The first several chapters of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget offers a bleak view of the future. A future controlled by a dangerous crowd mentality that reads from a single book with no specific author while mindless “follower” zombies roam cyberspace under a looming information cloud. He cautions against allowing technology to take control of the decision-making process, becoming the mindless followers within the crowd, and giving up our autonomy.

His take on social networking is different in that, by posting profiles we’re reducing our individual uniqueness, allowing algorithms to select friends, interest and products for us. He argues we’re allowing the technology design to limit our options and even definitions of ourselves. He suggests simply by claiming online “friends” we’re devaluing the actual interaction required for real-world friendships.

To some degree, although I hate to admit it, I agree. While I believe social networking does have value, posting an “I’m thinking of you” on someone’s wall, isn’t the same as listening to them vent in person and patting them on the back. No person can connect to hundreds of online friends in the same intimate manner you connect with your close circle.

He details the exchange ongoing between advertisers and marketers of our personal information and production. Lanier suggests we’re loosing ourselves when we share online; we’re allowing groups to profit from our thoughts and information. While it is your human choice what to share and not share this point too can be argued. Consider the concept so many media outlets have been harping for the last few years – User Generated Content. UGC is a massive attempt to harvest free, shared content and redistribute it for the good of the media outlet, be it page views or ad revenue.

Where McGonigal thinks the world will be a wonderful place when we all play together and solve social problems, Lanier argues that we’ll loose ourselves in the crowd to get there. Where Shirkey argues that the power of individuals to organize has unlimited potential, Lanier agrees, but argues that the unchecked “group-think” potential has the ability to ruin us all.

To some degree, I’m terrified to live in Lanier’s future flavorless world, while a part of me understands we already inhabit it.

 

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