Although the tech slogan “information wants to be free” is catchy, popular, and enormously convenient for those who want to appropriate creative works on the internet without paying for them; musicians, artists, writers, and people in other creative professions want and need to be paid.
As a broadcaster, journalist, and musician; I’ve had plenty of opportunity to both observe and experience the devaluation of individual creative work through “disruptive” internet technology for quite some time. But it wasn’t until I read these books recently, that I really started putting it all together.
- The Mobile Wave, by Michael Saylor
- Digital Vertigo, How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us” by Andrew Keen
- Automate This: How Algorithms Came To Rule Our World” by Christopher Steiner
Each book explores different technology issues, developments, and opportunities.
But they all touch to some degree on how many people are losing their jobs, their privacy, and their ability to profit from the fruits of their own creativity as a result of disruptive internet technologies.
So, that’s why I was so interested to discover Jaron Lanier’s 2010 book, “You Are Not A Gadget“, which examines those issues in great depth. A computer scientist known for coining the term “virtual reality“; Lanier also helped develop Microsoft Kinect, and the virtual reality world, “Second Life”.
Lanier contends that many influential computer scientists and technology business leaders value machines over people. These “cybernetic totalists” , he says, have lost sight of the fact that without people; computers and the programs that run them have no meaning.
In addition, he argues, if we devalue the creative contributions of individuals, and instead elevate the “hive mind” of the online collective; we are not only impoverishing content creators, but also dumbing-down online information to the consistency of mushy goo.
Lanier says he believes we may be headed for a future where most people will be very poor, democracy will give way to socialism, and only the “masters of the cloud”–those who control vast computing networks and companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple–will be wealthy.
But is this necessarily true?
Can we find a way to embrace technology and all of the good things it provides, without devaluing people, depriving them of the means to make a living, and undermining both society and our economy as a result?
Read the book, and let me know what you think.