Facebook Kills Human Specialness

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"If you are only a reflector of information, are you really there?" asks inventor, musician, and Microsoft Research Architect Jaron Lanier in a provocative argument titled The End of Human Specialness. Apparently, he suggests, you are not.

As in his recent New York Times article, The Church of Robotics, there's a lot to unpack in this mini-essay. Namely, that the acceptance of a "nerd religion" centered on "antihuman" software such as Facebook and Wikipedia has eroded individuality, shifting "the role of each human... from being a 'special' entity to being a component of an emerging global computer." The gist of Lanier's argument seems to be that the rise of a single, collective vision of reality has eroded the notion of personhood. He explains:

Decay in the belief in self is driven not by technology, but by the culture of technologists, especially the recent designs of antihuman software like Facebook, which almost everyone is suddenly living their lives through. Such designs suggest that information is a free-standing substance, independent of human experience or perspective.

But there is hope! A new, post-Facebook generation is emerging:

There is right now a lot of talk about whether to believe in God or not, but I suspect that religious arguments are gradually incorporating coded debates about whether to even believe in people anymore....

...Only a few years ago, to challenge the supremacy of the new nerd religion was to invite scorn from most undergraduates. This is no longer so. A post-Facebook generation is appearing, and its members are questioning the legacy of their predecessors.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.