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“Essential Queries About Our Humanness”

A Review of
You Are Not a Gadget.
by Jaron Lanier.

Reviewed by Mark Eckel.


You Are Not a Gadget.
Jaron Lanier.

Hardback: Borzoi Books, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

“He has too many chocolate chips in his cookie dough.”  This was my son Tyler’s response to my query of what he thought of You Are Not a Gadget. I could not agree more.  Jaron Lanier is a brilliant thinker.  Handling a number of ideas, this co-father of the internet weaves in and out of various disciplines. He expects his reader to believe he is an expert in evolutionary biology, economics, theology, and philosophy; he fancies himself an ethicist, historian, businessman, Marxist (the ‘pure’ kind), and what he is: a techno-engineer.  But herein lays the problem.  Lanier’s dough cannot hold all those chips.

Let me say again Lanier is brilliant.  There is much to commend the essence of We Are Not Gadgets: people are special.  Science should be much more like poetry and storytelling (160, 168).  Lanier’s questions are incisive.  He penetrates past technological usage to ask essential queries about our humanness.  Lanier rightly identifies the most important philosophical signposts.  Defining humanness as “a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith” (5) punctuates his concern for people becoming what they use.  He expertly explains how technology shapes us.  Freedom is a chimera when computers control our lives.  Pondering mystery and taking responsibility for consequences is a human need (75).  “The file is a set of philosophical ideas made into eternal flesh” (13) inhibiting personal expression.  People are replaced by processes (16) promoting an anti-human way of thought (22).  The author asks the right questions.

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