A NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A programmer, musician, and father of virtual reality technology, Jaron Lanier was a pioneer in digital media, and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture. Now, with the Web influencing virtually every aspect of our lives, he offers this provocative critique of how digital design is shaping society, for better and for worse.
Informed by Lanier’s experience and expertise as a computer scientist, You Are Not a Gadget discusses the technical and cultural problems that have unwittingly risen from programming choices—such as the nature of user identity—that were “locked-in” at the birth of digital media and considers what a future based on current design philosophies will bring. With the proliferation of social networks, cloud-based data storage systems, and Web 2.0 designs that elevate the “wisdom” of mobs and computer algorithms over the intelligence and wisdom of individuals, his message has never been more urgent.
The hero of the science fiction film The Matrix, Keanu Reeves's Neo, begins the story unaware of his fated role and mystified by the strange conspiracy in which he is suddenly embroiled. His enlightenment comes via Morpheus, the shades-wearing Virgil played by Laurence Fishburne, who offers, in a memorable scene, the choice of two pills: a blue capsule that will return Neo to the status quo, or a red one that will reveal the true nature of the dystopian virtual reality in which he lives.
If the Internet is the Matrix, then Jaron Lanier may be its Morpheus, goading us to question the system with a shake of his dreadlocks and a glissando on his oud. He's a rare computer visionary who doesn't believe the world is made of bytes -- and he would have us remember that we are not made of them either, not yet. His new book offers readers a choice: You take the blue pill -- you wake up in your own bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and Jaron Lanier (to quote Morpheus) shows you "how deep the rabbit-hole goes." But which will you choose: the red pill or the blue? In the Matrix scenario, You Are Not a Gadget is the red pill: a small, elegant bibliopharmaceutical, it delivers a powerful reminder of the limits of the Web's capacity to meet our needs -- and its power to shape us to its will.