Youarenotagadget I chatted with Jaron Lanier in a sunny courtyard at Stanford University last week during the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit.

His latest book: You are Not a Gadget, takes a controversial look at how we should and shouldn’t embrace technology and where we should spend our efforts versus where the government should step in and why.

From a brief synopsis of his book: “for the most part, Web 2.0–Internet technologies that encourage interactivity, customization, and participation–is hailed as an emerging Golden Age of information sharing and collaborative achievement, the strength of democratized wisdom. Jaron Lanier doesn’t buy it. He argues the opposite: that unfettered–and anonymous–ability to comment results in cynical mob behavior, the shouting-down of reasoned argument, and the devaluation of individual accomplishment. Lanier traces the roots of today’s Web 2.0 philosophies and architectures (e.g. he posits that Web anonymity is the result of 1960s paranoia), persuasively documents their shortcomings, and provides alternate paths to “locked-in” paradigms. Though its strongly-stated opinions run against the bias of popular assumptions (particularly in Silicon Valley), he seeks a useful, respectful dialogue about how we can shape technology to fit culture’s needs, rather than the way technology currently shapes us.”

Lanier suggests that people think we are more decentralized but we’re not. He says, “Everyone who wants to make the most money and are trying to get closer to the biggest server with the most power – they’re trying to get more and more central – there’s an all or nothing mentality. Innovation is important, but in the longer term, we have to get away from the winner takes all dynamic and that’s what is happening with the network effect – not just in Silicon Valley, but for the human species. When you see Facebook winning, it’s just another niche winner.”

He also thinks there’s a role for government and that should be in the boring nuts and bolts back-end that we don’t really care about. He thinks we should all have a single account that works everywhere; you should be able to buy and sell on it universally and this function should be a government one. “Government is good because it gives you currency.” Set up this way, he suggests that people can make up a thousand niches rather than us relying on Facebook or Steve Jobs-like control freaks to give us what they create. Lanier would like to see more Zynga-like companies in the world. “I like the idea of building companies that create wealth for others.”

The WSJ book review here and the New York Times review here. Below are two videos of a very informal dialogue with a couple of attendees and myself at Stanford.

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