Jaron Lanier Gets Old And Crotchety; Maybe He Should Kick Those Kids Off His Virtual Reality Lawn

from the ok-enough dept

Ok. Let's get this out of the way. Jaron Lanier, Wired coverboy of the early years for his virtual reality work (which was often more hype than reality anyway), has written a book. And it's one of those books that helps prove Douglas Adams' famous statement (paraphrased...) that every tech around by the time you're born is "normal," new technology that is invented before you're thirty is cool and new and anything that gets invented after you're thirty is "against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it." It's worth pointing out that Lanier turned 30 in 1990, just before the web came about. And, boy, does he hate the web. And the book is all about how much he really hates the web because it's new and different and against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. And since he's Jaron Lanier and since he hates the internet (even though he's published ridiculous essays making these same points that were debunked ages ago), the press is writing about him and have been for the last month or so, meaning that lots of people keep submitting stories, like the recent NY Times article all about Lanier's hatred for the internet.

Honestly, it's difficult to see why it's worthwhile to waste too much time responding to arguments that were debunked ages ago, but just to run through a few of them quickly:
  • Lanier falsely believes in the idea of "lock-in" with technology (the claim that the VCR beat Betamax despite being worse and that QWERTY beat Dvorak despite being worse due to "lock-in") is why the internet is so screwed up today. Except, of course the classic examples of lock-in were shown years ago to be false. The VCR beat Betamax because it was better at what people wanted (the ability to record a lot on a single tape). QWERTY is no worse than Dvorak.
  • Lanier pulls out Nick Carr's tired and silly claim that people doing user-generated content are "sharecroppers." This ignores that the whole reason they use those sites is that they get value in return. It fails to realize the non-monetary reasons why people use those sites.
  • Lanier thinks that the "answer" to file sharing online is to rearchitect the internet for micropayments. Again, this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of both economics and psychology. People hate micropayments and they're incredibly inefficient from an economic standpoint. It also shrinks the market of ideas and holds back communication.
  • Lanier argues that the market for "creative people" is shrinking. Apparently he hasn't read any of the recent studies that have shown that every aspect of the music business has grown -- except for the business selling plastic discs.
  • Most amusing of all, he argues that "artificial scarcities... allow the economy to function." He even admits that they are artificial scarcities, but still thinks they're a good thing. Again, this seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of economics. It's hard to talk logically to someone who thinks that having less of a resource is somehow good for the economy.
The list goes on, but at some point it's just not worth bothering with responding point by point. Lanier's trying to sell a book, and it's yet another in a long line of people who don't like the newfangled thing the kids are using because he doesn't understand it. The fact is, it doesn't matter. The internet is a huge success because people actually like the way it works and they get tons of value out of it, even if it's not the value Lanier wanted. No one's going to change the architecture of the internet. No one's going to suddenly figure out a way to make micropayments work where they don't make sense. So consider this my post on Lanier's book, and let's just move on and ignore all the other silly news stories about it, and they'll fade away quickly just like his book.

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  1. identicon
    cc, 13 Jan 2010 @ 12:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Common Fallacy

    I'll try to remember and have a closer look at your links later. At first glance, you have some intriguing predictions there, and I agree that more people will be writing music in the future (as the education and tools become available). I'm not convinced that the artist-fans relationship will disappear any time soon, or that people with no skill or talent will be able to produce content at the level of professionals, even if the tools they are using do a lot of the work for them. Apologies if I misread your suggestions, I'm in a bit of a hurry right now!

    As for the musical tools, I don't doubt that new tools exist that make it easier for people to write music. Sure, you can make programs that you sing to and they kind of put backing instruments in, for example, but those are only as good as the people who made them (I've sort of made one -- good fun). My point in my previous post was, tools that write and perform 100% original music on their own (that isn't terrible) are unlikely to be invented.

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