C. G. McGinn


Ramblings about Books and Writing

Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier

There are far too many, gee-wiz, oh wow, the Internet of Things fanatics writing about tech. Everything Silicon Valley comes up with isn’t great, but those who report on it would have you believe otherwise.

Adam Curry calls these folks, Tech-Horny’s.

I like nay-sayers in the tech industry—those who question the status quo. People like John C Dvorak, who was a columnist for PCMag for three decades, who ‘made the mistake’ of writing a column disparaging the 5G broadcast spectrum, and was unceremoniously fired. Read all about it here. And here is the damning article taken down from PCMag: WaybackMachine

This brings to mind a rather grim quote by the late Michael Crichton—spoken through the voice of the late Ian Malcolm:

Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something.
— Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

Are there dinosaurs, in this dinosaur park?

Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

5G might not be as bad as an island full of dinosaurs, but the scary reality is: we don’t know that for certain. We don’t know what the invisible waves of cellular signals are doing to our bodies, just as we don’t know what social media is doing to our minds. Its all just cool and awesome and shiny and new, and we think…great!

Jaron Lanier has been working in the Valley since the early 80’s. He currently works for Microsoft. He’s one of the smartest tech guys I have had the pleasure of reading and in his own, optimistic way, he too is a nay-sayer.

In Who Owns the Future he says, ‘nay’ to our current social media setup—where the few (Facebook, Google, Twitter) make money off of the many (us). He proposes a new system in which the many can make money by charging for the data they create.

In our present, data is free but we are subjected to advertisements and any information the big companies of Silicon Valley can glean from us is bought and sold, often without our full understanding or consent.

In Lanier’s idealistic future, we are in control of what we share, and we get paid for doing so. I’m paraphrasing. Lanier uses a lot of lofty language to get his point across and I will probably have to read this book two or three more times to truly capture the elusive spirit of it.

Where Dvorak is a cynic, Lanier is optimistic. However what they both have in common is that they actually question the status quo in the tech industry—a very rich conglomerate of corporations that can literally get someone fired for not being lockstep with the current narrative.

Sounds like the plot of a grim near-future novel, only all to real.