Nov 17, 2021|by|in, , ,
An Optimistic Technological Manifesto
I have been trying to imagine what the internet and computers would look like if forward thinking leaders and philosophers like Jaron Lanier did not exist. After finishing Lanier’s optimistic manifesto, I was left with the impression that our current future was never a blank slate. Innovators like Lanier have always possessed a solid vision of what the future should look like. In Jaron Lanier’s mind the future had been laid out long before the technology to build it was conceived of. As an original member of Silicon Valley, Lanier started building virtual worlds in the 1980’s when the idea of VR was certainly straight out of a science fiction movie. Along with the creation of Virtual Reality he has worked among others to bring Web 2.0 (Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and citizen journalism) to the forefront of our daily lives. Along with many of his peers Lanier quickly began to recognize inherent problems in the world he was helping to create. Always a harsh critic of the “hive” mind mentality and the rapid disappearance of the creative middle class that has been predominant in our society since the takeover of web 2.0. The overall message within You Are Not a Gadget, is not a doomsday prophecy but more of a gentle warning for anyone who spends too much time online. His message is clear and simple: use this technology, but be conscious of the alternate reality we are immersing ourselves in. He warns us that the internet as a whole is not completely beneficial and there are real drawbacks to this online escapism we have been participating in.
As the inventor of Virtual Reality, Lanier states that the prime function of his early VR and other immersive online experiences he helped to develop was to offer the user an ability to enter a virtual world with enjoyment and ease, but also to exit the Virtual world with a new appreciation for what it means to be alive as a human being. In short Virtual Reality is a great and exciting new prospect but ultimately it is not reality and never can be, the real world in turn is much more exciting than a virtual one ever can be. Lanier’s technological gifts were never designed to offer up a replacement for our current human existence, but to help us appreciate how special the “real” world is in comparison to a virtual one. Lanier states that “The most powerful moment of a VR experience is when you take the headset off and step back into human existance.” After finishing You Are Not a Gadget, I had to try to imagine another scenario. Is this relationship with the virtual world an inescapable fate, that we have built around ourselves? With the prospect of Facebook’s transformation into the Metaverse it seems the answer is Yes, most definitely, but it doesn’t have to become the detached and dystopian future we have become so quick to envision. If we follow and participate in Lanier’s vision of appreciating new and exciting tech without getting lost in it (or worse, integrating with it) this could be an opportunity to develop a future that may lead us all to a deeper connection with one another and to a more complex and deeper enjoyment of our own human existence.