Title: You Are Not a Gadget
Author: Jaron Lanier
10-word summary: Technology is threatening our humanity and we must protect it.
About You are not a gadget
Jaron Lanier is one of the pioneers of virtual reality. That would make us think that he supports the development of VR and technology in general. And he does – but not blindly. In this book, he explores some of the ways technology is shaping us as individuals and our societies. He warns us that technology can make us less human, less unique and more cruel. He also encourages us to fight against this and to keep our humanity, while we also take advantage of the good technology can do.
Great ideas from You are not a gadget
This book had some great and eye-opening ideas but I will only share a few with you. I think that you should buy the book to read about them and understand them better.
1. Design can make us lose our humanity and unique identity
This is one of the things that happens a lot – especially on social media. Have you noticed how all social media profiles look the same? They all follow the same structure on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and so on. Yes, we chose our own pictures, but they will all be the same shape, the same size and displayed in the same corner. Our Instagram accounts look the same, our Facebook pages look the same.
It’s really hard to express your own personality and identity when you can only do that within the clearly confined space you can use.
2. We use services thinking they are “free”, but we are actually paying with our private lives
Since the Facebook scandal it has become more obvious that “free” services are rarely free – especially when it comes to big companies. I was surprised to see that Lanier was aware of this problem even in 2010 when he wrote this book!
3. We like to have access to free content, but this means people cannot make money from their work
Do you like to read Wikipedia pages, listen to music on YouTube and follow your favourite author on Instagram for free? So do I! But if we listen to music for free, it means that those musicians cannot get paid for singing. If we read free articles on blogs, it means that those bloggers cannot make money from writing. If we look at social media posts for free, all the work that people put in to take pictures, edit them, write insightful captions and interact with people is…for free.
This is something that I have never thought about before. If I think about this from my perspective as a consumer, I obviously want to read free articles, watch free videos and so on.
But if I think about it from my perspective as a person who writes a blog and shares ideas on social media, I don’t want all this to be free. I now realize that I spend so many hours working without getting paid for this. And to be honest, now that I know this, it seems a bit unfair. This is one of the reasons why I am reconsidering what I do and how I work.
This is one of the most eye-opening and life-changing ideas I’ve heard recently and I am so grateful I found it!
What I like about You are not a gadget
1. It tackles a very important topic
Some of my favourite books all have this in common: they are about a serious, important and complicated topic. And this book excels at this. We all know that technology is making its way into our homes and our lives. It affects the way we behave every day and, consequently, who we are and how we live our lives.
Most of us can easily tell how technology has helped us in some way; we can use it to find information about anything, interact with friends and family and waste time in an enjoyable way.
But few of us are aware of the dark side of technology. Yet I would say that the negative effects might be more powerful and more lasting. Here are a few examples of these effects, according to Lanier:
– technology can turn us into trolls and people who are cruel online
– technology makes us become less human
– technology blunts our creativity and self-expression
I realize that these ideas may not mean much to you. They are just a few ideas taken out of context. And it would take a long article to explain them all. But I could never explain them as well as Lanier does in his book.
All I want to emphasize is this: technology is shaping people and not always in a good way. If you are using a computer, a cell phone or the Internet, you are being affected by this. And these effects are not always good and you should understand how using the Internet is changing what it means to be human.
2. The author is an authority in technology
If we want to learn the truth about something, we should learn from the people who study that. I always enjoy reading books written by researches or pioneers in their fields. Lanier is one of the first to work in Virtual Reality and his experience obviously makes him knowledgeable and trustworthy when it comes to technology.
But what makes even an expert more reliable is his ability to talk about the problems and shortcoming of their work or the fields they work in. Even though Lanier talks about VR, AI and technology in general, he does not blindly support more innovation and adaptation. On the contrary, he warns us that sometimes technology can work against humans.
3. The book was eye-opening and potentially life-changing
This book was very insightful. While I cannot say that everything in it spoke to me, some ideas in it definitely did. This book made me see my behaviours and the use of the internet in a different way. It has challenged me to reconsider how I use technology every day. While I have not changed my habits yet, my awareness has shifted a lot. My perspective is different now and in time, it may change the way I use (or refrain from using) certain apps or tools that are now part of my daily life. If I suddenly delete all my social media accounts, you can blame (or rather praise) Lanier for this!
What I do not like about You are not a gadget
As it is with every good book, I have almost nothing to complain about. But there is one thing I would like to mention though.
1. I did not understand everything in it
There are a few references to certain apps I did not fully understand (such as MIDI). And he talked about some concepts or ideas that were not 100% clear to me.
I want to add that this is not necessarily a “flaw” of the book or author. It may be that the book is aimed for people who know a bit more about technology than I do. Or maybe the book could have been simplified a bit so that everyone could understand everything in it.
However, even if you know nothing about technology, you can still benefit from this book. Perhaps you would benefit the most.
“If you want to see how valuable something is, try living without it for a while.”
“You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.”
“The most important thing to ask about any technology is how it changes people.”
You Are Not a Gadget is a book that everyone who uses the Internet should read. If you have a computer, a smartphone and an Internet connection, you need to become aware of the effect technology is having on you and the world we live in.