An Introduction to You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto

If the computing clouds became effectively infinite, there would be a hypothetical danger that all possible interpolations of all possible worlds—novels, songs, and facial expressions—will cohabit a Borges-like infinite Wikipedia in the ether. Should that come about, all words will become meaningless [because each one would have too specific a meaning], and all meaningful expression would become impossible. But, of course, the cloud will never be infinite. (Lanier 174)

According to super-geek Jaron Lanier (aka, the “father of virtual reality”), the Web, as of Web 2.0, has caused a loss in individuality and an increase in the “hive mind” (4). He writes that the “widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interaction” (4). Lanier’s fear is that humanity is diminished by an assumed audience, the “vast anonymous crowd,” assumed to be “an organism with a legitimate point of view” (4).  This “pack mentality,” Lanier argues is dangerous politically, culturally, and socially, and it should be replaced by technological ethos by designers and developers that would “seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence” (5).

Lanier describes a reversal of Maslow’s hierarchy by the “digital Maoism” of open web culture (79). Maslow’s pyramid of human potential, with the creative, self-actualized individual at the top, was inverted by classical Maoists in China, who celebrated the peasants—stuck economically at the lower levels of the hierarchy—“while high-altitude creatures, such as intellectuals, were to be punished” (79). So Lanier finds similarities between Maoist thought and the effects of the digital revolution.

Lanier also argues that people rise economically through developments in technology. For example, he writes that the “development of functional machines [ . . . ] made slavery obsolete” (80). But Lanier believes that information technology is vapid, stalled, and actually working to “usher in a dark age in which everything human is devalued” (82). He believes that automation and robotization will quickly reach the point, in conjunction with “a crowdsourced world” in which “the peasants of the nooshpere will ride a dismal boomerang between gradual impoverishment under robot-driven capitalism and a dangerously sudden, desperate socialism” (82).  Ultimately, Lanier’s fear is that we are building a digital utopia for machines, rather than for people.

According to Lanier, “cybernetic totalism” redirects hope for the future “toward gadgets,” undervalues individuals in favor of “anonymity and crowd identity,” and continues to produce financial schemes that are “dangerous, temporary illusions of risk-free ways to create money out of thin air” (75).