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The Madness of Crowds and an Internet Delusion


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Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier was an early proponent of the Internet's open culture. He examines the downsides in his new book "You Are Not a Gadget."

Credit: CBS Interactive

An early advocate of the Internet's culture of openness, computer scientist Jaron Lanier has written a new book in which he reconsiders that view and takes a more negative position. In "You Are Not a Gadget," Lanier warns that the Web culture sets up inherent "hive thinking" that leads to vicious group dynamics in social media and pedestrian collaborations.

"The basic idea . . . is that authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind," he writes. "Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising." Lanier proposes a rethinking of Web ideology, the amendment of its software architecture, and the introduction of advances such as a universal micropayment system.

Meanwhile, University of Texas at Dallas professor Stan Liebowitz favors the enforcement of stiff penalties against Web pirates. He says that people will continue to steal digital content as long as the benefits of piracy exceed the costs. Liebowitz expects the TV and publishing industries to be harmed similarly to how the music industry has been hurt by the ability of consumers to make perfect copies and distribute them.

Lanier advocates for the use of copy protection for copyrighted content, and dismisses arguments that such technology can be broken by hackers. He notes, for example, that any lock on a car or a home can be broken, yet few people do so.

From The New York Times
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