Reporting Jon Keller
BOSTON (CBS) – Chances are you’ve never heard of Jaron Lanier, but you likely know his work. He was a pioneer in developing the technology of virtual reality, and helped develop a number of groundbreaking uses of the internet.
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But for the past few years, Lanier has been warning against the excessive emphasis being placed on the web as the vehicle of our society’s social and economic future, criticizing, for example, the concept of collective authorship of web content like you see in Wikipedia, where the value of individual contributions is subordinated to the goal of universal access.
“If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people [creating the content] and making ourselves into idiots,” he wrote.
And now, Lanier is going after two other pillars of web worship – the notion that online content should be, or, as many web-heads put it, “wants to be free,” and the concept of anonymous online commenting.
He calls the internet’s creation of an expectation that music should be free “a hopeless, stupid design of society… if you say we’re creating the information economy, except that we’re making information free, then what we’re saying is we’re destroying the economy.”
And he says the acceptance and promotion of anonymous online commenting is “scary…You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. We have economic fear combined with everybody joined together on these instant…social networks which are designed to create mass action…. It sounds to me like the prequel to potential social catastrophe.”
Maybe, maybe not.
The worst ideas in human history – like nuclear weapons – always seem like a good idea at the time.
So while there’s no doubt the web is here to stay, it’s worth at least thinking about the warnings of one of its most creative pioneers.
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