You Are Not A Gadget, The Book Overview

Computer Scientist Jaron Lanier thinks the world wide web and other technologies are destroying the soul of humanity. In his book he analyzes how the original architecture of the web is having far reaching implications today, and not in a good way. What are some of the implications for our personal finances? Like anything, there is some good and some bad, depending on your position and habits!

The original architecture

He discusses “the technical and cultural problems that grow out of poorly considered digital design…and warns that financial markets and popular sites are elevating the “wisdom” of mobs and computer algorithms over the intelligence and judgement of individuals.” He challenges us to reclaim our humanity and ask some important questions and take stock of the current environment. In his new book, You Are Not A Gadget, he expressed criticism of the way the web was designed and asks us to rethink if the architecture is serving us? He wants people to re-evaluate their connections to the digital environment. This is something we think about as people sharing personal finance lessons and ideas on a public space. Is this all helping us, you, anyone or does it matter at all? Maybe sometimes, maybe no, maybe yes. Why do we do anything online at all? He essentially believes we are losing the creative American middle class. He says people are not passive couch potatoes, people are creative, unique and have something to offer. Let’s think about the current state of web. Facebook and Twitter as we all know are kind of becoming a mess with their distraction filled streams of unorganized content. Other platforms are a kind of digital theater where we present our best side to the world, probably to gain some kind of social dominance or feed some vanity? Is that bad? There are a very small number of “Computing cloud overlords” who are spying on traffic to sell advertisements and manipulate the masses in order to maximize profit and shareholder value. Good, bad, neutral?

One of the most interesting things he says:

The job of information systems is to help people find a way to express and bring out their value; and to survive off it and live off it. We succeeded on the first part but not the second part.

Lanier challenges readers to come up with a better format or system for our online lives, which seem to become more and more integrated into our “real” lives. Will all existence become a kind of augmented reality in the future? We seem to have entered a new era over the last 7 plus years. I am personally concerned with a couple of aspects of late:
  • The effects on children which we do not know and have not studied. This is the first generation just being handed little hand held screens.
  • The effect on our overall happiness and contentment with life.
  • The ability of malicious governments or other “bad” actors to manipulate the systems and the masses.
Not sure where all this will shake out. On gross, it seems the web has added tremendous value to many people’s lives. But perhaps it is time to take a hard look and see where we could improve or even chart a healthier course? Perhaps we need to offer some kind of digital education or training as part of a normal public education? Ask yourself if the web is serving you? Are you gaining value from it’s use as a tool or is it wasting your time and resources?

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