I Am Not a Gadget

Long time no write! I’ve been lucky enough to have some vacation time lately, though it feels already so far. I’ve been mostly disconnected with a lot of outdoor activities, a lot of driving and finally a bit of reading and it was damn good. The chance for me to finish “You are not a gadget”, the book from Jaron Lanier from 2010. Here’s a few lines about it.

I had heard just a bit of this book before my friend Leigh offered me a hardcopy of it. Leigh thought I would be interested and I was really neutral when I started reading, having heard only a few things about it.

Well, I really enjoyed my read! It seems very obvious that the people who disliked it and made a lot of noise about it were more offended by the fact that Lanier was cheeky enough to touch some almost sacred views on the state of our digital world… exactly like partisans of a church are offended when someone criticize the mother church.

I enjoyed my read mostly because it did raise true questions that I wouldn’t think about, it opened my eyes on a few major things and spiked my curiosity and desire to dive more in some of these surprisingly very valid questions.

Here are four topics that I really enjoyed during my read, certainly because I have engaged with all of them somehow over the last 15 years.

The state of music

Along this book, Lanier brings a very grey and pessimistic vision of the state of Music today, definitely bitter and sad. It’s a very negative view on both the artistic side and the business side.

On the artistic side, there’s a lot about the fact that we are not anymore on a creative path but on the path of repurposing, revamping, repeating, cleaning, productizing without injecting much novelty. It looks like this thesis can quite easily be deconstructed. But still – may be I am getting old as well – honestly I can’t help looking for the answers (and not finding them). Since hip-hop, what new major music genre popped-up that really matters and bring new meat on the table? Anything that let me think of a bright future for contemporary music? It is certainly not reading pitchfork that helps me deconstruct Lanier’s thesis.

On the business side, it is even more solid I think, articulated around the idea that while we killed the old traditional model of our music industry, the new digital era didn’t bring any solid business model yet to make this industry as good as it was, not only for producer but also for musicians themselves.

Here is what it’s about and if you are interested, you should definitely jump on the book. You might disagree or think it’s badly argued, it is still a very valid discussion I believe!

The state of Media

Very similarly, Lanier questions how we killed the traditional media and wonders about the solidity of what’s taking over it. Is that so good? As good? More dangerous? In a very similar way as for the Music side, the News industry is such an obvious example of how things have been demolished without having a solid digital replacement.

Surely, the topic being discussed here is in fact the nature and consequences of the hegemony of a dominant mass-advertising model for the media landscape, against any other economical model. Again of much interest I think.

The real face of Open Source

Jumping to yet another totally different discussion: the Open Source model in the software industry. Beware, this part can be bloody, and might hurt the most if you are an Open Source aficionado.

Lanier makes a lot of references to software development all along the book, as it seems he has been very much involved with it. In particular, he spends quite some time discussing the nature of Open Source, giving a very tough and hush vision of it, in a way we are really not used to. For Lanier, Open Source would not equal Innovation but the opposite and Open Source would not be the way to go to disrupt the world with new products. As simple.

Honestly, he has a take that is worth to listen to. It seconds quite a few thoughts I had about Open Source when randomly thinking about it, on the bad days… And yet again, you feel first like “come on, it’s too easy, stop ranting” and then after thinking about it, his point is not so stupid even if it goes against many of the ideals that come with open source that many of us support…

How all this connect in a wider world

Lanier also goes to a more global sociological level, analyzing the digital revolution as a more global phenomenon for our society. As forces coming from the digital arena are taking over more and more the command of our world, it is indeed interesting to look into this. Some parallels with early days of socialism and Marxism took me by surprise, but again, I didn’t find it easy, I found it interesting. After all, isn’t it good behavior to challenge things that we all consider good?

In short, all of this, at a first sight, sounded a bit easy and simply controversial, but then got all my attention and interest. I wish I could get back on vacation, rent a cabin at La Push and spend a few months looking at the world and chewing on this, but this will not happen so I will simply let you with the advice to read this book if you haven’t, the most certain thing about it is that it should not let you blind… it’s seriously shaking ideas.

I will certainly read the next opus of the guy now!

1 thought on “I Am Not a Gadget

  1. dtw7

    You have provoked my interest, and now that I am going on vacation I will pick this up for my e-reader and enjoy my time away from it all – Thanks Roland for your thoughts!!


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