The internet as collectivist monster

Jaron Lanier was one of the inventors of “virutal reality,” but now he is saying that the internet has turned into a collectivist monster.  From a review of his book  entitled You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto:

A self-confessed “humanistic softie,” Lanier is fighting to wrest control of technology from the “ascendant tribe” of technologists who believe that wisdom emerges from vast crowds, rather than from distinct, individual human beings. According to Lanier, the Internet designs made by that “winning subculture” degrade the very definition of humanness. The saddest example comes from young people who brag of their thousands of friends on Facebook. To them, Lanier replies that this “can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced.”

Anyone who has followed technology and for years has resented the adoration heaped upon the ascendant tribe will positively swoon as Lanier throws into one great dustbin such sacred concepts as Web 2.0, singularity, hive mind, wikis, the long tail, the noosphere, the cloud, snippets, crowds, social networking and the Creative Commons — dismissing them all as “cybernetic totalism” and, more fun yet, as potential “fascism.”

The “cybernetic totalists” base their thinking on decades-old ideas known as “chaos” or “complexity” theory, which began with a question about ants: How does something as complex as a colony arise from the interactions of dumb ants? This approach can be useful if one is studying mass phenomena such as traffic jams. The problem comes when we try to apply ant-derived thinking to people who are trying to lead creative, expressive lives.

In the totalist model, algorithms (most of them secret and proprietary, such as Google’s search engine) create knowledge by making links among the system's many human participants. From this possibly infinite set of connections arises intelligence. The creative actor is no longer the human being but the system and its algorithms, out of which emerges a living, nonhuman or trans-human higher being. (Lanier does not hesitate to compare this to religion.) There are some, such as Google co-founder Larry Page, who believe the Internet will soon be alive.

The poor human participants become “peasants” working for the “lords” of technology: those who have deeper access to the workings of the Web (read Google, Yahoo and hedge funds with vast analytic resources) and who profit from our volunteer labor. Our role is simply to keep contributing our code-bits and snippets and Facebook pages. We become what Lanier calls “computer peripherals,” and he is raising a defense against this reduction of our being.

Lanier says there is still time “to promote alternate designs [of the Internet] that resonate with human-kindness.” He is fighting for something “ineffable” in the human imagination and creativity; for us to see personhood as “a quest, a mystery, and a leap of faith.” These are not views normally expressed by computer scientists, and anyone but Lanier would get laughed off the stage. Yet he dares to say the forbidden: that computers as we know them may be incapable of truly representing human thoughts and relationships.

This book is very much like the Jaron Lanier he shows in his public appearances: mind-bending, exuberant, brilliant, thinking in all directions. He describes how computer software locks us into rigid ways of thinking (which brings up the next logical question, though he fails to ask it: How can a computer, with its need for standard interfaces, not lock us into the behavior and thought patterns implicit in our software?). He discusses how pack-like attacks arise on the Web wherever there is an opportunity for “consequence-free, transient anonymity.” The topic hardly matters: “Jihadi chat looks just like poodle chat.”

He describes the sad, stressful lives of young people who “must manage their online reputations constantly.” He makes the point that the free use of everything on the Web leads to endless mashups, except for the one thing legally protected from being mashed-up: ads, making advertising the one thing on the Internet that can be “owned.” In the book's final pages, he tries to imagine an alternative to “totalist” computing: a new sort of virtual-reality software that would allow us to express ourselves through transformations of our virtual bodies, as if we were cephalopods. All of which sounds quite wild, but so did virtual reality in 1980.

via Book review: You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier – washingtonpost.com.

Buy the book here.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • EricM

    Computers can provide insight to humans by processing data. However, computers act on a set of rules that some human has to create and put into the computer system. The computer will not look for patterns or process data in a way that is inconsistent with the rules.

  • EricM

    Computers can provide insight to humans by processing data. However, computers act on a set of rules that some human has to create and put into the computer system. The computer will not look for patterns or process data in a way that is inconsistent with the rules.

  • http://www.bootheeling.com Leslie

    “a new sort of virtual-reality software that would allow us to express ourselves through transformations of our virtual bodies, as if we were cephalopods.”

    This is laughable. Largely because it’s already been done via graphical chat environments (Second Life springs to mind, although I seem to recall that being unfortunately associated with the furry fandom). And… it proved cumbersome, not to mention people behave in such an environment much as they would in any other online space.

    This sounds like an interesting book, and I may read it, but if this review is accurate Lanier may not know the Internet as well as he thinks. For one thing, he’s taking it perhaps too seriously.

  • http://www.bootheeling.com Leslie

    “a new sort of virtual-reality software that would allow us to express ourselves through transformations of our virtual bodies, as if we were cephalopods.”

    This is laughable. Largely because it’s already been done via graphical chat environments (Second Life springs to mind, although I seem to recall that being unfortunately associated with the furry fandom). And… it proved cumbersome, not to mention people behave in such an environment much as they would in any other online space.

    This sounds like an interesting book, and I may read it, but if this review is accurate Lanier may not know the Internet as well as he thinks. For one thing, he’s taking it perhaps too seriously.

  • T Sherman

    It see,s like a couple of paragraphs from Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” are appropriate to the subject at hand:

    “That is not all; then, you say, science itself will teach man (though to my mind it’s a superfluous luxury) that he never has really had any caprice or will of his own, and that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ, and that there are, besides, things called the laws of nature; so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently we have only to discover these laws of nature, and man will no longer have to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him. All human actions will then, of course, be tabulated according to these laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and entered in an index; or, better still, there would be published certain edifying works of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons, in which everything will be so clearly calculated and explained that there will be no more incidents or adventures in the world.

    Then—this is all what you say—new economic relations will be established, all ready-made and worked out with mathematical exactitude, so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye, simply because every possible answer to it will be provided. Then the “Palace of Crystal” will be built. Then … In fact, those will be halcyon days. Of course there is no guaranteeing (this is my comment) that it will not be, for instance, frightfully dull then (for what will one have to do when everything will be calculated and tabulated), but on the other hand everything will be extraordinarily rational. Of course boredom may lead you to anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden pins into people, but all that would not matter. What is bad (this is my comment again) is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold pins then. Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid; or rather he is not at all stupid, but he is so ungrateful that you could not find another like him in all creation. I, for instance, would not be in the least surprised if all of a sudden, A PROPOS of nothing, in the midst of general prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with a reactionary and ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting his arms akimbo, say to us all: “I say, gentleman, hadn’t we better kick over the whole show and scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!””

    And later on:

    “…the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!”

    This whole idea seems rather like the Tower of Babel, humanity’s attempt to come together as one and reach the heights of God. Of course, God did not permit it to be done then, and will not now. And as Fyodor points out in the work quoted above, man’s phenomenal stupidity will prevent anything like this from lasting very long anyway.

  • T Sherman

    It see,s like a couple of paragraphs from Dostoevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” are appropriate to the subject at hand:

    “That is not all; then, you say, science itself will teach man (though to my mind it’s a superfluous luxury) that he never has really had any caprice or will of his own, and that he himself is something of the nature of a piano-key or the stop of an organ, and that there are, besides, things called the laws of nature; so that everything he does is not done by his willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently we have only to discover these laws of nature, and man will no longer have to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him. All human actions will then, of course, be tabulated according to these laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and entered in an index; or, better still, there would be published certain edifying works of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons, in which everything will be so clearly calculated and explained that there will be no more incidents or adventures in the world.

    Then—this is all what you say—new economic relations will be established, all ready-made and worked out with mathematical exactitude, so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye, simply because every possible answer to it will be provided. Then the “Palace of Crystal” will be built. Then … In fact, those will be halcyon days. Of course there is no guaranteeing (this is my comment) that it will not be, for instance, frightfully dull then (for what will one have to do when everything will be calculated and tabulated), but on the other hand everything will be extraordinarily rational. Of course boredom may lead you to anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden pins into people, but all that would not matter. What is bad (this is my comment again) is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold pins then. Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid; or rather he is not at all stupid, but he is so ungrateful that you could not find another like him in all creation. I, for instance, would not be in the least surprised if all of a sudden, A PROPOS of nothing, in the midst of general prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with a reactionary and ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting his arms akimbo, say to us all: “I say, gentleman, hadn’t we better kick over the whole show and scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!””

    And later on:

    “…the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!”

    This whole idea seems rather like the Tower of Babel, humanity’s attempt to come together as one and reach the heights of God. Of course, God did not permit it to be done then, and will not now. And as Fyodor points out in the work quoted above, man’s phenomenal stupidity will prevent anything like this from lasting very long anyway.

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    For some reason, this post reminded me of this article on information access and sharing, written by Vannevar Bush way back in 1945.

    Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

    It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.

  • http://mesamike.org Mike Westfall

    For some reason, this post reminded me of this article on information access and sharing, written by Vannevar Bush way back in 1945.

    Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

    It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.

  • Jerry

    How might vocation and the two kingdoms be fit into this discussion? This is very much about preserving man’s individualism versus using collective tools for the common good. One of the goals of Web 3.0, or whatever you wish to call it, is to turn the Internet into a memex where using computer processing the collective knowledge is accessed so that it is available to and serves the individual. However, what is the concept of the individual? In relation to God, and to our fellow humans? Are we trying to use these tools to “go up the down staircase” or to serve our fellow humans. If our calling is to be a serf, shouldn’t we be doing that to the best of our abilities? Our sense of being comes down from God, we don’t need to reach up to Him to find it. Much of our need to be individuals comes from the fact that we are trying to be immortal, that we wish to deny the fact that here on earth we are in fact dying. In reality, God has already given us all that we need. If my vocation is a gadget, then so be it.

  • Jerry

    How might vocation and the two kingdoms be fit into this discussion? This is very much about preserving man’s individualism versus using collective tools for the common good. One of the goals of Web 3.0, or whatever you wish to call it, is to turn the Internet into a memex where using computer processing the collective knowledge is accessed so that it is available to and serves the individual. However, what is the concept of the individual? In relation to God, and to our fellow humans? Are we trying to use these tools to “go up the down staircase” or to serve our fellow humans. If our calling is to be a serf, shouldn’t we be doing that to the best of our abilities? Our sense of being comes down from God, we don’t need to reach up to Him to find it. Much of our need to be individuals comes from the fact that we are trying to be immortal, that we wish to deny the fact that here on earth we are in fact dying. In reality, God has already given us all that we need. If my vocation is a gadget, then so be it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    It’s hard to know who to blame here. Is it the reviewer’s fault — did she really understand the book? Is it the author’s fault — does he really think that? Or, perhaps, as we are to believe the author thinks, can we just go ahead and blame this book review on the Internet?

    Certainly, there is evidence to question the reviewer’s understanding of things. Witness her catchy lede: “It’s not often that one of the creators of our new digital culture comes forward to say: I made a mistake; this is not what I intended.”
    This is misleading on several fronts. First of all, he was a pioneer in virtual reality, not in the Web, and certainly not in social networking and other popular Web applications today. So if he were to say, “this is not what I intended,” it would only be because “this” was never what he intended. He had no role in it.*

    Nor can it really be argued — from the review, mind — that he has changed his mind. He was a pioneer of virtual reality in the early 80s, and what is his proposed solution to today’s Internet? “A new sort of virtual-reality software that would allow us to express ourselves through transformations of our virtual bodies, as if we were cephalopods.” Yeah, sounds like the guy just can’t let go of the same ideas he had 30 years ago. But then, I haven’t read the book.

    *Or so, at least, I have read from the Internet hive mind! Oh, the irony!

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    It’s hard to know who to blame here. Is it the reviewer’s fault — did she really understand the book? Is it the author’s fault — does he really think that? Or, perhaps, as we are to believe the author thinks, can we just go ahead and blame this book review on the Internet?

    Certainly, there is evidence to question the reviewer’s understanding of things. Witness her catchy lede: “It’s not often that one of the creators of our new digital culture comes forward to say: I made a mistake; this is not what I intended.”
    This is misleading on several fronts. First of all, he was a pioneer in virtual reality, not in the Web, and certainly not in social networking and other popular Web applications today. So if he were to say, “this is not what I intended,” it would only be because “this” was never what he intended. He had no role in it.*

    Nor can it really be argued — from the review, mind — that he has changed his mind. He was a pioneer of virtual reality in the early 80s, and what is his proposed solution to today’s Internet? “A new sort of virtual-reality software that would allow us to express ourselves through transformations of our virtual bodies, as if we were cephalopods.” Yeah, sounds like the guy just can’t let go of the same ideas he had 30 years ago. But then, I haven’t read the book.

    *Or so, at least, I have read from the Internet hive mind! Oh, the irony!

  • Peter Leavitt

    Lanier is right that wisdom emerges mainly from from great individual minds, as distinct from crowds, though channeled group thinking, including from town meetings, often is capable of a certain wisdom. It is true that the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality that, as Tocqueville understood, runs the risk of soft despotism; able observers, especially some ancient Greek thinkers, have understood this for millennia.

    The Internet has some great uses, as this blog-site often demonstrates, though it is not exempt from the errors of fallen men.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Lanier is right that wisdom emerges mainly from from great individual minds, as distinct from crowds, though channeled group thinking, including from town meetings, often is capable of a certain wisdom. It is true that the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality that, as Tocqueville understood, runs the risk of soft despotism; able observers, especially some ancient Greek thinkers, have understood this for millennia.

    The Internet has some great uses, as this blog-site often demonstrates, though it is not exempt from the errors of fallen men.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@7), what do you mean by saying that “the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality”? Care to expound?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@7), what do you mean by saying that “the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality”? Care to expound?

  • WebMonk

    And might someone make a distinction between wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge? The “hive mind” of the Internet might be good at making knowledge available or discovering new knowledge. It might even be good at bringing forth intelligence about things. I have my doubts that wisdom is something the Internet even attempts to provide as a general point, though particular parts of the Internet may attempt to do so.

    As to the review itself, I suspect the reviewer is injecting some significant levels of her own interpretation, though since I haven’t read the book I can’t know for sure. He certainly isn’t the first to bring up this general topic; I have an early 1990s book is pretty similar to how Lanier’s book is made to sound. Looking at that book and how it saw the future of computing coming to be and then looking at what it is – well, let’s be charitable and say the book was “off” by a bit. If Lanier’s book is anything like what the review describes, then I will virtually* guarantee we will have the same sort of reaction if we were to read it in twenty years.

    I got a kick out of the line near the end of the review “sad, stressful lives of young people who “must manage their online reputations constantly.”” Uh huh. If that’s really how Lanier views the people who are really plugged in through Facebook and Twitter, then I think he has swallowed his own cool-aid.

    * Get it? Virtually? Lanier’s area is virtual reality. I “virtually” guarantee …. Oh, you guys don’t think it was funny? Never mind.

  • WebMonk

    And might someone make a distinction between wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge? The “hive mind” of the Internet might be good at making knowledge available or discovering new knowledge. It might even be good at bringing forth intelligence about things. I have my doubts that wisdom is something the Internet even attempts to provide as a general point, though particular parts of the Internet may attempt to do so.

    As to the review itself, I suspect the reviewer is injecting some significant levels of her own interpretation, though since I haven’t read the book I can’t know for sure. He certainly isn’t the first to bring up this general topic; I have an early 1990s book is pretty similar to how Lanier’s book is made to sound. Looking at that book and how it saw the future of computing coming to be and then looking at what it is – well, let’s be charitable and say the book was “off” by a bit. If Lanier’s book is anything like what the review describes, then I will virtually* guarantee we will have the same sort of reaction if we were to read it in twenty years.

    I got a kick out of the line near the end of the review “sad, stressful lives of young people who “must manage their online reputations constantly.”” Uh huh. If that’s really how Lanier views the people who are really plugged in through Facebook and Twitter, then I think he has swallowed his own cool-aid.

    * Get it? Virtually? Lanier’s area is virtual reality. I “virtually” guarantee …. Oh, you guys don’t think it was funny? Never mind.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@9), on behalf of the hive-mind, I deem your “virtually” pun to be humorous. :) However, it is incredibly stressful for me to have said so. 8-O And that makes me sad. :(

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@9), on behalf of the hive-mind, I deem your “virtually” pun to be humorous. :) However, it is incredibly stressful for me to have said so. 8-O And that makes me sad. :(

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, Plato, Aristotle, Tocqueville, and other western thinkers are acutely aware that the downside of democracy is its tendency to emphasize and be smitten with equality. Allowed free reign, the passion for equality tends to make the ordinary individual and his often herd-like opinion sovereign. Men are equal before God and the law but scarcely equal in intelligence, ability, discipline, and effort.

    Tocqueville, the best writer on democracy, coming from an aristocratic family, well understood that, while aristocratic regimes tended to be unjust based on their view of familial superiority, they do recognize the potential excellence of human nature, arrived at through unremitting standards of excellence and hard work. Tocqueville, also, spoke incisively about the tendency of democratic regimes to obscure every reference point beyond the individual that taken to extremes- as at present- tends to cause their doom. Bear in mind that on balance he favored democracy, though not equality.

    This is a rather simple summary of a complex topic that is best understood by a careful reading of Tocqueville.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, Plato, Aristotle, Tocqueville, and other western thinkers are acutely aware that the downside of democracy is its tendency to emphasize and be smitten with equality. Allowed free reign, the passion for equality tends to make the ordinary individual and his often herd-like opinion sovereign. Men are equal before God and the law but scarcely equal in intelligence, ability, discipline, and effort.

    Tocqueville, the best writer on democracy, coming from an aristocratic family, well understood that, while aristocratic regimes tended to be unjust based on their view of familial superiority, they do recognize the potential excellence of human nature, arrived at through unremitting standards of excellence and hard work. Tocqueville, also, spoke incisively about the tendency of democratic regimes to obscure every reference point beyond the individual that taken to extremes- as at present- tends to cause their doom. Bear in mind that on balance he favored democracy, though not equality.

    This is a rather simple summary of a complex topic that is best understood by a careful reading of Tocqueville.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay Peter (@11), but you didn’t answer my question. What do you mean by saying that “the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality”? Your answer said nothing about the Internet. And I doubt Tocqueville had much to say about it either, though if you’d like to apply his ideas to the Internet, that would be fine.

    “Allowed free reign, the passion for equality tends to make the ordinary individual and his often herd-like opinion sovereign.” This is a softball I am doing my best not to swing at, in the interest of staying on topic. FYI.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay Peter (@11), but you didn’t answer my question. What do you mean by saying that “the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality”? Your answer said nothing about the Internet. And I doubt Tocqueville had much to say about it either, though if you’d like to apply his ideas to the Internet, that would be fine.

    “Allowed free reign, the passion for equality tends to make the ordinary individual and his often herd-like opinion sovereign.” This is a softball I am doing my best not to swing at, in the interest of staying on topic. FYI.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, the Internet merely reflects American egalitarian culture. My point in that post was that Lanier incorrectly blames the ascendancy of technologists for the shallowness of the Internet, when in truth it is the tendency of egalitarianism that is the more salient cause. Any form of government has its downside; that of democracy is excessive equalitarianism that leads to soft despotism, something that Tocquevile quite understood.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, the Internet merely reflects American egalitarian culture. My point in that post was that Lanier incorrectly blames the ascendancy of technologists for the shallowness of the Internet, when in truth it is the tendency of egalitarianism that is the more salient cause. Any form of government has its downside; that of democracy is excessive equalitarianism that leads to soft despotism, something that Tocquevile quite understood.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Mark Henderson

    Lanier is turning 50 this year; he’s entitled to get a little curmudgeonly in his middle-age.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Mark Henderson

    Lanier is turning 50 this year; he’s entitled to get a little curmudgeonly in his middle-age.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@13), I apologize for being repetitive here, but I don’t see how you’ve answered my question. How is saying that “the Internet merely reflects American egalitarian culture” any different from saying that “the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality,” other than conflating egalitarianism with democracy?

    Are you just noting that there’s a lot of stupidity on the Internet when you complain about its “shallowness”? And if so, how does the “shallowness of the Internet” differ at all from, say, the shallowness of TV or the shallowness of the printed page? That is, how is this different from the shallowness inherent in the output of any sufficiently large group of people?

    What, specifically, do you find problematic with the Internet, and how is egalitarianism or democracy implicit in that?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@13), I apologize for being repetitive here, but I don’t see how you’ve answered my question. How is saying that “the Internet merely reflects American egalitarian culture” any different from saying that “the Internet suffers from the American predilection for democracy and equality,” other than conflating egalitarianism with democracy?

    Are you just noting that there’s a lot of stupidity on the Internet when you complain about its “shallowness”? And if so, how does the “shallowness of the Internet” differ at all from, say, the shallowness of TV or the shallowness of the printed page? That is, how is this different from the shallowness inherent in the output of any sufficiently large group of people?

    What, specifically, do you find problematic with the Internet, and how is egalitarianism or democracy implicit in that?

  • justme

    There’s another insightful article by a much more famous (and much, much, much richer) early entrepreneur of the computer age, internet, blah, blah, blah….Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems (a founder, no less) written for Wired Magazine. It would be so sweet if tODD were to google it for us, and graciously comment and include the link :)

  • justme

    There’s another insightful article by a much more famous (and much, much, much richer) early entrepreneur of the computer age, internet, blah, blah, blah….Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems (a founder, no less) written for Wired Magazine. It would be so sweet if tODD were to google it for us, and graciously comment and include the link :)

  • WebMonk

    Considering that the Internet was born from an American military development, I suspect that viewing any fundamental egalitarianism in the Internet is strictly coincidental. Egalitarianism in a military communications tool is pretty limited. :-D

    Attitudes of some people who are “movers and shakers” in the realms of Internet philosophy and software design tend to be fairly egalitarian in some ways, but I’m not sure that their views actually affect much in the design or structure of the Internet.

    Now, the development of various tools on the Internet such as Wikipedia might be viewed as egalitarian since in theory anyone can edit it (practice varies dramatically). Same thing for the ease of access for things like forums on the Internet which are available to anyone – that could probably be viewed as egalitarian too, though I would rather describe them with the term ‘ubiquitous’. Open Source software might be viewed as egalitarian, but that’s quite separate from the Internet.

    I don’t know if those sorts of things are what Peter had in mind, but that’s about as far as I could get in ascribing the ‘egalitarian’ adjective to the nature of the Internet – some of the tools like Wikipedia.

  • WebMonk

    Considering that the Internet was born from an American military development, I suspect that viewing any fundamental egalitarianism in the Internet is strictly coincidental. Egalitarianism in a military communications tool is pretty limited. :-D

    Attitudes of some people who are “movers and shakers” in the realms of Internet philosophy and software design tend to be fairly egalitarian in some ways, but I’m not sure that their views actually affect much in the design or structure of the Internet.

    Now, the development of various tools on the Internet such as Wikipedia might be viewed as egalitarian since in theory anyone can edit it (practice varies dramatically). Same thing for the ease of access for things like forums on the Internet which are available to anyone – that could probably be viewed as egalitarian too, though I would rather describe them with the term ‘ubiquitous’. Open Source software might be viewed as egalitarian, but that’s quite separate from the Internet.

    I don’t know if those sorts of things are what Peter had in mind, but that’s about as far as I could get in ascribing the ‘egalitarian’ adjective to the nature of the Internet – some of the tools like Wikipedia.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@17), that’s more or less what I’d thought of, too. But, like you, I don’t find that the Internet is all that egalitarian or democratic, when you actually examine it.

    I mean, sure, everyone can have a blog, but that doesn’t mean every blog is equal. Far from it. Some blogs are hugely influential, most are not. So I guess access is egalitarian, if you want to say that, but it’s not true that the Internet actually affords equal value. But then, how is that different from any other medium? Anyone can write a book these days, as well. With cable access, anyone can make a TV show. And yet, in all these areas, realistically, there are gatekeepers.

    For what it’s worth, open source software seems the same as Wikipedia — sure, anyone can make a contribution, but it’ll only be accepted if it’s valuable, and there are people at the top of most of these groups who have definite visions. In the end, it ends up looking more like a meritocracy to me than a democracy.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    WebMonk (@17), that’s more or less what I’d thought of, too. But, like you, I don’t find that the Internet is all that egalitarian or democratic, when you actually examine it.

    I mean, sure, everyone can have a blog, but that doesn’t mean every blog is equal. Far from it. Some blogs are hugely influential, most are not. So I guess access is egalitarian, if you want to say that, but it’s not true that the Internet actually affords equal value. But then, how is that different from any other medium? Anyone can write a book these days, as well. With cable access, anyone can make a TV show. And yet, in all these areas, realistically, there are gatekeepers.

    For what it’s worth, open source software seems the same as Wikipedia — sure, anyone can make a contribution, but it’ll only be accepted if it’s valuable, and there are people at the top of most of these groups who have definite visions. In the end, it ends up looking more like a meritocracy to me than a democracy.