Question: You argue the web isn’t living up to its initial promise. How has the internet transformed our lives for the worse?
Jaron Lanier: The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called "Web 2.0" designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. There are so many things wrong with this that it takes a whole book to summarize them. Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor. This is why newspapers are dying. It might sound like it is only a problem for creative people, like musicians or writers, but eventually it will be a problem for everyone. When robots can repair roads someday, will people have jobs programming those robots, or will the human programmers be so aggregated that they essentially work for free, like today’s recording musicians? Web 2.0 is a formula to kill the middle class and undo centuries of social progress.
What do you think?
I was delighted to run across this book. Given the hoopla around Web 2.0 and data mash-ups and all the rest, I was glad to see someone with tech cred push back.
I am not sure how I feel about his argument though. The web is very good at creating new online communities of people who otherwise might not ever meet (this blog, for example!). And the "hive mind" phenomenon Lanier criticizes definitely has its good points: all those photos on Google Earth, for example are pretty awesome (and a great way to kill an hour or two).
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