Thursday, December 05, 2013

Digital Passivity

This piece by Jaron Lanier is well worth reading. A few clips:
I fear that 2013 will be remembered as a tragic and dark year in the digital universe, despite the fact that a lot of wonderful advances took place.
It was the year in which tablets became ubiquitous and advanced gadgets like 3-D printers and wearable interfaces emerged as pop phenomena; all great fun. Our gadgets have widened access to our world. We now regularly communicate with people we would not have been aware of before the networked age. We can find information about almost anything, any time.
But 2013 was also the year in which we became aware of the corner we’ve backed ourselves into. We learned — through the leaks of Edward J. Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, and the work of investigative journalists — how much our gadgets and our digital networks are being used to spy on us by ultra-powerful, remote organizations. We are being dissected more than we dissect...I wish I could separate the two big trends of the year in computing — the cool gadgets and the revelations of digital spying — but I cannot.
...tablets do something unforeseen: They enforce a new power structure. Unlike a personal computer, a tablet runs only programs and applications approved by a central commercial authority. You control the data you enter into a PC, while data entered into a tablet is often managed by someone else...Steve Jobs...declared that personal computers were now ‘‘trucks’’ — tools for working-class guys in T-shirts and visors, but not for upwardly mobile cool people. The implication was that upscale consumers would prefer status and leisure to influence or self-determination.
To be free is to have a private zone in which you can be alone with your thoughts and experiments. That is where you differentiate yourself and grow your personal value. When you carry around a smartphone with a GPS and camera and constantly pipe data to a computer owned by a corporation paid by advertisers to manipulate you, you are less free. Not only are you benefiting the corporation and the advertisers, you are also accepting an assault on your free will, bit by bit.

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