I have just read, ‘You Are Not a Gadget”, by Jaron Lanier. It is a polemic about how the various design features and philosophies of the internet and web 2.0 applications are locking us into behaviours that are damaging us spiritually, morally, culturally and financially.
The book contains some challenging ideas and led me to a shocking revelation. I am going to leave the challenging ideas for another day and stick to the shocking revelation:
I see people online who fail the Turing Test. Yes, I do know that that is the wrong way around.
As a bizarre result, a computer might now be able to finally pass the test, because many of our interactions are becoming so diluted and predictable that a computer could easily now match them.
(Click here if you like this, don’t worry about the infinite rainbow of human emotion, just like it and say something safe, here is a pick list I mashed up from old greetings cards, how terribly retro, I had that Tim Berners Lee in the back of my cab once)
The test was devised by Alan Turing to determine the effectiveness of Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmes. The idea is simply that if you can’t spot that you are in conversation with a computer programme, then we have successfully developed AI.
We have lowered the bar for what it takes to pass as a human.
Our identities are crushingly impoverished by poor online representations. Am I really even partially defined by the music I like, the school I went to and the books I have read? I see disappointingly few people using a tone I recognise as authentic to them.
Our relationships are diluted by the constraints of message length and their clumsy public nature. I use it, but consider the “like” button a form of emotional slavery. That true friendship is characterised by knowing and valuing what is weird about each other, I thought a wonderful observation in Jaron Lanier’s book.
That my reputation is being derived then trivially gamified through LinkedIn endorsements disgusts me.
While there is a risk we are herded and encouraged to be supine and safe, or anonymous and hostile, the good news is that despite some of the design constraints and behavioural pitfalls, we still have a choice about how we behave.
I see some great stuff too. This post came about from a cheerful debate with Twitter folk. I know you may disagree with me here. Please do. It is part of what makes us human.
The people I relate to most closely online have one thing in common, they are simply themselves.
I am going to continue to work around the constraints, spread thoughts over several tweets, flip between channels based on context and content, ponder responses for as long as I need to, try to avoid that endorphin driven, “now” habit and, most of all, be myself, including the weird bits.
I hope this post passes the Turing Test. Let me know what you really think, now or perhaps after few days thought.