A Reading Note

Four decades after Barthes’ Death of the Author, Jaron Lanier notes a different kind of death may be upon us:

The approach to digital culture I abhor would indeed turn all the world’s books into one book.…Google and other companies are scanning library books into the cloud in a massive Manhattan project of cultural digitization. What happens next is important. If the books in the cloud are accessed via user interfaces that encourage mashups of fragments that obscure the context and authorship of each fragment, there will only be one book. This is what happens today with a lot of content; often, you don’t know where a quoted fragment from a news story came from, who wrote the comment, or who shot a video. A continuation of the present trend will make us like the various medieval empires, or like North Korea, a society with a single book.

Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget, page 46

Indeed, an author and her publisher have recently defended such mashups as what the kids are doing today, seemingly oblivious to how that statement makes all authors and publishers obsolete.

The ethereal, digital replacement technology for the printing press happens to have come of age in a time when the unfortunate ideology I’m criticizing dominates technological culture. Authorship—very idea of the individual point of view—is not a priority of the new technology.

Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget, page 47

It’s that individual point of view that matters; Wikipedia imposes a single voice on all topics, as if there could be a single, agreed-upon, crowd-sourced view of everything. The problem being that once you attain the god’s eye view, you lose your ability to interrogate it; you lose your sense of self.

Related books

You Are Not a Gadget

Jaron Lanier

Lanier’s manifesto brings attention to the many ways in which human behavior is being mechanized by technology.