So I came across this thing I never published and I like it quite a bit even though I should probably update it but I have a toothache.
So let me just protest that I love Jaron and really loved his recent quasi-autobiographical book Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality
Anyway, here is something from several years ago in the raw…
Every few years, one of my friends from the early days of digital enthusiasm turns up on the media’s radar as a “defector.”
Huzzah! The former advocate or progenitor of the Next New Thing has turned into a flaming critic. Perhaps he or she has even issued a Jeremiad against the former Great Hope of All Humanity. It’s a turnkey, media-ready narrative, easy to convey and easy for a reading public that pays little attention to the more complicated discourses taking place around the impacts of radical technology to digest. He was for it. Now he’s agin’ it. You can tweet that and have enough characters left over for a haiku.
Jaron Lanier, who emerged into the media spotlight in the early ’90s as the chief spokesperson for Virtual Reality, seems to be having a longer — and more vocal — run at this sort of thing than most. His 2000 piece — “One Half A Manifesto” — published in Wired, struck out against what he saw as a cybernetic totalism wherein some techno enthusiasts were laboring to create our nonbiological replacement species. With his 2011 book, You Are Not A Gadget, he went a bit further into “fighting the future,” finding aspects of the Web 2.0 culture depersonalizing and economically unfair to creatives. In a recent and much-ballyhooed portrait in The Smithsonian magazine titled “What Turned Jaron Lanier Against The Web,” Ron Rosenbaum portrays Jaron as being like a “spy who came in from the cold.”
The whole Manichean set-up is a bit much, but the actual content of Jaron’s complaints, I think, are not particularly obscure and touch a disquieted nerve in many of us — particularly those of us who have experienced life before the ubiquity of the social web.
The bummer, according to Lanier — at least as expressed in the aforementioned article — are as follows:
1: We are falling into a “hive mind.” Being webbed together — living in public and thinking collectively leads to a sort of insectoid de-individualization and a devaluation of excellence. Some time back, Lanier called Wikipedia “digital Maoism” and questioned the au courant deference to “the wisdom of the crowd.”
2: That whole “Information wants to be free” thing — what some call “free culture” — is not economically kind to artists, musicians, writers and creative folks in general. Aside from being economically devalued, skilled creative types are demeaned as we’re pushed down into the shit end of the Long Tail along with the vast, relatively unskilled hordes who are happy to provide their own content, thank you very much, and to grab up our stuff for free. The creative middle class is being disintermediated.
3: Digitized music sucks
4: The same technology that privileges file sharing also privileges the plutocratic finance economy. Digital networked capital is unfair and largely disconnected from actual productivity.
5: The Singularitarians are fanatical quasi-religious nuts
6: Most anonymous people assholes. There’s a virtual tsunami of ugliness and hate that seems to be gathering force. Read more “What’s Eating Jaron Lanier (written about 5 years ago)”