Saturday, October 9, 2010

Technical Difficulties

“Jaron Lanier, 49, is many things — composer, performer, computer scientist, philosopher — but one thing he is not is a machine. His book You Are Not a Gadget, published this year, compels readers to take a fresh look at the power — and limitations — of human interaction in a socially networked world. ” – Dan Reed in Time Magazine’s 2010 list of 100 people who most effect our world.

This is an amazing book.

Lanier, of Virtual Reality fame, slams a) the rampant digitization of everything; b) the quasi-religious impulse on the part of some digerati to anticipate a Rapture-like upload of human minds into digital existence; c) the open, information-wants-to-be-free approach to creativity, along with the popularity of mashing up existing creative artifacts – books, movies, photos – into new, derivative works; d) Google’s goal of digitizing every book it can grab, e) Net anonymity that breeds trollishness, and f) numerous other errors and sins of computer culture. Along the way he debunks the idea that creators can make a living with digital distribution. He did a survey of musicians and found precious few who made any kind of money with digital distribution! This does not bode well for authors.

At the same time, Lanier has insightful, occasionally wistful, hopeful, and profound observations about technology and life. The book transcends screed. It’s one to read and heed.

I scanned some of You Are Not A Gadget into Word to put a few of Lanier’s choicest pages into my files for further study and easily quote a paragraph elsewhere, like here. The scanner I used is a wonderful piece of tech: it readily scans books and magazines and converts them into PDF, Word, jpeg, or tiff, and you can e-mail the results to yourself by touching your e-mail address into an alphabet touch screen or save to flash drive. The scanner is a good instance of digital technology being highly and almost magically useful.

Interestingly, the scanner had trouble converting Lanier’s book to Word. The book has atypical chapter and page header fonts and an offbeat approach to sidebars – so the Word version of the pages had some really odd glitches:

you aRe nox a gangeT


bll HaiL THe MeMBRane

__ ..,„,.. , ,e,i.!Mm.,„^u^.–l garage to bring the entire human story to a

THe nODSPHeRG IS JUST anoTHeR hbme for eveRyone’s inneR troll

THRPB WclRniri95 have been presented in the pre­vious chapters,
«The alternative to wide-open development is not neces-_,warily evil. My guess is that a i

“poorly* encapsulated com- • munal gloop of organisms lost but-to closely guarded

’species on the,”primordial Earth for the same reason that-the Linux community didn’t come up with- the iPhone: encapsulation serves ^ a purpose.- ,

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