Is Jaron Lanier just a hater, or should we be paying attention?

Last week, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg posted an article about Jaron Lanier’s negative comments regarding open textbooks. At almost very same time, I happened to stumble upon an article Jaron wrote back in 2006 criticizing Wikipedia.

The common theme is Jaron taking issue with what he calls “online collectivism,” “the hive mind,” and even “digital Maoism” (ouch!). You might call this same concept “crowdsourcing” or “the wisdom of crowds.” It’s all in the eye of the beholder, but the guy clearly does not have much love for wikis or the works of collective wisdom they create.

So I had to ask myself: Why so negative, Jaron?

Is Jaron really a hater of free culture, as Greg claims in his article? Is he an enemy of the open source way? Or is he just a smart dude warning us about the risks of taking the wisdom-of-crowds concept too far?

Fortunately for us, Jaron published a book earlier this year entitled You Are Not A Gadget. So I took a few hours and read it last week to see if I could answer some of these questions.

At times, the book is scary smart, with precise analysis from a man who clearly questions everything, and is in a better intellectual position to do so than most (the section on social media and its redefinition of friendship is especially interesting).

At other times it read like a college philosophy term paper. And occassionally, especially toward then end, it devolved into nearly unintelligeble (at least by me) ravings about things like “postsymbolic communication” and “bachelardian neoteny” (Michael Agger’s review in Slate calls him out for this too).

But wait! Right near the beginning of the book, I found this paragraph:

“Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad, moblike behaviors.”

Hey… I kinda agree with that…

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]