I have to admit, I love Wikipedia. I love the idea that everyone can be an expert on something, ANYTHING. I love the idea that we could all be interacting with the premier thinkers on a topic by editing the same article. And I love the thought of maybe writing a Wikipedia article myself one day, on a topic that no one else has thought to write about. Jaron Lanier does not think the same way I do. Reading further into his book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” his views about the hive mentality become clear. We all need to STOP being little worker bees, and start branching out on our own. The collective effort for projects like Wikipedia and Linux are keeping us trapped, according to Lanier, and keeping us from truly open-source opportunities, which are new technologies no one has even thought up yet.
I have to disagree with him here, and somehow, this puts me on the same page as Jane McGonagall, which I never saw coming. The crowd CAN accomplish a lot of great things, and it is MORE limiting to discount the “hive” than to consider ourselves limited by the collective world we all operate in, which is how Lanier thinks. Who remembers referencing Encyclopedia Britannica for an elementary school presentation? NOT the online version, the actual book. I do! The articles were short, hard to read, and didn’t give the reader any further references on the subject. This is the work of thinkers outside the hive, working independently. The hive created Wikipedia, which can have incredibly detailed entries, links users to more articles and websites on their topics of interests, and YES Mr. Lanier, is a product of the evil “hive.” We can create and accomplish great things when we work together which far outweighs the bad or worthless products of the hive.
As an artist, Lanier returns to digital music frequently over the course of his book. He knows that the future is looking grim for artists online, given the idea that we all expect to get our culture for free. As much as I love music and books and movies, I have to admit I am one of those people. As much as I respect Fleetwood Mac and their music, I would still rather download their songs for free than go to the trouble of paying for it on iTunes. As much as I would like to support my independent bookstore, I can probably find that book for a lit class on Project Gutenberg. And sorry movie industry, but pirated DVDs and streaming sites have you beat by a MILE. Lanier notices a plateauing of music in the past two decades a lack of any new style from the late 1990s-early 2010s. And he’s right! Rock bands are still making rock, Britney Spears is still auto tuned, Dave Grohl switched from drums to guitar, but his musical aesthetic hit a plateau once he started the Foo Fighters. I would argue that much of our culture is hitting the same plateau- movies are all remakes or sequels nowadays (WHO thought a Footloose remake was a good idea?? WHO??!?!). From this perspective, we are seeing a cheapening of culture, so therefore why should we pay for it? It’s time for artists to take more pride in their work and make it WORTH demanding money for. NOT through a record label or giant media conglomerate, but through person-to-person sales and interactions. The internet is set up perfectly for this kind of economy, Lanier says, and I agree that more should be done in the creative industries to make this a reality.