We Are Not Gadgets

I first heard of the book, You Are Not a Gadget, from a fellow librarian colleague in  my professional learning network (thanks Lane).  I don’t know where to begin to consolidate the ideas I encountered in this book into a quick blog post.  You can see the plethora of post-its sticking out the pages which are also bookmarked, underlined and highlighted.

by Jarom Lanier










Jaron Lanier eloquently- or should I say bluntly- points out that the digital revolution has glorified the “wisdom of the crowd” to the extent of making us believe the digital fragments we post about ourselves are top priority in the hierarchy of information.  As individuals, we are becoming fragments of information bits. See page 21 for tips on “things you can do to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others”.


The “wiki” trend of glorifying the crowd’s knowledge is propelling us toward becoming a “society with a single book” (p. 46). On the web, we jump from link to link, many of which are copied and pasted without any credit to the original source, as we cruise the net with a gluttonous appetite to intake what appeals to us and then spew it out to others, as though these stolen fragments can somehow define our individuality.


Participatory culture is a term that has become almost synonymous with democracy and who doesn’t love democracy? Personally, I work very well in groups and believe, as Vygotsky did, that we learn best in collaboration not in isolation.  I admire my co-workers and colleagues. In fact, I am often humbled by their talents, abilities and the genuine human kindness I witness from those around me.  What I admire, however, is the uniqueness of the individual and what each brings to the group.  Once again, I come face to face with opposites- which is more important- the group or the individual?  I believe it is both.


Lanier has challenged me to contemplate the balance between the “hive mind” of interconnectivity and the quest to actually think for myself. We are NOT our devices, although many people now feel vulnerable without them. (Come on, admit it- we all do!) The digital revolution has changed us more than we yet can understand.  (Isn’t the Apple store the busiest place you will see at the mall, even in hard economic times?) Perhaps people are afraid they will be left behind and will not be able to survive in the technological future without the latest gadget.  Lanier makes a great point by saying that the gadgets are “only useful because people have the magical ability to communicate meaning through them”.  Unfortunately, that personal meaning is often lost in the clutter of a million clamoring voices, all repeating each other or repeating what has been repeated and retweeted and reposted and repinned and mashed up into the one giant book we call the web.

Hey you cyborgs, time to reflect

I continue to come across the idea of cyborg anthropology and the fact the we are all now cyborgs, whether we realize it or not. Our technological tools have become an extension of ourselves. We each have two selves- a physical self and a digital self. Anthropologist Amber Case’s Ted Talk is a gentle (or perhaps abrupt but well worth watching to the end) reminder of the importance of reflection in our lives. Some of my best moments of reflection have taken place while hiking, particularly on a trail in some beautiful place (like Big Bend National Park or the Olympic National Rain Forest). After you get into the zone of relaxation…simply placing one foot in front of the other as you continuously inhale and exhale…you sometimes glimpse beyond yourself into infinity. How often do we get to do that as we multi-task, follow, tweet, post, and check our electronic gadgets in between responsibilities?

I am going to take some time to today to reflect and just breathe.

Forging through the forest of cyborgs

When I finished Sherry Turkle’s disturbing new book, Alone Together, I had a strange sensation that was hard to pinpoint in terms of an emotion. We all know the Information Age has changed us. And we all agree that it doesn’t feel quite right to see people glued to their smart phones during meals, while walking down the street, or just about anywhere. Turkle says, “Mobile technology has made each of us pausible (page 186).” Our conversations are interrupted by text messages and we shrug it off without taking offense. Through many examples, she illustrates that “we seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things (page 14).”

With our networked lives, we are always ON. We are led to believe that technology gives us more. But, Turkle claims, “moments of more may leave us with lives of less (page 178).” A generation of teenagers admits to be uncomfortable without their cell phones. Being connected has become the state of normalcy; yet, even though adolescents have always struggled with their sense of identity, the struggle with “online identity” has added an additional burden. One teenager points out the problem of creating a Facebook persona by saying that “it [self-revelation] loses meaning when it is broadcast as a profile (page 306).” He believes that when he reads what others post on Facebook, he is an “audience to their performance of cool.”

In Turkle’s words, the “experience of living full-time on the net” which has evolved in only a decade means that “we are all cyborgs now” (page 175).

When I closed the book (not literally- I actually turned off the e-reader), I felt this brave sensation of not giving in to fear. I pictured myself forging ahead into this new era carrying respect for the traditions of knowledge from past generations. The human spirit has been challenged by obstacles of every kind, yet there are those who continue on toward higher ideals. Will the novelty of gadgets and constant connection wear off? Will we be able to find a balance between the physical and virtual? The torch I carry through the forest of cyborgs is the idea that meaning and truth are more important that egocentric trivial matters. Those ideals have not changed and perhaps have always been overlooked by the masses.