Not doom and gloom, just the times evolving

Jaron Lanier You are not a gadgetThis post is the ninth in a series that will be for a graduate course called Theory and Audience Analysis. For the course, I will be posting weekly questions and follow-up analysis about the various readings we are assigned. This post talks more in-depth on “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier.

I went on a bit of a rampage in my previous post about “You Are Not a Gadget.” I was put off by Lanier’s seemingly pessimistic outlook on the impact of Web 2.0 on our humanity. I tried to start over with a fresh outlook as I returned to finish the book.

Luckily in Part Four, Lanier announces a switch from his “belief that cybernetic totalism will ultimately be bad for spirituality, morality, and business” to a more positive perspective. Unfortunately his praise of ‘computationalism’ in regards to science is more of a tangent away from his dissatisfaction to Web 2.0 and less of a positive outlook.

In Chapter 8, Lanier begins to focus his argument onto the future potential of the technology by looking at directions that can combat the dehumanization trend. His ideas:

Telegigging – a way to bring live performances into real spaces through virtual means.

Songles – bringing physical objects back into music distribution by making objects representative of music – a bridge.

Formal Financial Expression – an intermediate zone that provides limits and structure without hindering creative, unusual ideas.

These ideas aren’t very well-formed, nor do they seem very realistic; however it was interesting to see Lanier’s thought process behind what could be a solution to the problems he sees.

My primary objection to Lanier’s stance remains. I see logic in his examples of negative results but I am reluctant to accept his belief in ‘cybernetic totalism.’ My primary issue with his argument is represented in this paragraph:

It is astonishing how much of the chatter online is driven by fan responses to expression that was originally created within the sphere of old media and that is now being destroyed by the net. Comments about TV shows, major movies, commercial music releases, and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but since the web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.

I am a strong believer that the web is not killing old media, but rather that old media is evolving to the times. This may seem like a small distinction, but there is actually a rather large difference in the philosophical outlook. This was an idea that I latched on to when reading “Toward An Aesthetics of Transition” by Henry Jenkins and David Thorburn for our Visual Aesthetics course.

It is part of our nature to adapt to our surroundings and this is true for our forms of communication. Media doesn’t die, because language endures. TV as a medium isn’t ending, it is changing to fit into our current way of life. The method may be different, but the content largely remains the same. I would even argue that the experience is enhanced. The fan chatter is as responsible for as it is responsive to these changes. Instead of dying I prefer to think of it as rebirth, new life. The world is constantly changing and just because those changes may be look drastically different from how things operated in the past, it doesn’t mean this is always a bad thing. And if some changes do end up having a negative effect on society in the long run, nature has a way of figuring these things out and restoring a balance.

I think it is responsible to be aware of the potential issues that Lanier addresses in “You are Not a Gadget,” but it seems histrionic to project these cautionary examples into signals of the end of ‘spirituality, morality and business.’


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