Many of the ideas in Jaron Lanier’s new book start off pretty familiar—at least, if you are active on social media. Yet in every chapter there is a principle so elegant, so neat, sometimes even so beautiful, that what is billed as straight polemic becomes something much more profound ... His most dispiriting observations are those about what social media does to politics—biased, 'not towards the left or right, but downwards.' If triggering emotions is the highest prize, and negative emotions are easier to trigger, how could social media not make you sad? ... I finished this stark but exuberant account not fearing for the future so much as amazed the world wasn’t already even worse.
It makes important arguments, but Lanier has pressed many of them several times before. While Lanier has shown a capacity for wit, this book is hokey ... There’s a laziness to his polemic: a lack of examples, arguments that unfold much too quickly to gather their full powers of persuasion, writing that chokes on excessive metaphor ... Whatever the flaws of this short manifesto, Lanier shows the tactical value of appealing to the conscience of the individual. In the face of his earnest argument, I felt a piercing shame about my own presence on Facebook. I heeded his plea and deleted my account.
One way of framing the problem would be to say that he [Lanier] thinks like an engineer, in that his argument is an explanation of how a particular system, social media, operates, and how it might be improved by tinkering with certain aspects of it. Which is to say that Ten Arguments is relentlessly focussed on the few bummer apples, without giving much serious consideration to the barrel ... There is a tendency toward overgeneralizing of this sort throughout the book ... What Lanier seems not to appreciate is that we keep firing up our timelines, scrolling downward through the linear abyss of utterances, in large part because of the ever-present possibility that we might read something that makes us howl with laughter. It is, granted, not a vision of a flourishing utopia, but it’s not nothing. Lanier is, to the very marrow of his bones, a Silicon Valley sage: his prose, despite its politely resistant stance, is a medley of ted talks and keynotes and takeaways. Reading his book, I kept wanting him to go deeper.
Although given to windiness, Lanier is an astute critic, able to see things others miss. But his analysis is distorted by a flawed assumption. He views the problems of social media as 'blessedly specific,' resulting from Facebook’s and Google’s reliance on personalized advertising to make money. By closing our social media accounts, he contends, we’ll give Silicon Valley an opportunity 'to improve itself'—to retool its business in a socially responsible way. That’s a cheery notion, but it’s naive to think that, if we just hit the reset button, Silicon Valley will reform itself and right its wrongs.
Lanier’s tone is often tongue-in-cheek and he occasionally comes across as glib. He writes that we should act like cats (independent-minded) on the internet rather than like obedient, unquestioning dogs. But his underlying message is serious. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the book is a timely reminder that even if we can’t bring ourselves to leave social media altogether, we should always think critically about how it works.
Jaron Lanier's Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now is cheeky ... Although given to windiness, Lanier is an astute critic, able to see things others miss. But his analysis is distorted by a flawed assumption ... it's naive to think that, if we just hit the reset button, Silicon Valley will reform itself and right its wrongs.
There are not many new facts in this slim volume, which sometimes reads like proposals for ten other books, minus meaty research. What Lanier does, though, so brilliantly is take well-worn concepts and present them, freshly, from the other end ... 'Fake people,' he writes, 'are a cultural denial of service attack': when fakery so overwhelms reality, the latter ceases to function. This is Lanier at his best, taking the language of the internet and turning it back on itself ... The only time he loses his footing is on politics, possibly because where it doesn’t intersect with tech he’s just not very interested ... These, though, are quibbles ... Best of all is its quiet insistence that social media is an addiction, much like any other.
Unfortunately, his short treatise is overridden with shallow political commentary (as when he refers to Trump as a victim of Twitter) and scant analysis of critical issues ... Baseless generalizations and vague platitudes undermine the author’s case, which is particularly unfortunate given his experience and expertise in the world he skewers.
In a book whose title says it all, technoprophet Lanier...weighs in against predatory technoprofit ... As we’re learning from the unfolding story of Cambridge Analytica, which just filed for bankruptcy, he’s got a point ... The experiment could be a useful one, though it will darken the hearts of the dark lords—a winning argument all its own.