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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Provocative warning of the information future, 27 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
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In this fascinating and provocative book, Lanier makes the point that the American economy (he does not consider anyone else's) has been changed by the rise of "siren servers" -- like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and financial systems. These seductive and apparently free services take information about us and sell it. They replace physical businesses with information services (think of e-books, or streamed music and video). In the process, money is accumulated in huge amounts by a very few companies and the people at the top of them, while the middle classes, people who work for a living, are thrown out of work and impoverished. We see how the business practices that protected the livelihoods of the middle classes have been eroded.

All this is driven from California, says Lanier, by graduates of a few elite universities and residents of San Francisco. The rest of us have been degraded into poor suckers. You will have to decide whether his lessons apply to our own economy; it seems to me that, mostly, they do.

It is happening because of advances in network technologies, social engineering, and the seductive appearance of "stuff" being free. Do not expect any logical progression of ideas in this book. Lanier makes his point by staccato sentences which get very tiring to read in their unvarying rhythm and assertiveness. I took quite a number of sessions to get through the book. By making the same point again and again in different ways, we are eventually to be persuaded. Supporting evidence is a bit thin -- mostly web links and news items -- and some American anecdotal stories. It looks as though Lanier sees himself as a technological prophet, and we had all better listen, or else.

Lanier's only remedy for what is going wrong is that we should all be micro-credited for the information about us that is harvested by the "siren servers" and even our own governments. He seems hazy on notions of taxation and regulation, and ignores other uses of the internet apart from the ones with which he is familiar. He never mentions social and business communication (messaging and email), pornography, and politics. We have many recent examples of the use of network services to organise political mobs both for good and evil. Ah, but that wasn't in the USA. He also ignores the use of the internet for and against terrorism. His focus in this book is on money, who gets it now, and who might get it in the future.

For all its annoyances, this is a book well worth reading. If you are not young, rich, clever and American, or at least three out of four of those, it might make you despair. And it might make you a lot more careful what you put into Facebook or Google. You know, on the internet you are no more obliged to be truthful and transparent with them than they are with you. As Jaron Lanier explains, we aren't their customers, we are their raw material.
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