0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating, irritating, visionary, naive.,
This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Jaron Lanier, dreadlocked musician and visionary technologist, first came to my notice at the end of the 80s as one of the major proponents of 'virtual reality', a technology that was going to liberate us and change the world. Since then Lanier has made music and worked as a consultant for many major Silicon Valley players. This book is concerned with a very contemporary problem - what is going to replace the jobs that digital networks have destroyed.
Early on Lanier gives us this example: `At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become lnstagram. When it was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, Instagram employed only thirteen people.'
As the online world has flourished through networks that often appear to be free, vast money has been created for a small minority while jobs for the middle class (and for that matter, the working class) have plummeted. Lanier's solution to this is a technological one: a 'humanistic' 2-way network where everybody is paid (in micropayments) for the data they supply (rather than the way Google and Facebook harvest our data for free) and where every upload can be traced back to its source, so all the contributions we make to the internet, whether it is our success on a dating site, a photo we have taken or a review like this, is recognised as a transaction.
This is certainly an fascinating idea, and Lanier offers some intriguing insights, such as paralleling the spread of the 'free' music download with the rise of the sub-prime mortgage (he claims, in information terms, they are exactly the same phenomenon). The question of how Lanier's notion could be put into practice isn't something he seems to think his is domain, and at times he seems to believe that politics is a sort of sub-set of technology.
Despite his obviously brilliant mind, his political naivety at times seems extreme (this is a man who mistook a reading of Das Kapital on the radio for a pitch by a internet start-up). In his discussion of the sub-prime crash and the recession that followed, nowhere does he acknowledge the abject fraud and corruption that is an integral part of that crisis, nor even that those who have power will do everything they can to maintain it.
Even though he himself is not part of any social networking site, Lanier seems to assume that everyone else is and that the internet permeates every part of our existence (it is never clear whether he is addressing Silicon Valley or USA or the world - or perhaps he thinks that distinction itself is academic).
Despite his emphasis on technology, Lanier wants to create a world that is 'human centred', and his insights into the problems inherent in the digital universe are often very stimulating. At the same time, he can be touchingly in awe of new technology - like 3D printing, which he postulates could make most other manufacturing obsolete. I feel he is as wrong about this as he was about virtual reality back at the end of the 20th century - although in the second decade of the 21st century many spend a large part of their life in a virtual world, it is nothing like the immersive, goggled, interactive 3D environment that Lanier and others envisaged.
The question for me is not so much whether Lanier's humanistic two-networking world would work but how it could possibly be put into practice, when those who hold the power are doing so well with the way things are set up now.