Book Review: You Are Not a Gadget by Jeron Lanier

Jeron Lanier is a person most associated with Virtual Reality going way back to Palo Alto in the 1980s.

I read this book on a recommendation from a friend, but as we started to speak about the book, I recalled that Mr. Lanier was featured in Wired many moons ago, when I was starting out online.

The book is a quick read, but the subject matter is deep, so I found myself on the train, pausing to absorb what I had just read while pondering implications. I think that Gadget really fills that need, reading it triggered a need for thought an introspection that Lanier’s commentary suggested may be moving away from mainstream thought with the constant twitterfeed and status update culture that is quickly moving to the fore.

One of the concepts that he writes about is the concept of having friends. He says that society is conforming friendship to that of a templated software program instead of the other way around. Web 2.0 “promotes radical freedom on the surface of the web, but that freedom, ironically is more for machines than people.”

By that I took to mean that people are rearranging how they think about relationships based on their familiar online haunts like Facebook. There are a certain number of options for relationship status for example and that forces people to make a canned choice.

Because of the adoption of Web 2.0 principles, Lanier says that the web is a more boring place as much discourse, blogs, discussion boards, etc all have a similar layout and feel, the revolution is no longer revolutionary.

I thought the below quote was interesting coming from a senior technologist. It is the opposite of what your immediate reaction would be.

“Software development doesn’t necessarily speed up in sync with improvements in hardware. It often instead slows down as computers get bigger and because there are more opportunities for errors in bigger programs. Development becomes slower and more conservative when there is more at stake, and that is what is happening.”

I could see this in Apple’s old software. It was getting too rigged together, so that they had to find a way to start over. This necessitated the switch to OSX. At first people really bitched about it but after time APPL was proven right. Windows on the other hand, I think is still suffering from this problem. The machines may be fine, but the software is extremely buggy, perhaps to support some of the legacy code. (NB, I used to work @ MSFT and I have not used Windows 7).

“For instance, the user interface to search engines is still based on the command line interface, with which the user must construct logical phrases using symbols such as dashes and quotes. That’s how personal computers used to be, but it took less than a decade to get from Apple II to the Macintosh. By contrast, it’s been well over a decade since network-based search services appeared, and they are still trapped in the command line era. At this rate, by 2020, we can expect software development to have slowed to a near stasis, like a clock approaching a black hole.”

Wow, I hope the future for tech advancement is not as bleak as described above, but I can see his point.

This is an excellent book to get your brain firing. As I stated above, there are plenty of times that you read a paragraph and then need a minute to absorb it all. From my perspective this is a great recommendation for a reason to read this book.


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