Quick Review of You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier


At least, it works as a piece of creative pop philosophy, along the lines of Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital. Both books stimulate thought while affirming the conviction and creativity of its author and offering some fresh insight into the nature of our society’s relationship with information technology. Here is Chapter 2 of Lanier‘s book entitled “What is a Person?”.  And the overly glowing, albeit confused, Washington Post review.  The review is a bit confused because the book is, because there is a fundamental problem with the larger social discourse about the nature, meaning and impact of information technology. 

We are not yet looking deeply enough into its intellectual foundations, which can be traced to the Greeks, to the interplay between Platonic idealism and Aristotle’s metaphysics — this was where the still-standing intellectual edifice of divorcing form and substance began. From it, we have now put ourselves in the strange posture of having ‘information’ be one of the most real, defining aspect of our day-to-day lives, but no clear notion of its right relation to reality in a philosophic or intellectual sense. Lanier’s work takes a worthy cut at the resulting hyperbolic claims that have been made about the power of information in the Web 2.0 age, but doesn’t get altogether to the heart of the matter.

In the East, this divergence between form and substance never hardened.  It was a distinction held much more lightly, so that the term for the material universe, prakrti, encompassed, in addition to gross matter like earth and water, also mind, intellect and ego.I will have a good deal more to say on this …

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