Jaron Lanier holds many titles and boasts a litany of accomplishments that include virtual reality pioneer, optimistic futurist, musician, and computer scientist. In his latest book Who Owns the Future? Lanier offers a unique perspective on why the middle class is growing increasingly disenfranchised.
According to Lanier, the nature of middle class disenfranchisement is in large part due to the infringement of their online privacy. As they sign away the rights to their privacy in exchange for online access to a variety of social media platforms, they inadvertently make a small group of individuals extremely wealthy.
Everything you do online is tracked and recorded by various algorithms that gather data from user browsing histories and preferences, which help social media service providers tailor their ads to the specific interests of their users. Additionally, by tracking the collective choices large groups of users make online, called macro-choices, the companies that manage large databases that aggregate our decisions and information, which Lanier calls Siren Servers, can then sell these pooled sources of information to other companies seeking to better target their audience.
Although these practices are rampant and becoming ever sophisticated, there is hope. Lanier dedicates the latter part of his book to exploring the methods for overcoming this digital Leviathan. Aware that we aren’t all Luddites and society can no longer lay down the keyboard, Lanier suggests monetizing information on the internet in a more egalitarian manner via micro-payments. Imagine a Facebook where a like costs a penny, a comment a nickel, and every link ensures that the original creators see some kind of micro-payment.
Lanier’s book mixes scholarly analysis with a series of intriguing ideas on how to take back control of our virtual identity. Regardless of one’s political preference and predilection for social media, Who Owns The Future? begs the question tugging at the underbelly of western civilization –What, if anything, will we do in an increasingly digital world that is quickly advancing to reflect the science fiction of our youth?
Image credits: Lanier’s Head poster from Palo Alto JCC and photo of the book from Ray Kurzweil’s website