We finish with Jaron Lanier today in FoL, in anticipation of Bill McKibben’s Eaarth. One interesting contrast to follow up on: nature is important to them both, but Lanier does not lament “the end of nature” as an independent, semi-autonomous, special-status entity in its own right. Mother Nature is more like a gadget than a person.
[NOTE TO STUDENTS: No class today. Wednesday we'll finish midterm reports. Go ahead and begin reading McKibben.]
Lanier’s “new digital humanism,” his answer to the Singularity’s “hope of an afterlife” achieved through technology, seems to him far more promising.
Thanks to neoteny and medical progress, it sometimes seems that we (like Peter Pan) will never grow up and grow old. This has its benefits, in terms of cultural transmission and generational learning. But you have to wonder, too, if we will ever throw off our condition of juvenile arrest and really grow up as a species.
What do children want? Attention, of course, Lanier has an interesting theory about that, as the real driving force behind social networking. Do we broadcast our “status” because we don’t want to feel lonely? Is twitter our new collective night-light?
Moore’s Law doesn’t apply to software, which Lanier says will hit a developmental wall by 2020. (Gordon Moore says eventually it won’t apply to anything anymore.)
Is the Internet infantilizing us? I would counter that it depends on how you use it. It wouldn’t occur to me to get excited by the release of “MeTickly,” although I do love Dr. Seuss.
But I wish there were a little less silly in Silicon Valley, and a little more urgency about cancer research, sanitation in the 3d world, and other grown-up concerns. There are still many more good things about childhood than bad, but lately there just doesn’t seem to be enough adult supervision. Not that we should permanently put aside childish things, or childish gadgets…
How about in the classroom? Well, there are plenty of eccentrics there, but not many Ms. Frizzles. Still, Lanier seems to imagine the future of pedagogy as a ride on the Magic School Bus. “In the future, I fully expect children to turn into molecules and triangles in order to learn about them…”
I think we get real insight into the source of Lanier’s frustration with cybernetic totalists, with his remarks on “postsymbolic communication” and his deferred dreams of unmediated virtual transparency. Words get in the way, if the dream is plausible. If it isn’t, they’re the only ammunition in our conceptual shotguns.
“What cephalopods can teach us about language” teaches us more as well about Lanier’s very distinctive personal sensibility. This is a man intoxicated by novelty and possibility. I like him.
And here’s that amazing, morphing octopus.
But he’s different. Are you (like Jaron) shocked and jealous too? Nah, me neither.