THE WEB HASN’T BEEN DESIGNED TO DO ANYTHING. AND SO IT DOESN’T DO ANYTHING, MUCH LESS ANYTHINGSMART, CREATIVE, OR SUGGESTING AWARENESS.
Imagine, if you will, a Borg cube from Star Trek humming along through space, part of a fleet of such cubes, each with millions of drones participating in a spatially non-localized brain of billions.
Now imagine that this collective Borg brain has a headache. The camera zooms inside one of the cubes and we see the source of the problem: a dreadlocked alien has awakened, and he’s raging through the ship, ripping up the neural wiring that connects the Borg drones to one another. Suddenly disconnected from the collective, the drones are waking up and finding themselves for the first time.
Although this rabble-rousing nerve-cutter might sound like the actions of a Klingon, as the camera gets closer we realize it’s actually a human.
Lanier may be physically grounded on the Earth and not battling Borg, but he is battling a collective, trying to wake up somnolent drones. The collective in his sights is the Web. And the drones? Well, that’s you and me.
Although Lanier is more civil than your average Klingon on a righteous ransack, one senses (even without the “manifesto” tip-off) that just below the surface is an individual bent on a revolution.
In fact, what comes across most clearly in the book is Lanier’s distinct and unique individuality. He brims with novel ideas, from the origins of speech and music (he speculates that it connects to color signaling in cephalopods), to radical kinds of programming languages (without protocols), and to new ideas for virtual reality (e.g., altering our perceptions so that we experience life as billowy clouds). Although many of these ideas are not entirely crucial to his central thesis, they serve to illustrate that it is inindividuals, not collectives, where we find the lion’s share of creativity. These novel ideas also serve to convince the reader to trust Lanier’s intuitions about where creativity comes from.
And Lanier’s main thesis? It is that the Web is a creative bust.