Local-Global Flip

or, "The Lanier Effect"

"If you aspire to use computer network power to become a global force through shaping the world instead of acting as a local player in an unfathomably large environment, when you make that global flip, you can no longer play the game of advantaging the design of the world to yourself and expect it to be sustainable. The great difficulty of becoming powerful and getting close to a computer network is: Can people learn to forego the temptations, the heroin-like rewards of being able to reform the world to your own advantage in order to instead make something sustainable?"

A Conversation with Jaron Lanier [8.29.11]

John Brockman

We used to think that information is power and that the personal computer enabled lives. But, according to Jaron Lanier, things changed about ten years ago. He cites Apple, Google, and Walmart as some of the reasons.

In a freewheeling hour-long conversation, Lanier touches on, and goes beyond the themes he launched in his influential 2006 Edge essay "Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism." What he terms "The Local-Global Flip" might be better expressed as "The Lanier Effect".

… "The Apple idea is that instead of the personal computer model where people own their own information, and everybody can be a creator as well as a consumer, we’re moving towards this iPad, iPhone model where it’s not as adequate for media creation as the real media creation tools, and even though you can become a seller over the network, you have to pass through Apple’s gate to accept what you do, and your chances of doing well are very small, and it’s not a person to person thing, it’s a business through a hub, through Apple to others, and it doesn’t create a middle class, it creates a new kind of upper class. … Google has done something that might even be more destructive of the middle class, which is they’ve said, "Well, since Moore’s law makes computation really cheap, let’s just give away the computation, but keep the data." And that’s a disaster.

… If we enter into the kind of world that Google likes, the world that Google wants, it’s a world where information is copied so much on the Internet that nobody knows where it came from anymore, so there can’t be any rights of authorship. However, you need a big search engine to even figure out what it is or find it. They want a lot of chaos that they can have an ability to undo. … when you have copying on a network, you throw out information because you lose the provenance, and then you need a search engine to figure it out again. That’s part of why Google can exist. Ah, the perversity of it all just gets to me.

… What Wal-Mart recognized is that information is power, and by using network information, you could consolidate extraordinary power, and so have information about what could be made where, when, what could be moved where, when, who would buy what, when for how much? By coalescing all of that, and reducing the unknowns, they were able to globalize their point of view so they were no longer a local player, but they essentially became their own market, and that’s what information can do. The use of networks can turn you from a local player in a larger system into your own global system.

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