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You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier

Reviwed by Mark Vernon

“You Are Not A Gadget”, the new book by Silicon Valley luminary Jaron Lanier is, he says, fundamentally a book about spirituality. He is at pains to stress that humans are not machines, though the digital revolution has developed the habit of assuming we are. So, he advises, “We should assume supernatural specialness to people.”

Supernatural? Specialness? Spirituality? It seems misplaced language for the man who coined the term “virtual reality” and is routinely included on lists of leading public intellectuals. Is it anything more than West Coast hippie-speak?

Lanier’s central complaint can be stated in more humdrum terms: software design is, for the most part, dehumanising. Think of websites like this one. They routinely play host to trolls, individuals who post abuse behind veils of anonymity. Lanier believes the problem is not anonymity per se, which is sometimes necessary to protect people, but transient anonymity, which removes the personal consequences of posting. He does not mean that people should be fined for, say, threatening an airport with destruction. He means that anonymous posters collude with a web 2.0 culture that doesn’t treat people as people, but as the mindless generators of fragments of stuff.

Read the original article at: The Guardian

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