The Lanier Effect

You're probably familiar with Jaron Lanier. VR pioneer, musician, author of You Are Not a Gadget and far too many articles to mention. He's also the inspiration for the Prevail Scenario in Radical Evolution, and the Prevail Project in general. And more recently, he has an hour long interview over at edge.org.

The interview and transcript is far too complex to be summarized here, but Jaron attempts to get at this very basic question: if the internet was supposed to connect people, get them access to information and the levers of power, and make the world better, why do people feel less secure and less wealthy today? It's because we're giving up our data, our decisions, and our integrity in the name of efficiency and internet fame, without asking if those are durable goods.

What you have now is a system in which the Internet user becomes the product that is being sold to others, and what the product is, is the ability to be manipulated. It's an anti-liberty system, and I know that the rhetoric around it is very contrary to that. "Oh, no, there are useful ads, and it's increasing your choice space", and all that, but if you look at the kinds of ads that make the most money, they are tawdry, and if you look at what's happening to wealth distribution, the middle is going away, and just empirically, these ideals haven't delivered in actuality. I think the darker interpretation is the one that has more empirical evidence behind it at this point...

And so when all you can expect is free stuff, you don't respect it, it doesn't offer you enough to give you a social contract. What you can seek on the Internet is you can seek some fine things, you can seek friendship and connection, you can seek reputation and all these things that are always talked about, you just can't seek cash. And it tends to create a lot of vandalism and mob-like behavior. That's what happens in the real world when people feel hopeless, and don't feel that they're getting enough from society. It happens online.

What does Jaron see as the way out? Well, you'll have to read the article to find out.

1 comment:

  1. I actually read that the other day and considered posting it to Darbnet, but ultimately I dismissed it as a little too far out there.

    It was a very interesting read and I like that it touched on subjects such as the results of increasing efficiency, AI driven cars, and 3D printing. The stuff about Walmart was great. But I came away unconvinced by his main argument, which seems to be that "stuff" on the internet should not be free, and that as a result lots of people should be able to make money doing "internet stuff".

    My argument is probably far from original, but I think he has that backwards. I think it is absolutely amazing how much free "stuff" can be had on the internet. If anything, I think the real world should follow that example, not vice versa. My utopia is one where the average person doesn't even need money to be happy, and I think the internet is a step in that direction.

    Where he really loses me is this paragraph:

    "I'm astonished at how readily a great many people I know, young people, have accepted a reduced economic prospect and limited freedoms in any substantial sense, and basically traded them for being able to screw around online. There are just a lot of people who feel that being able to get their video or their tweet seen by somebody once in a while gets them enough ego gratification that it's okay with them to still be living with their parents in their 30s, and that's such a strange tradeoff. And if you project that forward, obviously it does become a problem."

    It is very interesting to me that Lanier does not consider screwing around online to be "freedom in any substantial sense", or that one even needs to be concerned about economic prospects when so much that is consumed is completely free. But then I admit that I am one of those young people he is talking about (though gainfully employed).

    It is almost as if he feels betrayed that anyone would choose such a lifestyle, given the choice. As new generations grow up immersed in the internet, his is a losing battle. His consolation is to convince himself that such people aren't truly happy.

    That final paragraph that you quote above basically sums it up. I am not convinced that it's a problem that one can "only" seek friendship, connection, reputation (not to mention entertainment!), just not cash. That score looks pretty good to me!