Machine Ghost

Gadget, pt. 2

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When reading Lanier’s manifesto, his unstructured writing style was the first matter that irked me.  Now, I’m not going to spend this review critiquing his lack of fluidity, but in retrospect, I wonder if we can view Lanier’s style as performative of one of his larger arguments—how we(’ll) attain information in a hive.  Because Lanier composed his manifesto in smaller sections, his argument often felt interrupted. For example in Chapter 2 (An Apocalypse of Self-Abdication), he uses subtitles on almost every page. As a reader, on the surface I didn’t find them effective for his larger argument because one could essentially begin at any of those sub-sections. One doesn’t have to read the whole manifesto, one could simply “jump into” the text at whatever section s/he felt compelled.  I don’t think it was purposeful, but Lanier’s style seemed to be performing his dislike of decontextualization, which is rather problematic in my opinion.  If he’s arguing that services like Google Books will allow readers/researchers/students to gather only the snippets of information they after instead of understanding the concept in context, then Lanier should not have structured his book in a similar fashion. (And really, how many of us have used an index for the same reason? I don’t find his example of e-books compelling).

Enough with my personal beef—on to the heart of the text. One of the questions posed in this forum asks, “what does it mean to be a non-person?” I find that questions quite intriguing, especially because of all the technology/digital media scholarship that has questioned this for ages.  Maybe we can validate the non-human in relation to the posthuman. Maybe validate is too positive, here—how about we at least begin to construct.  In How We Became Posthuman, Katherine Hayles suggests that the “we” of posthuman collectivity is a false “we”—it is still a large collection of “autonomous agents” acting together (6).  I don’t believe this collective “we” negates personhood, but instead celebrates its connection to the larger capital-P, People. It’s unfortunate that Lanier didn’t engage with scholarship in the humanities that have been questioning digital subjectivity for so long, and, I feel, much more effectively, critically, and thoughtfully than Lanier.  Examining a text like Hayles’ would have been an easy way to appeal and persuade many other readers (like myself!) outside of computer science as well as readers who are afraid of what collectivities offer.  So, what does it mean to be a non-person? I don’t think noosphere or singularity theories are suggesting a dichotomy between person and non-person.  The idea of a non-person is limited by personhood as we know it today, and not as collectives are fostering “personhood.”  “We” (all human beings) cannot be “non-person”—the noosphere presents the possibility to become “non-human” (which is likely different than posthuman) by uploading our consciousness, an event that I think frightens Lanier.

Okay, so that last sounded a bit too utopic, since we still have to wonder what our current collectivities offer.  Lanier repeatedly expressed his disappointment for the state of the “hive” noting that it has drifted far from the original intentions of digital collaboration. Overall, I have to say “yes” to the noosphere—I am constantly excited to have the opportunity to participate in collaborative spaces, and engage in and contribute to collective intelligence. (Although, maybe I was biased before I read Lanier because I truly was saying “yes” before.)  Finally, Lanier’s text was an interesting counterargument to much of the existing digital media scholarship, and while I have recommended it to many, I cannot say that I agree with much of what he puts forth.

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Written by kimlacey

February 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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