You Are Not a Gadget Book Summary - You Are Not a Gadget Book explained in key points
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You Are Not a Gadget summary

Jaron Lanier

A Manifesto

3.8 (22 ratings)
20 mins
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    You Are Not a Gadget
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    Technology can get stuck in its initial design and hamper future innovation.

    In the early 1980s, inventors created technology for electronically expressing musical notes. It was called MIDI. Very quickly this development became incredibly popular, and was used to create the sound interfaces in a wide range of computers and electronic musical instruments.

    But as technology moved on and people tried to update the MIDI system, they ran into a major problem. MIDI’s initial popularity meant it had been included in so many technologies that modifying it would require changing the way all those technologies worked – including the music systems used in computers across the world.

    In other words, MIDI had become locked in – so enduringly so, in fact, that we still use it today!

    This locked-in problem is common: the inflexible initial design of a technology becomes widespread, which limits future developments.

    And the initial design is more often than not imperfect, as it is often the product of chance, the technological limits of the time or whatever solution the inventor found easiest.

    The downsides of locked-in products are greater when the initial design involves a large and complex system.

    This is because the more complex a system is, the more interconnected parts it will have – which will all need altering as technology improves.

    For example, the London Underground was constructed with the limited technology of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One result of these technological limits is the Underground’s narrow railroad tunnels.

    These narrow tunnels now cause many problems: for example, they are too slim to allow air conditioning units to be placed in trains.

    And because of the sheer size and complexity of the system, its multiple stations, lines and miles of track, it is logistically impossible to widen the tunnels – so Londoners’ daily journeys remain uncomfortable to this day.

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    What is You Are Not a Gadget about?

    You Are Not a Gadget (2010) examines why the internet tends to glorify the hive-mind and devalue the individual. Serving as both a history lesson of the web’s origins and a warning of the future consequences of its current path, this book illuminates the hidden design of the web.

    Who should read You Are Not a Gadget?

    • Anyone interested in learning about how technology shapes the way we view the world
    • Anyone interested in how the internet is devaluing the idea of intellectual property

    About the Author

    Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, musician and writer. He was an early innovator in the field of virtual reality and has taught at Columbia University and New York University. His other books include Information Is an Alienated Experience and Who Owns The Future?

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