Jaron Lanier Quotes

Authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Categories: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
The approach to digital culture I abhor would indeed turn all the world's books into one book, just as Kevin (Kelly) suggested. It might start to happen in the next decade or so. Google and other companies are scanning library books into the cloud in a massive Manhattan Project of cultural digitization. What happens next is what's important. If the books in the cloud are accessed via user interfaces that encourage mashups of fragments that obscure the context and authorship of each fragment, there will be only one book. This is what happens today with a lot of content; often you don't know where a quoted fragment from a news story came from, who wrote a comment, or who shot a video. A continuation of the present trend will make us like various medieval religious empires, or like North Korea, a society with a single book. The Bible can serve as a prototypical example. Like Wikipedia, the Bible's authorship was shared, largely anonymous, and cumulative, and the obscurity of the individual authors served to create an oracle-like ambience for the document as "the literal word of God." If we take a non-metaphysical view of the Bible, it serves as a link to our ancestors, a window. The ethereal, digital replacement technology for the printing press happens to have come of age in a time when the unfortunate ideology I'm criticizing dominates technological culture. Authorship - the very idea of the individual point of view - is not a priority of the new ideology. The digital flattening of expression into a global mush is not presently enforced from the top down, as it is in the case of a North Korean printing press. Instead, the design of software builds the ideology into those actions that are the easiest to perform on the software designs that are becoming ubiquitous. It is true that by using these tools, individuals can author books or blogs or whatever, but people are encouraged by the economics of free content, crowd dynamics, and lord aggregators to serve up fragments instead of considered whole expressions or arguments. The efforts of authors are appreciated in a manner that erases the boundaries between them. The one collective book will absolutely not be the same thing as the library of books by individuals it is bankrupting. Some believe it will be better; others, including me, believe it will be disastrously worse. As the famous line goes from Inherit the Wind: 'The Bible is a book... but it is not the only book' Any singular, exclusive book, even the collective one accumulating in the cloud, will become a cruel book if it is the only one available.

Jaron Lanier
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An imaginary circle of empathy is drawn by each person. It circumscribes the person at some distance, and corresponds to those things in the world that deserve empathy. I like the term "empathy" because it has spiritual overtones. A term like "sympathy" or "allegiance" might be more precise, but I want the chosen term to be slightly mystical, to suggest that we might not be able to fully understand what goes on between us and others, that we should leave open the possibility that the relationship can't be represented in a digital database. If someone falls within your circle of empathy, you wouldn't want to see him or her killed. Something that is clearly outside the circle is fair game. For instance, most people would place all other people within the circle, but most of us are willing to see bacteria killed when we brush our teeth, and certainly don't worry when we see an inanimate rock tossed aside to keep a trail clear. The tricky part is that some entities reside close to the edge of the circle. The deepest controversies often involve whether something or someone should lie just inside or just outside the circle. For instance, the idea of slavery depends on the placement of the slave outside the circle, to make some people nonhuman. Widening the circle to include all people and end slavery has been one of the epic strands of the human story - and it isn't quite over yet. A great many other controversies fit well in the model. The fight over abortion asks whether a fetus or embryo should be in the circle or not, and the animal rights debate asks the same about animals. When you change the contents of your circle, you change your conception of yourself. The center of the circle shifts as its perimeter is changed. The liberal impulse is to expand the circle, while conservatives tend to want to restrain or even contract the circle. Empathy Inflation and Metaphysical Ambiguity Are there any legitimate reasons not to expand the circle as much as possible? There are. To expand the circle indefinitely can lead to oppression, because the rights of potential entities (as perceived by only some people) can conflict with the rights of indisputably real people. An obvious example of this is found in the abortion debate. If outlawing abortions did not involve commandeering control of the bodies of other people (pregnant women, in this case), then there wouldn't be much controversy. We would find an easy accommodation. Empathy inflation can also lead to the lesser, but still substantial, evils of incompetence, trivialization, dishonesty, and narcissism. You cannot live, for example, without killing bacteria. Wouldn't you be projecting your own fantasies on single-cell organisms that would be indifferent to them at best? Doesn't it really become about you instead of the cause at that point?

Jaron Lanier
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