The Bloodless Triumph of Google-ism: Slate’s Attempt to Marginalize Jaron Lanier

Just in case you were ever wondering what a fully realized internal objectification of a human might look like, read Michael Agger’s cliched review in Slate of Jaron Lanier’s new book, You Are Not a Gadget. (In a shining example of fact checking in the new journalism, make sure you read the several retractions and errata first, particularly if you’re not up on your Boswell.)

I don’t know who this Agger person is, but by the looks of him I would just bet that he’s not a guy who has ever humped a trap case up three flights of stairs or who understands the true cost of towels. Also, not a guy you want at your side when you are settling with a biker club owner with a sawed off trained at your manhood. (Also known as touring.)

According to Slate:

“There’s also the problem of the counterexample: What great artist has been left unrecognized by the Internet? Who hasn’t found a niche?”

Surely he jests.

And then there’s this:

Lanier, to his credit, is not a simple pessimist. He does propose a solution to the difficulty of how to compensate artists, artisans, and programmers in a digital era: a content database that would be run by some kind of government organization: “We should effectively keep only one copy of each cultural expression—as with a book or song—and pay the author of that expression a small, affordable amount whenever it’s accessed.” Again, not a bad concept, but a platonic idea that sounds great in theory. I don’t see the government opening an iTunes store anytime soon.”

Oh really? What do you call that standardless goo of bad metadata, the Google Books Settlement? YouTube’s opt-out database? Maybe not government owned, but government protected. At least so far (although not for long if the governments of the United States, Germany and France have anything to say about it). And then there is SNOCAP and some of the good EU efforts at an orphan works database system.

Here’s an excerpt that I find particularly chilling:

“[Lanier’s] critique is ultimately just a particular brand of snobbery. Lanier is a Romantic snob. He believes in individual genius and creativity, whether it’s Steve Jobs driving a company to create the iPhone or a girl in a basement composing a song on an unusual musical instrument.”

We have finally come down to someone being criticized for believing in individual genius and creativity. Is there another kind? This guy would likely find great comfort in those who think that the Berne Convention’s emphasis on individual author’s rights is due to an obsessive insecurity about originality.

God save us from those who believe in individual genius and creativity.

It is typical of non-music business critics of the music business that they devote no time or research to the subject, yet are willing to shoot from the hip in criticizing those who have. It is clear that Slate did not talk to one musician or give any particular thought to researching the issues prior to launching their attack on Jaron Lanier’s book. In fact, the review itself is a prime example of the very advertising driven shoddyness of The Man 2.0 in the Gray Flannel Suit that is in our future.

A wonderful Lanier summary of the problem that is uncritically ignored by Slate: “Funding [culture] with advertising is like connecting a tube from your butt to your mouth to get nutrition. The body can eat itself for a while, but will eventually die.”

Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

See also: The Man 2.0 in the Gray Flannel Suit

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