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The Internet Editorial

Jaron Lanier on the Semi-Closed Internet 248

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the not-quite-as-gory-as-i-was-hoping dept.
Will Wilkinson writes "Jaron Lanier's recent essay, The Gory Antigora: Illusions of Capitalism and Computers, kicks off a discussion of 'Internet Liberation: Alive or Dead?' at the Cato Institute's new blogazine, Cato Unbound. In Lanier's essay today, find out how the 'brittleness' of software has kept the Internet from realizing its potential as 'a cross between Adam Smith and Albert Einstein; the Invisible Hand accelerating toward the speed of light.' Also, find out why, upon meeting Richard Stallman, Lanier's reaction was: 'An open version of UNIX! Yuk!'"
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Jaron Lanier on the Semi-Closed Internet

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  • Bunk. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RevDobbs (313888) * on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:50PM (#14428834) Homepage
    The unfortunate Internet has only one peer when it comes to obfuscation due to an inundation of excessive punditry,

    That peer is the very sentance you are writing, correct?

    This entire essay is bunk; every paragraph the author brings up a point that can quickly be refuted. He overgeneralizes issues and adds a big dollup of emotional appeal to make his points. And frankly, his points are just misguided, if not straight out wrong.

    • Re:Bunk. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:53PM (#14428857) Homepage Journal
      I agree. The author holds on to old theories about marketplaces and interactivity and completely forgets that the web and instant global communications are opening up new ways to do previously unthought of tasks.

      To point at the ways previous successes worked and try to see them in the future is a bad idea. The reality is that we won't know what is succesful in the future because we don't know what previously unlinked services or products might work better together.

      Now my reply is as confusing as the article, sheesh.
      • Re:Bunk. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ironsides (739422) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:11PM (#14429032) Homepage Journal
        Now my reply is as confusing as the article, sheesh.

        Let me try to deconfuse your theory.

        1) We don't know what will hapen with the internet.
        2) Pointing to what happened with other older technologies does not always apply to newer technologies.
        3) We don't have new ideas yet to revolutionize the world or we would have tried them already.
        4) We're still learning what we can do with this thing, partly we're seeing what we can do online that we can already do offline, partly we're trying to see what we can do that no one has ever done before.
        • Re:Bunk. (Score:2, Insightful)

          by dada21 (163177) *
          Whoa, smart!

          Actually, you're spot on. I do believe that the Internet is the best form of anarchocapitalism that we've ever seen and I hope to see it instill some faith in voluntary cooperation (ie, capitalism) over time.

          Everyone I know who has done business online has been screwed once. They had no real recourse through legal means, and in the end the guy who ripped people off went out of business. The great thing about the de-regulated economy online is that the costs are lower, so in the rare occasion
          • Re:Bunk. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Deskpoet (215561) on Monday January 09, 2006 @04:57PM (#14430560) Homepage Journal
            Actually, you're spot on. I do believe that the Internet is the best form of anarchocapitalism that we've ever seen and I hope to see it instill some faith in voluntary cooperation (ie, capitalism) over time.

            I'm sorry for picking a nit here, but there is no such thing as "anarchocapitalism" (that is, outside the fevered dreams of the David Freidman cult; see why anarchocapitalism is an oxymoron here [infoshop.org]), and expecting technology designed to control information to deliver a society without hierarchy is farcical. Of course, that is not the point for the "anarchocapitalist", is it? All they are after is immediate economic freedom for themselves, a kind of supply-side, trickle-down freedom machine whose obvious flaws will be visited on those who are unfortunate enough to not be in on the ground floor when this wonderful world manifests itself from the struggles of all the oppressed millionaires.

            Any "freedom" predicated on technology is simply another form of control: if you can turn it off, or point it at someone, then someone, in a play to exert control, inevitably will. Capitalism is inherently hierarchal, and the Internet is, as well. To expect either to change into a truly anarchic state is simply overshooting any real probability; you might as well expect a fish to evolve directly into an antelope.

      • Right on.

        We of like mind should form a Coalition. Make more noise!
      • Re:Bunk. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Paradise Pete (33184)
        opening up new ways to do previously unthought of tasks.

        If they were previously unthought of, how could there have been an old way to do them?

        • Haha, jackass.

          Thanks though, you're right. I appreciate the editing :) Worthy of a good laugh at myself at least once a day.
    • Re:Bunk. (Score:2, Funny)

      by kfg (145172)
      This entire essay is bunk. . .

      You misspelled "llshit."

      KFG
    • Re:Bunk. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This entire essay is bunk; every paragraph the author brings up a point that can quickly be refuted.

      Interesting then, that you've done exactly that for exactly none of the points in question. Actually refuting the points would be adding content and having a discussion. Instead of doing that, you're basically flinging poo. I wonder if this sort of behavior is what was meant by "excessive punditry." Ironic.
      • Re:Bunk. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by blamanj (253811)
        A couple of obvious technical ones:

        Files have become too fundamental to reconsider.
        In fact, there are systems (I believe the IBM z/OS is one, not sure) that don't have file systems, they are instead database-oriented or stream-oriented.

        [Unix] is based on the premise that people should interact with computers through a "command line."
        Unix is based on the idea that programs should do one thing well, and that it should be easy to wire them together to get the benefit of multiple tools. The fact that the im
        • Re:Bunk. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by timeOday (582209) on Monday January 09, 2006 @03:38PM (#14429845)
          Well, you've missed the point of his command-line argument. He considers the familiar GUI to be a command-line interface:
          First the person does something, usually either by typing or clicking with a pointing device. And then, after an unspecified period of time, the computer does something, and then the cycle is repeated.
          (I think he should call it the "command-based" interface instead of the "command-line" interface though.)

          Anyways, his complaint seems that command-based interfaces treat interaction as a linear sequence of discrete events, with actions normally initiated by the user. You might say they're "turn-based," whereas people don't normally interact with the world that way.

          Now, he might or might not have a point. I'd like to hear him propose an alternative.

          If there's anything wrong with the article, it's that any single paragraph would yeild more interesting discussion than the whole thing together.

          • If I had a mod point in my pocket right now, I'd boost the above "interesting" or "insightful" for the last sentence, and then the second to last. Although I don't entirely agree.

            Reading through TFA, I had two simultaneous lines of thought. The surface level one was "this is bunk" for many of the points Jaron was making... a lot of specifics I disagree with or which I can disprove.

            The deeper one was "ok, there are other points which can be made to support the point he's trying to make here, though I'm not
        • Although most of the article seems silly and/or vague and meaningless, he has a good point that we get used to a particular way of using computers, and then can't imagine any other way of doing things.

          There are definitely cases where it seems awkward to have to organize things into files; for example, a database and a filesystem do many of the same things, so it's not exactly elegant that a database has to be implemented as a bunch of binary or text files.

          There are also cases where it's awkward that fil

    • by RandoX (828285) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:24PM (#14429159)
      Cato is infamous [std.com] for questionable research that politicians have used to support some ridiculous claims. Nothing different from them here.
      • by j-turkey (187775) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:51PM (#14429418) Homepage
        Cato is infamous for questionable research that politicians have used to support some ridiculous claims. Nothing different from them here.

        I don't think that the Cato institute has ever professed to not be a Libertarian think tank. They've always been pretty up front with their political stance. Some of their research is actually quite intriguing. Other research appears to just be Libertarian banter. It's up to the reader to place judgement on individual articles...however, it would be unwise to dismiss everything that the Cato institute has ever written (regardless of your political leanings). The link you posted tends to rely on citing inflammatory political topics and does not appear to be much more than a political soundboard. Why not take things at face value rather than first assessing whether or not the writer shares your political convictions?

        • When the salesman on TV tells you that it's a once in a life time
          oppportunity to buy his slightly used automobile, do you rush
          down to his auto lot to check it out ?

          The act of talking about issue A and not issue B can be deliberate.
          Some people want to talk about bringing democracy to the people,
          but don't want to talk about the cost (# of people killed in the process).

          It's simple common sense to take into account the speaker's
          views and motivations in order to understand what IS said and
          what ISN'T being said.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The Cato institute is one of the more conservitive think tank. From what I understand, they will publish stuff like this so that the NeoCons in Congress can quote them as a reliable source.
      This is the same loose affiliation that will scream about "liberal media" until their noise drowns out any other signal. And the Cato Institute is the "section" that sets up the "information" that is going to be sited.

      My big concern here is that this is the beginning of the hard core lock down of the internet. Their typ

    • Re:Bunk. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ironsides (739422)
      I'd like to add one more thing to help debunk this guy.

      The Internet and the Web would be fabulous Antigoras if they were privately owned.

      Here he proves he knows nothing about the internet, or at least the internet in the US. The net is almost completely (if not completely) privately owned in the US.
    • Re:Bunk. (Score:2, Funny)

      by aqfire (885545)
      The unfortunate Internet has only one peer when it comes to obfuscation due to an inundation of excessive punditry,

      The very same peer that resets my connection every 5 minutes.

      DAMN YOU PEER!!!

    • by sterno (16320)
      My favorite quote:

      The all or nothing quality of digital code (as we currently know how to make it) trickles down into all systems we build with it.

      What he seems to ignore is that there's a very good reason things have evolved the way they did. He whines about the command line, but given the power of systems at the time, there was no way to do some intuitive graphical interface. Would he have preferred punch cards?

      Arguably the openness he seems to crave is a direct cause for the brittleness he decries. It
  • Nothing to see here (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eli Gottlieb (917758) <eligottlieb@nOSpam.gmail.com> on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:54PM (#14428874) Homepage Journal
    There isn't much in TFA except a nice point about how we should be able to "browse" video games in the way we browse through books or newspapers. Which does, in fact, make me wonder why stores don't allow you to rent a copy of a game, bring it back and decide whether or not to buy it. I've been doing that for years, but never with one store.
    • "There isn't much in TFA except a nice point about how we should be able to "browse" video games in the way we browse through books or newspapers"

      I've seen plenty of stores with demo systems set up so you can "browse" a game. Sure, not all stores have it set up, or always operable, but that's because there is expensive (relatively) hardware needed to be able to browse games -- unlike books or magazines.
    • by Ironsides (739422) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:07PM (#14428990) Homepage Journal
      There isn't much in TFA except a nice point about how we should be able to "browse" video games in the way we browse through books or newspapers. Which does, in fact, make me wonder why stores don't allow you to rent a copy of a game, bring it back and decide whether or not to buy it. I've been doing that for years, but never with one store.

      Because people will either:
      1) Copy the video game at home and return it saying they don't want it, thus having the game without paying for it.
      2) Play the game, beat it, return it, having "used" all the content without paying for it.

      For the most part, I understand #1 is the main reason stores no longer allow returning opened games. As for trying out the games, isn't that what playable Demos are for? Such as the Unreal Tournament 2K4 demo?
      • Demos are for playing all the reasons you should buy the game. "Browsing" should let you see everything about a game.

        Furthermore, #2 on that list nobody's fault but the game industry. I can sit in Barnes and Noble and read an entire book theoretically, but in practice there is usually too much content to "use" it all in one short time period.

        #1 is perfectly true, though. If it can be bootlegged, it will. Still, in that case the store makes money off of the rental, right?
        • #1 is perfectly true, though. If it can be bootlegged, it will. Still, in that case the store makes money off of the rental, right?

          Gah, I missed the part about renting the game. But yeah, rent with the option to buy would be one buisness plan. Only problem with that I can see is with those of us that don't want to buy a previously "used" game (think scratched disks). But then again, they're more likely to buy the game outright anyway without trying it out first. The copying is still the main issue, t
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Copyright law prohibits the rental of software, generally speaking, unless the software is specifically for video game machines (i.e. not for a general-purpose computer) or cannot be odinarily copied (e.g. a hardwarre game cartridge). See 17 USC 109(b). (This section was originally written to stop "record rental", but was later expanded to software.)

      Nonprofit lending by libraries, however, is exempted from this prohibition.
  • Puff piece... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by webword (82711) on Monday January 09, 2006 @01:59PM (#14428913) Homepage
    Not much new here, especially if you look at this from a history of technology [wikipedia.org] perspective. The same comments about "lock in" (a.k.a., capitalism is evil) apply to telephones, electricity, and the water wheel. Bottom line: Humans continue to get stuff done whether there is "lock in" or not.

  • by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:01PM (#14428927) Journal
    I'm confused.

    Dumbasses didn't put clicky links on their image. Why not? So that you can dig, dig, dig and find the long winded articles?

    Maybe they haven't figured out the internet as well as they think. Blogs with 5000 word essays tend to be a pain in my ass. I'm barely literate. How much do they expect slitscan to read?
  • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:01PM (#14428934)
    Jaron Lanier... Cato Institute... 'blogazine'... Richard Stallman

    After that summary, I can't decide whether I need to take an aspirin or a shower first.
    • >>Jaron Lanier... Cato Institute... 'blogazine'... Richard Stallman
      >After that summary, I can't decide whether I need to take an aspirin or a shower first.

      Agreed. A strange confluence. Makes me want to
          1) Grow my hair
          2) put on a tie
          3) write in my diary
          4) fight "The Man!"
      in roughly that order.
  • by sczimme (603413) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:05PM (#14428970)

    From the summary:

    at the Cato Institute's new blogazine

    Alarm bells are ringing, Willie:

    Fluff topic? Check.

    A grandiosely named organization? Check

    A newly-coined, silly, and far-too-hip word modeled after another newly-coined, silly, and far-too-hip word? Check.

    Also, find out why, upon meeting Richard Stallman, Lanier's reaction was: 'An open version of UNIX! Yuk!'

    This part is probably true, although without the 'An open version of UNIX!' part.

  • by LightningBolt! (664763) <lightningboltlightningbolt&yahoo,com> on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:05PM (#14428976) Homepage
    But I just got a prescription for "blogazine", a topical ointment which alleviates muscle pain.
  • by wintermute42 (710554) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:05PM (#14428977) Homepage

    I remember Jaron Lanier from the 1990s when he gained some fame from his pronouncements about virtual reality. Perhaps I'm ignorant of his real accomplishments, but Lanier, like Paris Hilton, seems to be famous as a result of self promotion, rather than anything he has achieved. In the world of pundits it appears that it is quite possible to create yourself from thin air (or perhaps hot air). Unless I'm simply ignorant of Lanier's accomplishments, why should we listen to anything he has to say?

    • Jaron Lanier does have something of a cult image, but he once did real technical work. He did build the first immersive virtual reality system with a head-mounted display and input gloves. I tried it, back in the mid-80s, and met Jaron. The system took two SGI machines to drive it, and the lag was terrible. No collision detection. You couldn't do much more than look around. But it did work.

      Eventually the lag and cost problems were solved. But that wasn't the real problem. Friends of mine at Autodesk

    • by monopole (44023) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:35PM (#14429271)
      Jaron Lanier is the Vanilla Ice of the tech world all the way down to the dreadlocks.

      Having ludicrously overhyped virtual reality, and his contribution to it, through the late '80s and early '90s he ran his startup into the ground with the VCs collecting all the IP. His predictions of ubiquitous VR were completely wrong while completely missing the rise of the Web and mobile computing.

      My favorite example of of his utterly clueless pursuit of hype occured when his company was circling the drain. He announced that we could not let the millitary get their hands on VR technology and use it for destructive purposes! Of course, everything that Lainer had hyped as his new technology had been pioneered by the military at least a decade ago.

      I nearly ran into him (literally) at SIGGRAPH two years ago. He had the air of a lesser rock star that had seriously gone to seed, I quickly backed off, got upwind, and made tracks to the other side of the exhibition hall.
    • He's one of the guys that ignorant authors, mostly of gloss pieces about Cyberspace and the Information Super Highway, penned as some sort of prophet or pioneer back when VR was the tech du jour, and the Internet was a gigantic probability.

      Maybe that went to his head?

    • jason on the whole is a pretty smart guy, and was instrumental in helping sell the dream of virtual reality. it's too bad too, because personally i don't think it was so much the lack of real world virtual reality applications that ended up tanking the whole VR scene (although technology and implmentation were way behind concept), it was that somehow goggled-and-gloved-freaky-white-guy-with-dreadloc k s jason lanier became the poster child of VR. that image of jason with the glove and the goggles propped on
    • Unless I'm simply ignorant of Lanier's accomplishments, why should we listen to anything he has to say?

      Maybe I'm just strange, but I tend to care more about people's ideas than their accomplishments. Of course you should exercise some skepticism about whether they are really qualified to make some statements, and so on, but whether they worked at company X or company Y or have how many degrees (the usual bio stuff), usually tells you very little about the value of what they say.

      [Jaron] Lanier, like Paris H
  • snipe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aachrisg (899192) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:07PM (#14428992)
    "Also, find out why, upon meeting Richard Stallman, Lanier's reaction was: 'An open version of UNIX! Yuk!'" Richard Stallman has spent decades creating software used by millions of people. Jaron Lanier has created ummm...what again?
  • Translation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Slashcrap (869349) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:11PM (#14429023)
    The unfortunate Internet has only one peer when it comes to obfuscation due to an inundation of excessive punditry, and that peer is religion.

    Translation - I've got nothing very interesting to say, but just look at the words I'm saying it with!!! Ain't I hip?

    I'd be more scathing if it weren't for a nagging suspicion that the author is just taking the piss.
  • Jaron's Title (Score:3, Informative)

    by pHatidic (163975) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:13PM (#14429050)
    The Gory Antigora

    For those who don't know, this is what is known as a Chiasmus. That is, a sound pattern of ABBA. Other famous examples include, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" and "Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you."

    The reason I point this out is that of all the literary devices, the Chiasmus is probably both the coolest and also the most difficult to come up with. So props to Jaron for this one.

    • Oh, but you know the rest.
    • Re:Jaron's Title (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kadin2048 (468275)
      There are a couple of cool things in the article. Not particularly interesting things, and I'm not sure whether they really hold any water, intellectually, upon any sort of lengthy consideration, but I think people are giving it a bit of a kneekjerk response here on /.

      He makes an interesting point about the idea of files and how entrenched that idea is. I would take this further and say that the whole idea of the desktop metaphor is very entrenched, although I don't think I'd go so far as to say that we'll
    • You mean like, "In America, you watch television. In Russia, television watches you!!!!!!1111eleven"?
  • Ack (Score:4, Funny)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:15PM (#14429068) Journal
    Oh good god, they've managed to find a word even more annoying than blogosphere: blogozine :/
  • by RealProgrammer (723725) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:16PM (#14429086) Homepage Journal
    From TFA's thesis paragraph:
    Are ideas like virtual citizenship beyond the nation-state, untraceable electronic currency, and the consciousness expanding powers of radical interconnectivity defunct? Is there untapped revolutionary power waiting to be unleashed?
    The Internet levels the playing field for those who have access to it. A search bar, a blog, and ebay are all you need to find out almost anything, tell the world your take on it, or operate a business. And with so many sources of information, voices, and people selling things it is impossible for a monopoly to exist in any one of those areas.

    We aren't to the point of virtual citizenship, but we may be in the middle of a trend toward borderless loyalty. People are becoming less loyal to the nation-state and more loyal to ideas and movements (religions, software models, companies, professions). I hope that the trend doesn't result in a single world government before the individual borderless movements get powerful enough to keep one in check.

    Untraceable electronic currency doesn't have any chance: the people issuing the currency want to know where it is. It's enough that numbers are inherently abstract, though. It will always be necessary to launder your funds if you want their movement kept discrete.

    As far as the conciousness expansion of free information goes, that too is the wrong question. (Some) people will always choose to be blissfully ignorant about (some) things, and you can't force them to learn. The network makes it easy to find information, but it's always going to be more like fishing than a floodlight. People have to want the information you have.

    In general, it's too soon for Utopia but the world is getting newer all the time.

    • We aren't to the point of virtual citizenship, but we may be in the middle of a trend toward borderless loyalty. People are becoming less loyal to the nation-state and more loyal to ideas and movements (religions, software models, companies, professions). I hope that the trend doesn't result in a single world government before the individual borderless movements get powerful enough to keep one in check.

      Boy does that ever remind me of the 'phyles' from Stephenson's Diamond Age. [wikipedia.org]

      In fact, here is a bullet

  • My god! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jachim69 (125669)
    He has a terminal case of verbal diarrhea!
  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:24PM (#14429164) Homepage
    Yes, the article is full of bunk in every paragraph and then somewhere in it he claims some of it anyway is a farce. If you refer to his bio, there's a clue in there.

    "Phenotropics," concerns rejecting traditional protocol-based approaches in favor of statistical and pattern-recognition techniques to bind software components together in order to improve large scale reliability.

    The whole "software is brittle" agenda is cleary his own.

    SLIGHTLY OT
    I was watching a remake of "the music man" with my daughter yesterday and his whole "software is brittle" agenda reminds me of how the main character runs around the small town talking very nonsensically about how the new billiards hall is going to corrupt the citizens. Of course the citizens love controversy, so it becomes a "social problem." The main character has the solution, buy musical equipment from him. Now, if only Jaron would sing he can remake the Music Man... Again!
    • The whole "software is brittle" agenda is cleary his own.

      Yeah, so?

      It's true. A small random change generally breaks it. Also, it is infexible, and unchanged software doesn't deal well with changed data or changed requirements.

      It's very unlike life or DNA. Life handles small, random changes. Most of the time they don't affect it. Sometimes they hurt it. Sometimes they improve it.

      This pliability and flexibity is the polar opposite of software.

      Lanier is looking for (and promoting) ways to make software

    • The whole "software is brittle" agenda is cleary his own.

      Generally it's a lot easier for people to write about subjects that they are interestested in, and on opinions they hold. Why the surprise?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:27PM (#14429194)
    Lanier's claim to fame is that he "invented" virtual reality. or something like that. His real fame comes from being a huge fat guy with white boy dreads who has an unfounded reputation for being a "luminary". He cons people into paying him to write articles, speak, "conceptualize", and keeps the repuation going for more cons.

    I worked alongside him at Time Inc. New Media, back in the Pathfnder days. He kept on proposing one project after another that simply couldn't be done - the technology didn't exist. I called them "Flying Car Projects" - sounds good, but creating a Flying Car is tough once you start dealing with logistics of fueling, licensing, training, etc. etc.

    His biggest "idea" was called GigaJam, where we'd have millions of surfers hit virtual keys, somehow turning that into music, and streaming it back to them. In realtime. That'd be difficult to do today, but totally impossible back in 1996. Moreover, I'm not sure that there would have been much of a point to devote resources to something like that. To a user, that would have been fun for about 2 minutes.

    Rumor was that he was boinking one of the head honchos at TINM, which is likely how he got the job. He was likely getting paid an assload of money to do nothing but bother people with his silly notions. After a year, he had contributed NOTHING. Not one of his projects was ever adopted in any fashion. And I heard that he had difficulty using a Macintosh to do things like, say, copy files.

    So here's a guy that has fed (and rather overfed) himself on being a technology pundit, who doesn't understand the first thing about technology. Plus he's fat and smelly. So take his opinions with a huge chunk of salt.

    All the above opinion, rumor, innuendo :)
  • Better yet, what makes this man's unsupported opinions with which I strongly disagree worthy of note?

    I've seen more coherent and well thought-out writing from my teenage son. This guy starts right off admitting that he's one of the pundits whose opinions I should almost discard out of hand; I still haven't figured out why I didn't stop reading right there. Senility, perhaps; oh, well.

    I found the blog to be quite annoying. Shame he put his name on it or I'd consider having him arrested.


  • I've had it. I'm through with this whole Internet thing. Limitless porn and amazon coupon codes are no longer worth it. I'm going back to writing checks, using stamps, and gaming using my console.

    The first real annoyance was "boxen". Sure, it's pretty gay, but I can live with the occasional geek using it. (Actually, the first annoyance I remember was the green card spam [wired.com], but that's going back a bit far). Then came "google" as a verb. Such nonsense, but trivial. The rise of the "blog" is easy to ign
  • Why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Why is a right-wing propaganda machine like the Cato Institute being given a forum here? At least be honest and put it in the politics forum.
    • Why is a left-wing astroturfer like LukePieStalker being given a forum here? Let's be forthright and send him over to Kuro5hin.
  • by prgrmr (568806) on Monday January 09, 2006 @02:44PM (#14429355) Journal
    Every computer user spends astonishingly huge and increasing amounts of time updating software patches, visiting help desks, and performing other frustratingly tedious, ubiquitous tasks

    Define huge. Hundreds of hours? Double-digit percentage of all time spent using the computer? He doesn't say, and I doubt it's close to either metric for all but the most inept of users. For the average person *any* amount of time spent doing *any* one of these tasks is, in their opinion, too much. Time spent doing basic maintenance is one of the most overstated stats thrown around.

    The biggest point he comes close to touching but then completely misses is with the language analogy. The informational content of language is almost entirely context sensative. For example, I can make the statement "I'm blue", and without context, you don't know if I'm refering to the color of the clothes I'm wearing, my emotional disposition, me political affiliation, if I'm pretending to be a cartoon dog while playing with my kids, or any other reference for which the word "blue" might apply.

    Langauge has the the immediate context of the conversation in which it is occuring, and the ultimate context of the physical world. What he misses is that not only does computer software have to be precise, it has to supply it's own virtual context; i.e. your web browser exists in the virtual context of the network, which connects it to an application which exists in a vitual context of a combination of, for example, a java environment on top of a database on top of an operating system. All the underlying layers provide a context for the next layer above in which to exist and interact. And we had to create every single layer from scratch!

    Lanier then makes the usual eglatarian conceit with the statement "Only culture is rich enough to fund the Antigora." The Internet is its own culture, which both incorportates and yet transends mutiple, different national, tribal, and social cultures. Lanier and all the other Internet pundits need to recognize that, get the hell over it, and move on.
  • Everyone seems to be condemning what he says pretty quickly which sort of proves his point about punditry and religion. Not to say I agree with him, I think his problem with the "command line" is completely silly and arbitrary, he doesn't like it, but that doesnt mean its not efficient, it is if you know how to use it and furthermore it increases productivity over GUI apps if you reach a certain level of aptitude with it.

    However I digress, and would like to add that he does make some good points: 1) Files

  • Against files (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday January 09, 2006 @03:03PM (#14429524) Homepage
    There's an argument against "files" as the basis of an operating system. The most successful movement in that direction was Tandem's operating system, Guardian. The bottom-level storage system in the classic Tandem world was a relational database, not "files". All database operations were atomic and recoverable, and the database was duplicated across multiple disks and computers. Tandem machines were all clusters, decades before other companies figured out how to do clustered systems. Business systems built on Tandem's hardware and software could be, and were, able to run for years, sometimes decades, without failure. Machines in the cluster could be fail and be replaced without a shutdown. This worked for real transactions where updates mattered, not just for stateless operations like web page serving. Many banks and stock markets still run Tandem systems for that reliability.

    If you needed a "text file" in the Tandem world, it was treated as a big object (a BLOB) in the database, and handled as a unit. THis seems wierd, but it allowed program development on Tandem machines. Storing a file was, of course, an atomic operation; you never had a truncated file.

    Apple's "resource fork" was a step in the right direction, but the implementation of updates in the classic MacOS was so unreliable that it was hopeless as a data-storage mechanism. Apple backed off from the resource fork when they went to a UNIX-type file system after the NeXT acquisition. Now it's making a comeback in a minor way.

    Early visions of Microsoft's Longhorn seemed to be moving in that direction, but Microsoft couldn't bring it off.

    UNIX/Linux has terrible file reliability semantics. Locking is an afterthought. File transactions aren't atomic. (Even lock file creation isn't atomic if the the file system is on NFS.) Nobody understands two-phase commit, the technique that keeps your bank account from being debited twice if the ATM loses power during a transaction. There have been attempts to fix these problems (see UCLA Locus), but they never caught on.

    The most likely company to fix this problem is Google. Google's own machines are full of databases of text, not "files". In a sense, we're all using a system that's not file-based - we just don't see it.

    • I thought that part of the essay was interesting, also.

      I wasn't aware of this Tandem system, I'll have to look into it. I wonder what other non-file-based filesystems there were out there (would it be right to even call such a thing a filesystem?). I've never heard of one, although I have heard of the filesystem-as-a-database idea. The concept being that rather than UNIX's "everything is a file" concept, you'd have a world where "everything is a database entry." I'm not sure how this would work for I/O, and
    • The problem is that databases and other non-file data stores are more brittle than files. The more complexity there is in the metadata, the easier it is to lose information, and the more you're locked in to one specific form of metadata.

      And databases came first. back in the 60s and even well into the 70s, a "file" was seen as a column in a table, or a table, in a database. As databases became more powerful, data stores tried to follow... you had RMS on DEC operating systems, "typed" data sets and files, systems like Pick, Apple's "resource forks", and Be's BeFS. No matter how the data's stored, eventually anything more than a shopping list (oh, yes, there are very complex shopping lists: address books, customer databases, and lots and lots of indexes into collections of flat files like Harvest and Spotlight and Google) becomes a flat block of text with embedded links to other blocks of text.

      Whether those links are "see chapter 10" or "#include stdio.h" or "import io"... those links are not links to databases, they're links to files.

      ---

      The idea that an unstructured block of data was the default was a breakthrough. The idea that a command line interface could be relatively terse and simple so that mere humans could learn to use it, that was a breakthrough too. UNIX cut through an enormous amount of user interface trash and laid bare what was, for the end of the '60s, at least as dramatic an improvement in UI design as GUIs were for the '70s. It's a linguistic interface, not a gestural one, but the first linguistic interface that provided concurrency (through the & background scheme, then through shell layers and job control) and the complete OPPOSITE of the normal "user submits a command, user waits for a response" that every other system in the world used.

      I implemented a UNIX shell with explicit backgrounding on RSX-11 and showed it to my boss, and he was astonished. Even though RSX has an ability to hit return and get a new prompt at any time, so you already have the ability to "interrupt" a program and do something else, he'd never used that other than to treat that MCR prompt as an "I'm still busy" message. But being able to take something that was going to take a long time and throw it off into the background under his control was great.

      Given the hardware limitations of the time, I submit that the UNIX shell and the UNIX plain-text-file pipes-and-filters job-control environment is close to the very best user interface that could be developed. It's the "tabbed browser" of the command line world. Alas, X-Windows came along and people stopped really using and understanding the shell, and X11's high-latency message based interface became the standard for the UNIX world.

      It's really X11, a non-UNIX-like window system developed for UNIX and VMS at MIT in the '80s, that Lanier should be complaining about. Because UNIX itself doesn't suffer from the flaws that he's attributing to it. UNIX is small, tight, fast, responsive, and concurrent, a UNIX shell is a team of willing slaves that does WHAT you want WHEN you want it, and you NEVER have to wait for them unless you choose to.

      ---

      File systems with UNIX semantics, by the way, work well. That's the problem with NFS. NFS is *not* a UNIX file system, and its semantics make it a huge nightmare for applications developed on REAL UNIX file systems. It was a hack-job designed to make it possible to implement a reasonably fast and efficient file system in the kernel on a 68000-based Sun workstation in the '80s. It should have been turfed long since and again IT'S NOT UNIX, IT'S NOT UNIX FAULT.

      ---

      For structured data, databases are great. Using a file system for database operations was a result of UNIX coming from an era before there was a really common way to talk about relational operations linguistically. Bad as SQL is, at least it gives us a framework to deal with the problem. But for hierarchical randomly interrelated data the filesystem model works well.

      Google is an index, it's not the data itself. The data that gives google its value is in a file system.
    • I'm not sure I see what your argument is exactly. You say we can build (unreliable) files on top of (reliable) databases, and (reliable) databases on top of (unreliable) files, and you think the former method is better for some reason. But you neglect that reliability has a cost. When performance is an issue and reliability is not, building files on top of a database is counterproductive. And that's the strength of Unix, flexibility, not files. Unix can be pared down to the bare essentials, while a (ir
  • by maynard (3337) <j.maynard.gelina ... GERcom minus cat> on Monday January 09, 2006 @03:14PM (#14429619) Journal
    I think the most serious problem with Lanier's logic is that in arguing for the 'antigora' he uses utopic examples of capitalism and technology that ignore the difference between necessary goods and value added products. In his discussion of Walmart as a semigora, for example, he states:

    "[...]a person making a marginal income at the periphery of one of the Antigoras can survive, because the efficiencies make survival cheap. It's 2025 in Cambodia, for instance, and you only make the equivalent of a buck a day, without health insurance, but the local Wal-Mart is cheaper every day and you can get a robot-designed robot to cut out your cancer for a quarter, so who cares?"


    And as for a Luddite revolution:

    "The super-rich who own the Antigoras become so fabulously wealthy that in the context of changing biomedical and other technologies they effectively become a new species. Perhaps they become the immortals, or they merge with their machines. Unlike the Wells story, though, the lumpenproletariat do not revolt because their cost of living has retreated faster than their wages. From their local perspective they are doing better and better, even as the gap between them and the rich is growing at an accelerating rate."


    So robots build vast volumes of cheap goods and thus the value of a dollar relative to the cost of goods declines to the point where even the poor can afford automated health care. Or new computers, or HDTVs, and other technology. Except it ignores the stagnant and high cost of necessary goods: energy, food and shelter being the most obvious examples. Even assuming automated food production - robots ploughing the fields - there is only so much land. Maybe building housing will be cheap with robots, but we'll still need to heat or cool it depending on the climate. Providing these basic necessities cannot be automated away because they rely on fixed and limited resources. The best we can do increase the efficiency of utilization, or find a radical and unknown new method for creation.

    But - unlike slashdot conventional wisdom in this forum - I thought the essay was well written and highly contemplative. A good read. Thanks Jaron!
    • I think the biggest issue I take with Lanier's Luddite Revolution is that it doesn't consider human nature. Even if the proletriat's cost of living retreated more quickly than their income, so that their standard of living went up, it still would have a destabilizing effect on society if there is no clear path up the societal ladder.

      American society is maintained, in part anyway, because there is a widespread perception that it is possible for a person to be a 'self-made man.' That is, no matter how poor or unskilled or stupid or whatever you are, it is possible -- however unlikely -- for you to own a 3-bedroom house and drive a Ford and have a wife and kids. And although we are becoming more cynical by the day and many of us would say that we don't believe in the 'american dream nonsense,' people act as though they are attempting to realize that dream all the time.

      Also, there is a self-fulling prophecy at work here. When someone does manage to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and fullfill the self-made-person fantasy, they normally receive a certain amount of notoriety for it (at least in extreme cases). This publicity helps to reinforce the idea that such a climb up the social ladder is possible, and keeps people at the bottom at work every day.

      If you were -- perhaps through germline genetic engineering or biological/technological fusion -- to create an unbridgeable chasm between the 'haves' and 'have nots,' so that it was no longer possible for a low-class person to even imagine that they might one day be able to join the ranks of the well-to-do, you would remove a lot of of the reason why people at the bottom of society go to work every morning. It would destabilize society, and could easily result either in a revolution, or in the upper-class being required to use force in order to constantly suppress the threat of one.

      The fact that they can buy a refrigerator or a big-screen TV isn't going to keep people from strapping blocks of C4 and nails to their chests, when they know that there are people in society that have riches -- vastly prolonged lives, for instance -- that they can barely dream about and will never have. There is a strong human tendency to despise anyone who has something that you cannot get, and which we keep in check only by collectively believing in the notion that anyone can achieve anything if they really try. If we made that notion -- fallacious as it may be -- completely implausible, we'd really be in trouble.
      • "There is a strong human tendency to despise anyone who has something that you cannot get, and which we keep in check only by collectively believing in the notion that anyone can achieve anything if they really try. If we made that notion -- fallacious as it may be -- completely implausible, we'd really be in trouble."

        Interesting point, though in counterargument there have been plenty of societies which value strict social class hierarchies over class fluidity, from India, China, and Europe. One might argue

  • by eno2001 (527078) on Monday January 09, 2006 @03:14PM (#14429625) Homepage Journal
    ...just a few days ago. I remember the promise of the virtual world back in the late 80s and early 90s. Whatever happened to the neo-hippy, VR enhanced, smart drug world that I was promised almost 20 years ago???
  • I clicked on the "reply essay by ESR" link, and I got a scary picture (as all pictures are) of ESR, and a short bio on him. But not his reply. That website sucks, regardless of the content.
  • 35 years on drugs and I could write like that too :-)

    Actually its more like ADHD. Jaron has so many idea pouring out that the next invades before he can finish with the current one. Some of the ideas are very interesting.
  • Dislikes UNIX? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday January 09, 2006 @04:45PM (#14430429) Homepage Journal
    As it happens, I dislike UNIX and its kin because it is based on the premise that people should interact with computers through a "command line." First the person does something, usually either by typing or clicking with a pointing device. And then, after an unspecified period of time, the computer does something, and then the cycle is repeated. That is how the Web works, and how everything works these days, because everything is based on those damned Linux servers. Even video games, which have a gloss of continuous movement, are based on an underlying logic that reflects the command line.

    He seems to be extending the command line concept to GUI and hypertext interfaces, which is fine for me, but I dont see him raising any genuinely new UI concepts apart from touching on Virtual Reality.

    I wish he would, because we do need new ideas. Basically he seems to be saying that everything is a dialog at the moment (commands and responses). Well OK but anything we develop is going to go that way in any event.

  • Internet pundits have been a rather self-satisfied and well-paid class for over a decade and a half

    Yeah, he should know, given that punditry is all Lanier does.
  • by idlake (850372) on Monday January 09, 2006 @05:20PM (#14430788)
    Jaron vision is about as stale as civil war cookies left in a damp basement: the computer science community has been abuzz for several years now with notions of "organic computing" and "autonomic computing", and even those are fads that reflect an obsession with biologically inspired computer science that goes back half a century.

    Of course, little has come of it so far: as it turns out, merely applying ideas of biology to computer science does not lead to robust systems. And non-biologists tend to overestimate how good biology actually is--biological systems have high failure rates and lots of trouble spots.

    What I can't figure out is whether people like Jaron are simply deluding themselves into thinking that they have come up with a novel vision, or whether they actively scour the world for on-going trends and deliberately plan a strategy to make it appears that it is "their" vision.

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