You Are Not a Gadget

Today, Paul Frigyes reviews Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? Lanier’s previous book You Are Not a Gadget – a Manifesto was published in 2010, the same year Netopia started as a Swedish edition. And it blew my mind. Lanier described things I had only briefly touched with depth and intensity. Reading it was like talking to friend who’s ten or a hundred times smarter than yourself. Lanier articulated the religious aspects of Silicon Valley-philosophy – technology as a force greater than ourselves, the promise of eternal life (in the form of cell-reparing nano-bots or your mind uploaded on a computer) and the feeling of being part of a greater cause (“the only problem with digital technology is that some people don’t embrace it”). For a hippie-rationalist ideology, those look very similar to Christian beliefs. Lanier also opened my eyes to the importance of scarcity for the economy. Because what is economy but the theory of scarcity? Well-designed “artificial scarcities” (Lanier’s term) can boost both demand and growth, think about how we pay extra for the exclusivity of limited edition sneakers or a better plane seat – these are scarcities artificially created to increase the value. And tech companies use it too: the Gmail roll-out was invite only, the Iphone  used to be exclusive to select carriers. The Lanier Manifesto also made it clear who rules the digital waves, he calls them the “Lords of the Clouds”, those few companies that owns the servers that our supposedly free internet services operate on. We pay in the currency of personal information sold to advertisers,  the same model as commercial television only more sophisticated. This explains how the promise of pluralism in the “Global village” was turned into a mono-culture.

All in all, a great read for anyone  who wants to better understand Silicon Valley ideology and its everyday consequences. So read Frigyes review, and do also read Lanier’s new book. But before you do anything else, read “Gadget”!