Is Technology Making Our Lives Richer or Poorer?
A conversation between Nicholas Thompson, a senior editor covering technology for the New Yorker, and computing pioneer Jaron Lanier. They'll discuss the virtues of technology, but also the ways it has made us less imaginative, more distracted, and less connected to other people. Lanier is one of the founders of "virtual reality," but he has since become the most prominent critic of what technology has wrought. Last year, he published “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto,” a provocative critique of digital technologies, including Wikipedia (which he called a triumph of “intellectual mob rule”) and social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, which Lanier has described as dehumanizing and designed to encourage shallow interactions.
Scientist, Author, Musician and Artist
A Renaissance Man for the 21st century, Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, artist, and author who writes on numerous topics, including high-technology business, the social impact of technology, the philosophy of consciousness and information, Internet politics, and the future of humanism. In 2010, Lanier was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine. He has also been named one of top one hundred public intellectuals in the world by Prospect and Foreign Policy magazines, and one of history’s 300 or so greatest inventors in the Encyclopedia Britannica. In 2009 Jaron Lanier received a Lifetime Career Award from the IEEE, the preeminent international engineering society.
A pioneer in virtual reality (a term he coined), Lanier founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products, and led teams creating VR applications for medicine, design, and numerous other fields. He is currently Partner Architect at Microsoft Research.
In January, 2010, Knopf published Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget, A Manifesto, which became a New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe bestseller. You Are Not a Gadget, A Manifesto was chosen as one of the best books of the year by Time Magazine and The New York Times, among others.
According to Zadie Smith, in The New York Review of Books, "Lanier is not of my generation, but he knows and understands us well, and has written a short and frightening book, You Are Not a Gadget, which chimes with my own discomfort, while coming from a position of real knowledge and insight, both practical and philosophical." Michiko Kakutani, writing in The New York Times called Lanier’s book "Lucid, powerful and persuasive. . . . Necessary reading for anyone interested in how the Web and the software we use every day are reshaping culture and the marketplace." He is currently working on his next book, The Fate of Power & the Future of Dignity, to be published by Free Press in 2012.
Lanier’s writing appears in the Discover, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Harpers Magazine, Atlantic, Wired Magazine (where he was a founding contributing editor), and Scientific American. He has appeared on TV shows such as PBS NewsHour, Nightline and Charlie Rose, and has been profiled on the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times multiple times.
Jaron Lanier is also a musician and artist. He has been active in the world of new “classical” music since the late ‘70s, and writes chamber and orchestral works. He is a pianist and a specialist in unusual and historical musical instruments, and maintains one of the largest and most varied collections of actively played instruments in the world. Resent works include a symphony with full choral settings of William Shakespeare’s friend Amelia Lanier, commissioned for the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park. He has performed with a wide range of musicians, including Philip Glass, Yoko Ono, Ornette Coleman, George Clinton, and Steve Reich. He composes and performs frequently on film soundtracks. Credits include composer on Sean Penn’s 2010 documentary, The Third Wave, and principle instrumental performer for Richard Horowitz’s score for Three Seasons (1999), which won both the Audience and Grand Jury awards at Sundance. Lanier’s paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe.
"Poetic and prophetic, this could be the most important book of the year. The knee-jerk notion that the net as it is being developed sets us free is turned on its head . . . Read this book and rise up against net regimentation!" -Iain Finlayson, The Times (London)
"... his argument will make intuitive sense to anyone concerned with questions of propriety, responsibility, and authenticity." -The New Yorker
Nicholas Thompson is the editor in chief of newyorker.com. Prior to that, he was a senior editor, where he edited and assigned feature stories. He is also a contributing editor at Bloomberg Television, a technology contributor at CNN International, and a co-founder of The Atavist, a software company and digital magazine. His book, “The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War,” was published in 2009 and hailed as “brilliant” by The Washington Post and “brimming with fascinating revelations” by The New York Times. The Washington Times said it “may be the most important political biography in recent memory.”
Prior to The New Yorker, Mr. Thompson was a senior editor at Wired, a senior editor at Legal Affairs and an editor at the Washington Monthly. He has written about politics, technology, and the law for numerous publications, and he is currently a senior fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He has appeared multiple times on every major cable and broadcast news network, he appears every Thursday morning to discuss technology on CNNI’s “News Stream,” and he writes weekly about technology for The New Yorker’s web site.