‘Everybody’s Brain Knows How to Run a Tail’: Glen Weyl Talks to Jaron Lanier About How to Live With Technology

Logic Magazine
Logic Magazine

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Jaron Lanier is a writer, musician, and pioneering computer scientist who helped create modern virtual reality. He is also the author of several books about technology, most recently Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. E. Glen Weyl is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, where he works on the intersection of technology and economics. He is also the co-author of Radical Markets.

Jaron and Glen are friends. So we asked them whether they could record their next Skype conversation and let us publish it. Fortunately, they said yes.

E. Glen Weyl (GW):

We spend a huge amount of time talking to each other over Skype. But one of the first things that I learned from you was how foolish it is to be satisfied with Skype, to assume that it offers any kind of substitute for being there in person with someone. I wonder if you could start us off by talking about technology’s failures, and why it’s important for us to be aware of them.

Jaron Lanier (JL):

Accepting any particular technology as being a given, as an inevitability, as beyond criticism, as just a part of the natural environment, means that technology has failed. Such a technology has failed to foster human engagement. It has failed to be integrated into human society in a constructive way.

To criticize technology is to love it. Technology is people getting better at doing things in the world — there’s really no need for a more elaborate definition. And so to criticize the technology — whether it’s Skype, or the way our cities are laid out or the way the English language is constructed — is not to hate technology. Rather, it’s to love technology by engaging with it.

GW:

It sounds like what you’re suggesting is that a “better” technology — a better Skype, for instance — isn’t actually better if it doesn’t provoke us to think critically about it.

JL:

The most successful technologies in history are what you might call living technologies. They engage the people who use them in an ongoing…

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