Monday, January 18, 2016

Inspector Gadget

At the library yesterday, I grabbed the copy of Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget from the hold shelf and then was headed to the nave portion of the building to sit and read while Graham did his digging around for fresh books. On the way there, I ran into someone from the high school, and the conversation quickly moved over to Facebook. She said that she was able to see what I was up to, but was shy about posting herself. I assured her that it was the United States of America, and that no one was obliged to post anything if they didn't want to.

And then I sat down and continued reading the book, which I had started to peruse at David and Carol's in Princeton over Christmas. Lanier's core thesis is that human relations are coming to be defined by the internet and social media, that we are being flattened by the standards that they impose, and that this is an unqualified ill. So, for example, people feeling somehow obliged to post on Facebook and needing to apologize for not doing so. I kept reading, and I come these exhortations:

  • Don't post anonymously unless you really might be in danger
  • Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won't fit into the template available to you on a social networking site
  • Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out
Hmmmm. These are some real and legitimate thoughts. Obviously, this blog is pseudonymized, for a number of reasons. For one, I don't want to sit here sweating the editing. I'd rather just write and let it flow. Just as importantly, I want to feel free to rail and be free with the topics I choose and what I open up about without worrying about colleagues and clients being able to Google me easily.

In some sense, I think that Lanier is overly focused on the impact of social media. Yes it is a little odd that people such as myself can have multiple selves: the blog me, where I dig deep, the Facebook me, where I mostly perform, and the LinkedIn me, where I put my professional face forward. I think that people often had these same layers pre-social media, but they were instantiated differently.

But he is doing some real and worthy thinking in this book and I will keep right on reading it, along with the other stuff I'm reading, right now Knausgaard (loving it) and Kahneman (struggling mightily), while listening to Gretchen Rubin in the car.

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