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The hive mind, the cloud, the wisdom of the crowd, open source, the long tail, anonymity — these are soothing buzzwords to Web 2.0 digerati, their cheerleaders in the press, and everybody who doesn’t know any better. To Jaron Lanier, they sound like shit. We like Jaron Lanier! First, he pioneered, single-handedly, along with a huge team, virtual reality. Second: This stuff about hating Web 2.0 — it’s like hating Wikipedia or something. Which he does (sort of). Expanding on his “digital Maoism” essay from 2006, Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget details, often by shoving readers into dense thicket of prose, why many elements of Web 2.0 kind of suck. What we’ve risked for stuff like group intelligence and free content are personality, authorship, and individuality. The Web’s vaunted “anonymity” has promoted a “culture of sadism.” Wikipedia teases us with “the idea that the collective is closer to the truth.” Facebook makes us all look more interchangeable than individual, no matter how bold an angle you take with your profile picture. And much of pop culture has gone nostalgic, obsessed with “trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups.” As for Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, et al: Aren’t you tired? We are! Oh, to return to the goofy homepages of the mid-'90s. (Lanier’s homepage is kind of goofy, incidentally.) Lanier is a tech legend, nearly a guru (the dreads), and the computational brainpower in the room at tonight’s book release should be staggering. If you could somehow collectively harness it ....
Tue., Feb. 16, 7 p.m., 2010

 
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