", where decisions are made that pertain to every website on/it it. "Crowd dynamics" along with them choosing to go to sites that allow different kinds of behaviour (which then adapt further depending on the audience that's drawn to it) might explain some of this push towards harmonization, but again, suggesting there are general trends to be seen seems rather silly and naieve.
If I wanted to kid everyone, I could just as easily suggest that the internet, rather than "attacking the notion of authorship" is proposing we have more sex with rather larger sexual appendages.
2. "impenetrable tone deafness" sounds silly. First off, "silicon valley" is quite in favour of IP rights. Secondly, the internet is far more differentiated than that. Thirdly, the idea of "authorship" isn't quite as monolithic and unchanging as Lanier suggests it is.
3. The http protocol can carry just about anything, so I don't really understand why he thinks that design decisions will be "forced upon" the internet. As I see it, things like Wordpress, Slashdot, facebook are all quite different, and while they might borrow ideas from oneanother (forgive my choice of examples here), there is little reason to think that slashdot will one day become "incompatible" with the rest of the internet. This, again, assumes central control.
Quote:
Decisions made in the formative years of computer networking, for instance, promoted online anonymity, and over the years, as millions upon millions of people began using the Web, Mr. Lanier says, anonymity has helped enable the dark side of human nature. Nasty, anonymous attacks on individuals and institutions have flourished, and what Mr. Lanier calls a “culture of sadism” has gone mainstream. In some countries anonymity and mob behavior have resulted in actual witch hunts.
4. Mr. Lanier is likely a paternalistic conservative, as only conservatives extrapolate from 2 incidents to general trends (ignoring all the happy stories about how chinese and iranian activists are now better able to communicate with the rest of the world due to the fact that they can be anonymous), and only paternalists are dumb enough to believe that there suddenly won't be "bad behaviour" any more.
Quote:
If the books in the cloud are accessed via user interfaces that encourage mashups of fragments that obscure the context and authorship of each fragment, there will be only one book. This is what happens today with a lot of content; often you don’t know where a quoted fragment from a news story came from, who wrote a comment, or who shot a video.”
5. Why is this an argument? Why is this necessarily "bad"? Verifiability?

Anyway. He might not be a Luddite, but there is definitely a reason why he doesn't work in SV any more.

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Old 01-17-2010, 08:35 AM   #3
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"Digital Maoism"? Okay, the credibility-meter just went into negative numbers (unless Lanier's seriously trying to argue that the Internet is all about the dialectical revolutionary struggle of the agrarian peasantry against the exploiting classes.) Full marks for implying anybody disagreeing with His Struggle is not only an eeeebilll kommyoonist but also some kind of funny-lookin' furrner, though.
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Old 01-17-2010, 10:50 AM   #4
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I got out of the review that the book defends the idea of the individual and their rights, including the right to be recognized for and profit from their own work, and to have a say against having their work appropriated by others. It also points out valid points the author makes about the essential nature of the web, and the fact that collective groups are influenced by the tools they have at their disposal... that is something most individuals (and collectives) rarely recognize as it happens, but is true nonetheless.

I suppose you could say that disagreeing with these points make you a "communist," but based on the "free for all" attitude of the bulk of the web's users, it's hard to say he's wrong. In fact, it only bolsters his suggestion that, on the web, anyone's simply disagreeing with any point is enough to disprove or vilify it...
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Old 01-17-2010, 11:39 AM   #5
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Looks like Lanier is making a sad attempt to regain the (very minor) fame and relevance that he had in the late 80s/early 90s. It reminds me of Cliff Stoll's followup to his excellent tech detective book The Cuckoo's Egg, in which he turns into a nattering nabob of ludditism, Silicon Snake Oil. I can't find a digital copy of Silicon Snake Oil, but this review will show you how utterly wrong Stoll had the future envisioned:

http://casscomminc.com/index_files/W...nake%20Oil.pdf
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