Jaron Lanier paints a rather bleak future of technology. Humans have been relegated to bland, “flat,” things that require computers even though computers are not always the most efficient way to do something. This reliance drives subsequent generations to spend more time and effort into developing software and hardware that increasingly makes people more like an extension of technology rather than having it the other way around. Though I do not agree with Lanier on all points, his arguments are worthy of a deeper look and do merit discussion.
To be honest, I am completely surprised that others have not brought up many of these concerns before. For instance, the Ship of Theseus (if you replace something such that it looks and acts identical, is it the same thing?) concern should really be considered. What happens to a person if their consciousness is loaded into the net but their body is annihilated? True, this capability will not be viable for quite some time (if ever due to the immense complexity and neural map intricacies of the brain), but it is thoughts like this that should give designers and developers pause about what they are currently making.
I know I have discussed this in a few other blog posts but Lanier I think warrants the most me saying this again: today people do not consider the ramifications of what they make. Arguably nobody can see all the outcomes of what a technology would lead to, but they can still evaluate several of the outcomes and how those might affect people. Facebook is a prime example of this. Facebook is a social tool (and a mass information gatherer for advertisers) that allows people to post and say virtually anything. Because of this freedom, some people choose to abuse this and take things like bullying a step farther and enter the digital realm. The digital/Facebook bullying is something that easily could have been foreseen by the developers. I will admit stopping it is a wholly different matter but Facebook and other online forums enables people to lose a sense of humanity and forget that someone on the other end is also a human being too. True, everything has their good and bad sides but sometimes one needs to focus on the negatives to improve the positives.
Another consequence of technology making us “locked-in” is that we forget there are other ways to do things without technology. Watching some of the Hillman Curtis Artist Series reminds us that even though technology makes doing some things more efficient, we can still do virtually everything by hand. We get stuck trying to solve problems by throwing more technology at the technology that doesn’t work. We keep stuffing web sites with gaudy and worthless ads even though print, TV, and radio are still viable avenues of marketing something. We Get stuck trying to figure out something cool to integrate with a new piece of technology and forget that other physical objects exist and can be levied with new technology. We being locked-in is what I think Lanier is trying to get at above all. We are too enthralled with technology to see its pitfalls and remember that there is something physical and non-digital about the world.