It’s holiday time, and I have reduced significantly my blogging, reading RSS feeds, tweeting, mailing, etc
Time for hanging around, some biking, some good food, and… a good book. If you want to follow what I am reading, check-out my page on Goodreads.
For me, a good book is one that leaves you puzzled, that makes you think,
that re-calibrates your perspective,
that is a pleasant read, that has depth.
“You are not a gadget” by Jaron Larnier is such a book. I discovered it thanks to a tweet of my friend Paul, who reacted to one of my enthusiastic Singularity tweets. The title of this blog post “You have to be somebody before you can share yourself” is very early in the book, and captures its essence.
It’s a great read if you are in your over-enthusiasm mode about computationalism, the noosphere, the Singularity, web 2.0, the long tail, the hive mind, the global brain, crowdsourcing, collective intelligence and all the other buzzwords and trends and all the rest. It gives you some solid pushback and sound criticism.
I am not going to do a book review, but my experience of the book was like there were 3 stories interwoven:
- How technology is limiting our potential and who we are on-line. This of course resonated a lot with my work on Digital Identity.
- Our communication limitations. He has a great chapter on how cephalopods have the great ability to “morph” and how one could use “visual” communication and another dimension of communication, other than language. And how humans in virtual reality environments quickly adapt to a body with tentacles. Intriguing !
- The notion of “neoteny”: humans are born as fetuses in air, and our brain is being developed during childhood. Lanier compares this to a newborn horse that can stand on its own and already possesses almost all the skills of an adult horse. Humans – in modern civilizations – have an artificial, protected space called “the classroom, the extended womb”.
Neoteny opens a window to the world before our brains can be developed under the sole influence of instinct.
A similar concept related to neoteny – “generativity” – comes back in another great read Firms of Endearment: How World-class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose.
This is a book about
the pragmatic role of
love in business
It’s about the epochal change into the Age of Transcendence. The dictionary defines transcendence as a "state of excelling or surpassing or going beyond usual limits."
The second event is the aging of the population. For the first time in history, people 40 and older are the adult majority. This is driving deep systemic changes in the moral foundations of culture. Higher levels of psychological maturity mean greater influence on society of what Erik Erikson called "generativity"—the disposition of older people to help incoming generations prepare for their time of stewardship of the common good
The Firms of Endearment book in essence talks about a new form of capitalism that is not only focused on profit and shareholders’ value, but on value creation for all parties in a company’s stakeholders’ ecosystem.
Joran also has an opinion on capitalism when he says:
Visiting the offices of financial cloud engines (like high-tech hedge funds) feels like visiting the Googleplex. There are software engineers all around, but few of the sorts of topical experts and analysts who usually populate investment houses. These pioneers have brought capitalism into a new phase, and I don’t think it’s working… capitalism in a digital future will require a general acceptance of a social contract
He is also calling for “so-called AI techniques to create formal versions of certain complicated or innovative contracts that define financial instruments” and that setting standards for these could be facilitated by “a cooperative international body” that
would probably have specific requirements for the formal representation, but any individual application making use of it could be created by a government, a nongovernmental organization, an individual, a school, or a for-profit company. The formal transaction-representation format would be nonproprietary, but there would be a huge market for proprietary tools that make it useful. These tools would quickly become part of the standard practice of finance
What a great potential for my employer SWIFT ! We are indeed a full-blown cooperative international organization with our roots in financial services.
In essence, Jaron Laniers’ manifesto and rant is about “The deep meaning of personhood is being reduced by illusions of bits”.
That should make us reflect deeply on how we want to engage as human beings in an on-line world, how we define digital identity in the relative and the absolute, and be very vigilant that we don’t loose our potential in our technology enthusiasm.
For me, the prospect of an entirely different notion of communication is more thrilling than a construction like the Singularity. Any gadget, even a big one like the Singularity, gets boring after a while. But a deepening of meaning is the most intense potential kind of adventure available to us
Finally, I also found some consolation to deal with my 3/4 Life Crisis. The following quote always helps:
If you are young and childless, you can run around in a van to gigs, and you can promote those gigs online. You will make barely any money, but you can crash on couches and dine with fans you meet through the web. This is a good era for that kind of musical adventure. If I were in my twenties I would be doing it. But it is a youthiness career. Very few people can raise kids with that lifestyle. It’s treacherous in the long run, as youth fades.
My blog is my “adult” way of doing gigs online.