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(Smithsonian Magazine)   Digital pioneer Jaron Lanier speaks out against the web. Specifically anonymity that can lead to "digital pogroms"   ( smithsonianmag.com) divider line
    More: Interesting, Jaron Lanier, W Hotel, Ford Foundation, museum curator, Maoists, TED Talks, Davos  
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5447 clicks; posted to Main » on 14 Jan 2013 at 6:43 PM (5 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2013-01-14 07:28:32 PM  
3 votes:
Interesting article, but old news.

If one defines civilization as learning to get along with neighbors, then the internet society is the opposite of that. In the past, if someone was a radical, militant worshiper of the Great Death God Borgox they'd be the only one in within five hundred miles. Eventually they'd have to leave the house, be around normal people, and eventually succumb to the pressure to at least pretend to be a normal person to the extent of not disrupting the whole of society.

But now, thanks to the internet, that same nutcase can go online and instantly link-up with every other whacko Borgox worshiper in the world. They'll create a Twitter feed, no a forum, no a website, no a movement. They'll rally together into a little online clump, isolate themselves from society and spend all day reaffirming their madness to each other & patting themselves on the back. And then one day one of them comes up with a plan, sends it to another five others, and those five go out and buy a bunch of fertilizer & a van.

There is the danger of an online society: It allows these cancerous elements to grow & fester through letting them create their own little bubbles, islands of selective evolution, that can & do indeed eventually grow large enough to become a threat to the rest of civilization. Look at Stormfront, or the Westboro Baptist Church, or even the Taliban. Gate groups love the internet because it lets them concentrate their otherwise hopelessly diffused numbers into a focal point. It lets them avoid the normalizing effects of being part of the larger society beyond their front doors and instead live on a diet of hate & narcissism. Eventually, bad things happen because of them.
Again, this is old news. All these groups - and their online presence - have been around for a long time. And frankly Mr.Lanier seems a little too wrapped up in his own little world himself to articulate this obvious issue clearly or succinctly. And he apparently suffers from this problem himself: "It explains, I think, why his father, a delightfully eccentric student of human nature, brought up his son in the New Mexico desert-far from civilization and its lynch mob potential." Isolating people from civilization isn't the solution, it's the problem. His own little bubble of "netziens" (is that even a real thing?) & musicians that has become his monkeysphere is no more in touch with the rest of reality than the hate groups, but fortunately they're generally non-violent types so we tend to just overlook them.
2013-01-14 07:05:47 PM  
3 votes:

Shostie: I don't know. People know each other on Facebook, yet they still act like cocks.  I don't think it anonymity on the internet matters.

As long as we're not face to face, we're still going to be bastards.

Bingo. It isn't the anonymity, it's the lack of immediate consequences. People will continue to be f*ckwads on the internet at least until someone invents a way to punch people in the dick over an internet connection.
2013-01-14 06:41:09 PM  
3 votes:
I don't know. People know each other on Facebook, yet they still act like cocks.  I don't think it anonymity on the internet matters.

As long as we're not face to face, we're still going to be bastards.
2013-01-15 02:19:45 AM  
2 votes:

Hector Remarkable: Indubitably: Indubitably: Hector Remarkable: He counts himself so wise. Yet, some of the most basic and essential wisdom of life - say, that of eating right and exercising regularly - seems to have slipped away from his arrogant grasp.

YTo spy?

What are you afraid of?


Grow up.

Yeah. Uh...,

to wonder what the hell Indubitably means?

I don't think anyone knows what he ever means.
2013-01-14 09:26:56 PM  
2 votes:
He makes a number of good observations.

There was a need for a revolution in music and other media distribution, but the revolutionaries are more interested in keeping their access to free media then they are in the well being of the industry and the benifits to the economy.

As others have pointed out, anonimity itself is not a problem. It is the lack of reciprocity that anonimity provides that causes grief. Imagine an online game world where you are annonymous but can only ever have one character and not change your screen name. People protect thier reputations because their are repercussions to their characters in game if they act like an idiot. Reciprocity does not need to be physical.

I think his observations on the economic affects of the free information revolution are meaningful, but much like an economist trying to explain how economic theory is nothing like balancing a checkbook the greater implications are lost on those expecting to have ideas spoon fed to them.
2013-01-14 07:25:56 PM  
2 votes:

Shostie: I don't know. People know each other on Facebook, yet they still act like cocks. I don't think it anonymity on the internet matters.

It's not. It's about zero negative consequences

People will always try to do what they feel they can get away. Doesn't matter if its social, sexual, financial, legal or political, whatever deviancy they covet, if they can act upon it with some degree of discretion and no consequences, they will usually do it.

/so Gabe's Greater Internet farkwad Theory is inaccurate. but the basis is sound.
2013-01-14 07:13:48 PM  
2 votes:
I like the anonymity. I don't like the mob rule. And I don't like the 4chan and Anonymous vigilante mob justice.

I also like free information. Though I probably fall on the side of artists when it comes to music, etc...

I see what he's getting at but I'm not sure we are going to get some kind of pogroms like he fears. Not the Fascist version or Commie version. More of a "lets get the weird person" kind. Not like, let's get all the Jews.
2013-01-14 06:45:15 PM  
2 votes:
The sad truth is that the internet is full of cats, and Lanier is a dog person.
2013-01-14 06:39:00 PM  
2 votes:
Interesting take on things, not sure what I think about it all.

/I sure like being able to look stuff up on a whim
2013-01-15 08:58:51 AM  
1 vote:
FTA: At last we come to politics, where I believe Lanier has been most farsighted-and which may be the deep source of his turning into a digital Le Carré figure. As far back as the turn of the century, he singled out one standout aspect of the new web culture-the acceptance, the welcoming of anonymous commenters on websites-as a danger to political discourse and the polity itself. At the time, this objection seemed a bit extreme. But he saw anonymity as a poison seed. The way it didn't hide, but, in fact, brandished the ugliness of human nature beneath the anonymous screen-name masks. An enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy, but an accretion of tribalism.

It's taken a while for this prophecy to come true, a while for this mode of communication to replace and degrade political conversation, to drive out any ambiguity. Or departure from the binary. But it slowly is turning us into a nation of hate-filled trolls.

I'd love to know what his alternative is. Cause I'm not really seeing how services that "force" people out of anonymity have succeeded in establishing a true one-to-one ratio between voice and identity, nor established a chain of consequence between them.

FTA: "This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal-like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant."

"Social lasers of cruelty?" I repeat.

"I just made that up," Lanier says. "Where everybody coheres into this cruelty beam....Look what we're setting up here in the world today. We have economic fear combined with everybody joined together on these instant twitchy social networks which are designed to create mass action. What does it sound like to you? It sounds to me like the prequel to potential social catastrophe. I'd rather take the risk of being wrong than not be talking about that."

Mob mentality isn't new, nor did anonymity create it. In fact, I don't really even particularly think it enables it. Take your many, many reported cases of "cyberbullying" (which really needs to drop the insipid trend of appending the "cyber-" prefix to anything that involves computers). They all happened on networks where everyone (supposedly) occupies and acts under their real name.

And this is yet another reason why I don't think "cyberbullying" requires a prefix to mark it as a different sort of phenomenon from bullying. Because it isn't a different sort of phenomenon. It isn't anonymity which enables or emboldens bullies. It's safety in numbers. It's always been about safety in numbers- the "majority popular" picking on the "minority" unpopular.

Bullying just made a sensible move to a more efficient milieu which gives you access to those numbers (and that safety/validation) more quickly. This sort of mob mentality is always going to be a problem, with or without anonymity to back it.

FTA: It's a haunting image of speechlessness. A pogrom is carried out by a "crowd," the true horrific embodiment of the purported "wisdom of the crowd." You could say it made Lanier even more determined not to remain mute. To speak out against the digital barbarism he regrets he helped create.

Sounds more like he's martyring himself in classic histrionic fashion, honestly. More efficient communication methods naturally improve the efficiency in which crowd-based activities operate.

This isn't a principle which excepts crowd-based activities we consider unsavory as a society- or even as an individual. Nor did Lanier "help create" this any more than any of the internet's other architects have.

Get off the silicon cross. We're short on solder here.
2013-01-14 10:37:28 PM  
1 vote:
Well, it's not surprising about half the posts in this thread (not made by a guy with an infinitive boner) serve as evidence of the mentality he was speaking against.

He makes a number of good observations about the antisocial tendencies anonymity encourages. The allusion he draws between crowd-sourced answers gathered by the google algorithm taking the work of others and utilizing it without recompense and hedge-fund derivative trading as it links to the mortgage crisis is clever and not off base. In the way they both take what is widely available and the result of a person's work and trade it without permission, consideration, or compensation to the person who made that capital/information possible.

Sure he's got some extreme hypothetical scenarios he wants to avoid, but he doesn't put them forth as a certainty. He even undercuts that in the interview.

But he's a fat guy who has unusual negative opinions about something you like and an unusual haircut.

fark him, right?
2013-01-14 10:25:55 PM  
1 vote:
Bunch of farkwads up in here.

1) The streamlining of digital distribution and the efficiencies of such are removing people from the equation. This means that any wealth generated, will get concentrated in the hands of the wealthy. He's correct - this efficiency is not bringing wealth to everyone, only a select few. That's more of a problem with our economic system than the internet however, it's just easily observable with information.

2) We certainly do need a way to hold people accountable to their words/actions on the internet. We've pretty much demonstrated that already with the numerous reports of cyber bullying and online extortion, sex scams, etc. The worst of these offenders get tracked down and prosecuted, but the truth is (and as other people have noted) people will try to get away with whatever they think they can, so long as there are no consequences. We need to have consequences for behavior otherwise society does fall apart. It's a valid point - I don't share his distopian fear however, I think that eventually we'll catch up in this space via laws. We already are (albiet slowly).

Anyway, these points and the others he brought up are all worth discussing. We are currently in the middle of a big revolution of human behavior due to this amazing invention and it should be apparent to everyone that we haven't quite caught up to it, or even fully understood the rammifications of this change and what it's going to do to us as a species.

Interesting stuff.
2013-01-14 10:14:53 PM  
1 vote:


To peot squared

Sorry for the thread jack.... Dude, you lost me..... Peot means: "Peot (Heb., 'corners'). The growth of hair by Jews in accordance with the command of Leviticus 19. 27. By the Talmudic period, it was interpreted to mean that some hair must be left between the back of the ears and the forehead, and for many Jews in the present the command is obeyed by taking care not to remove all the hair by the ear. Ḥasidim encourage the long twisting locks which mark them off from gentiles (and from other Jews), although there is no specific commandment for them."

In Hebrew it means literally corners, so corners squared would either be moving a little off your original track (a right turn then a left turn) or a complete 180 (2 right turns). HOLY CRAP!!!!! Are you saying this guy literally did a 180 from his original belief????

/end thread jack.
2013-01-14 09:54:30 PM  
1 vote:

Ishkur: Without the internet, these sad freaks would keep it to themselves or commit suicide.

And yet, here we all are.
2013-01-14 09:49:31 PM  
1 vote:
When I was young, the absolutely intractable, absolutely unsolvable problem was the "North South Dilemma". The vast majority of humanity was doomed to ever increasing dependency and increasing poverty by the concentration of wealth in the northern developed countries. Countries like India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, were doomed to increasing and eternal poverty.

Sorry this guy's friends in the US music industry had trouble with their companies going out of business.

The 400 MILLION people in China and the 200 MILLION people in India who have moved from deadly squalid poverty to middle-class life styles where starvation and plague are no longer the dominant concerns are probably really sorry about those guys too.
2013-01-14 09:00:15 PM  
1 vote:
So when he was young and idealistic he thought people would use the technology to create some utopian society. Now he's older and has learned that people basically suck.

Without consequences the crowd will always devolve to the lowest common denominator.
2013-01-14 08:49:25 PM  
1 vote:
Well, I thought it was an interesting perspective, even if it was extreme. It does seem like there's been an increasing mob mentality to the web. I'd be curious if, even on fark, there's been a rise in the amount of times that mods have had to delete personal contact information for someone mentioned in an article. I doubt they keep those statistics though.
2013-01-14 07:46:54 PM  
1 vote:

I_C_Weener: I like the anonymity. I don't like the mob rule. And I don't like the 4chan and Anonymous vigilante mob justice.

I also like free information. Though I probably fall on the side of artists when it comes to music, etc...

I see what he's getting at but I'm not sure we are going to get some kind of pogroms like he fears. Not the Fascist version or Commie version. More of a "lets get the weird person" kind. Not like, let's get all the Jews.

Weren't the Jews, the original "weird" people.
/tragic consequences always follow when people don't understand - we're ALL weird to someone.
2013-01-14 07:23:24 PM  
1 vote:

LordJiro: until someone invents a way to punch people in the dick over an internet connection.

Do you have a kickstarter for this?
2013-01-14 07:18:52 PM  
1 vote:
You are a sad, strange little man,
i1082.photobucket.comView Full Size

and you have my pity.

2013-01-14 07:17:56 PM  
1 vote:

skinink: I'm sorry but I really do need the Cliff Notes version of that article.

Very much this. After page one I still don't know what his reasons are or why I should continue reading.

For aspiring writers: give me the info up top and then tell me why I should care about the person espousing the information. I don't need to hear the life story of a guy (as written in roughly 800 words) before I know why I should care about his life story.
2013-01-14 07:17:15 PM  
1 vote:
Well, since Jaron Lanier weighed in on it, it's good enough for me. Shut down teh interwebs, everyone. You'll have to be happy with whatever you have in your porn collection already
2013-01-14 07:15:19 PM  
1 vote:

I hate Chevy: Hyperbole much?


Hyperboles are worse than Hitler.
2013-01-14 07:11:11 PM  
1 vote:
I confident this thread won't be part of the 'digital lynch mob' Lanier is speaking out against.
2013-01-14 06:53:36 PM  
1 vote:
Proof that spending too much time alone in a dark room will make you paranoid.
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