Friday March 19th, 2010

A Nation of Little Teddy Bears

jaron-lanierMichiko Kakutani has written a wide-ranging piece about “the contentious issues of copyright, intellectual property and plagiarism.” For her foundational texts, she uses two recent books, both of which take “A Manifesto” as their subtitle. She begins with David Shields’ Reality Hunger (I’m working on a review of that one, but it might take a while to itemize all the ways it irritated me), and moves on to Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. I’m in a particularly cranky mood about the culture lately, so Kakutani’s depressing take appealed to me:

For his part Mr. Lanier says that because the Internet is a kind of “pseudoworld” without the qualities of a physical world, it encourages the Peter Pan fantasy of being an entitled child forever, without the responsibilities of adulthood. While this has the virtues of playfulness and optimism, he argues, it can also devolve into a Lord of the Flies-like nastiness, with lots of “bullying, voracious irritability and selfishness” — qualities enhanced, he says, by the anonymity, peer pressure and mob rule that thrive online.

Digital culture, he writes in You Are Not a Gadget, “is comprised of wave after wave of juvenilia,” with rooms of “M.I.T. Ph.D. engineers not seeking cancer cures or sources of safe drinking water for the underdeveloped world but schemes to send little digital pictures of teddy bears and dragons between adult members of social networks.”