"A Book Is Not Just a Particular File. It's Connected with Personhood"

Salon has an interesting interview up with Jaron Lanier, author of Who Owns the Future, in which he takes issue with the notion that technology is opening up a new utopia for everyone, especially creative people — a notion which is thoroughly refuted by just about every statistic we have on rising income inequality, I should add. 

As an author, I was struck by this insightful observation:

Near the end of the book you talk about the changes in the book business. It doesn’t sound pretty. What’s going on there and what have you learned as someone who has now written several books?

I don’t hate anything about e-books or e-book readers or tablets. There’s a lot of discussion about that, and I think it’s misplaced. The problem I have is whether we believe in the book itself.

To me a book is not just a particular file. It’s connected with personhood. Books are really, really hard to write. They represent a kind of a summit of grappling with what one really has to say. And what I’m concerned with is when Silicon Valley looks at books, they often think of them as really differently as just data points that you can mush together. They’re divorcing books from their role in personhood.

I’m quite concerned that in the future someone might not know what author they’re reading. You see that with music. You would think in the information age it would be the easiest thing to know what you’re listening to. That you could look up instantly the music upon hearing it so you know what you’re listening to, but in truth it’s hard to get to those services.

I was in a cafe this morning where I heard some stuff I was interested in, and nobody could figure out. It was Spotify or one of these … so they knew what stream they were getting, but they didn’t know what music it was. Then it changed to other music, and they didn’t know what that was. And I tried to use one of the services that determines what music you’re listening to, but it was a noisy place and that didn’t work. So what’s supposed to be an open information system serves to obscure the source of the musician. It serves as a closed information system. It actually loses the information.

I don't know about you, but I have that experience with music constantly now. I hear something I like and ask, "Who was that?" And even with Soundhound and all these digital tools, I never find out. And then I forget about the music.