I just went to see Jaron Lanier speak at the 92nd Street Y last evening and I have lots and lots of notes to do a longer blog later, but first, some quick impressions. He has a new book out called You Are Not a Gadget.
In person, he comes across as quite reasonable and jovial and tolerant -- and that should help spread his message. He has the dreadlocks and the opaque watercoloured eyes that make him seem like a zany hippie in photographs, but in real life, he looks you in the eye, he doesn't stare off to utopia. And you see he is a big fat man, and that gives him a Buddha-like yet down-to-earth appearance that adds to that sense of peace and practicality. He also has a typical flat American accent from the midwest and doesn't sound coastal, somehow, so that also makes him seem more "normal" despite his outlandish resume as "the father of virtual reality" and all that jazz.
He speaks in a very high-content-per-phrase manner with a lot of "quotable quotes" but it is not dense or glib. He was moderated by an NPR editor who didn't add much to the program except to play skeptic, complain that Lanier's stories were too long (we were all loving them) and then to make a final snarky repartee about capitalism, as if there is something wrong with capitalism (there isn't).
I started the book on the subway home, I have to say it is very promising and synthesizes and extends a lot of what you see in his excellent essays about digital Maoism and such. I'm really just so *relieved* that a person like this exists, and that he exists in the heart of Silicon Valley with such sheer rotund *normalcy* that I just can't tell you -- I feel less lonely and as if at least, some of the ideas that I expound will have a better and higher defense in a writer like this.
I went up afterward to get the book signed and asked this father of virtual reality why he wasn't in Second Life. He said that in fact, he was the only person given his real name (Jaron Lanier is indeed an avatar in the list). I pointed out that Cory Doctorow was given his real name, too. He said that he was active at the time of the founding and helped the founders at Linden Lab think through the issues, but that he was just too busy nowadays on other things. I asked if virtual worlds were a stage he felt he had passed, and he shook his head vigorously "no," that he was still very much interested. I urged him to come and speak in SL and explained that you can get more people on a server now or four servers than you used to -- although I have to say that on the "server" of the 92nd Street Y, there weren't more than about 80-100 people in a small side room, it was not the big hall.
I see that Lanier has an excellent oped piece in the newspaper most read in America -- the Wall Street Journal -- that distills his book -- so be sure to read this -- it's the best thing I've seen since his essay on digital Maoism. There's also a good review, that calls out the "furious backlash" from the geek religionists -- although even that supportive reviewer somehow gets sentimental about the People's access to the great digital Commons, in ways that are missing the point.
Not surprising, all the web 2.0 geeks are annoyed at his manifesto and ripping it to shreds. I take them on here at my old enemy TechDirt, which I took on back at the time of the infamous Jira on forcing "free" into the creation of objects, remember?
Then there's the geek tech editor at the Telegraph who is rather dyspeptic about Lanier so I counter his rant. Then I answer the Slate piece as well -- more tekkie web 2.0 booster handwringing that someone has finally said "no" to these people.
The Times does an excellent job of covering Lanier without the Silicon Valley and its extended tech network snark and I have comments on that thread and also here in response to this article taking the study of "madness of crowds" further.
I've also argued on Twitter with some of the slashdotting geek types there; I'm glad to see most of the response on Twitter to Lanier and the reviews of him and his excerpted essays is positive, and that more and more, the web 2.0 collectivist gang is shown to be the extreme and sectarian thing that it is.
It was great to get a signed book from this man, to add to my collection of other signed books by famous people, and I asked him to make it out to "Prokofy". He circled the "YOU" on his book title and drew it to my name, as he was doing for others. I felt as if finally, there is a champion for the middle class among these "lords of the clouds" as he calls them.