Posted by tracey on:
Last night I went to a lecture by Jaron Lanier at UCSB. I've seen him speak before and was interested to hear him talk about his book "You Are Not A Gadget" which is a collection of some of his more pessimistic writing. As someone who engages with technology on a regular basis I was not sure I would like what he had to say, but knew it would be food for thought regardless.
Walking out with a musical instrument case, Jaron immediately disarmed my initial preconceptions. Then, after playing the mouth organ (from Laos, if I'm not mistaken), he demonstrated how 'computer-like' the instrument is, with switches that you turn off and on to make it work. Aha, now I remembered, these connections are exactly why I was there -- to hear something smart, profound, and engaged. Yes.
Jaron Lanier, best known as a technologist, is also a great humanist and really gets that while technology is amazing and has so much untapped potential, it's the culture and humanity that gives it meaning and makes it valuable. While he can take a pessimistic view about current developments in social media and current models of 'free' content and service. He also sees that we have a say, people, all of us, can make that different, better, and ensure that our technology serves humanity's needs. As I was taught by my programmer father, computers can be great tools, but if you put garbage in you get garbage out. They are not a subsitute for human thought and ingenuity.
I was especially gratified that he used music and dance to explain how things work. These aren't special extracurrilcular interests, but central to understanding the workings of computers and economics. When asked how you express a math equation as an avatar, Jaron replied "you dance it." Of course!
Finally, the idea that you can be critical about something you love and that you should always be open to new ideas, fresh directions is true for art, technology and pretty much everything else. Thanks to UCSB, College of Creative Studies, and Arts & Lectures for bringing this talk to the Santa Barbara community.*
*the lecture was free of charge, A&L occasionally offers these lectures and screenings so be sure and take advantage if you can! https://artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu/index.aspx