Written by Staff Writer by Ted Wilson, CNN
“If we don’t think before we act, then we limit ourselves to one-way information flows in which the information ends up in the hand of the protagonist,” says Jaron Lanier. “Today, we live in a metaverse of first-party information, where everything you experience as a human being is written or fabricated by others.”
A first-party information world is what I refer to as a “platform of everything.” Everything becomes defined as “first-party” because every citizen, every person, every page, every person, every smiley face, every happy face, every frowny face, every rave music sound from house party to success in that first-party universe of things.
Lanier (who moved to Estonia from the US in the early 90s) warns, “When we become silent about our ‘first-party’ things, our systems are going to exclude us.”
The best debates and discussions follow exactly this thread of speech. It doesn’t take long for me to register my disappointment that in 2017 some crucial issues aren’t able to be spoken about freely. It’s absolutely dismal to speak about the importance of equal access to information and the correct use of surveillance tools at the same time.
How fair and just can it be that “the person with all the information has a far stronger opinion than the person with nothing”? Or how even cruel can it be to use historical analysis to enforce a homogeneous reading of which political ideas are acceptable — or why discussing the question of mass-immigration in any of its aspects would be a good idea might not be.
The use of information was at the center of the widely complained about Facebook post by Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg that made Facebook an integral part of a “metaverse.” This capacious forum for “self-expression” not only includes news items, images, videos, political news or political rants — it also includes memes, photos, video, live streams, information, memes, photos, videos and more.
“As much as I want to tell you all about my love life,” Zuckerberg’s post read, “I’m worried about what it’s doing to our community. There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world right now. It’s a serious problem, and it needs to be addressed.”
When these statements are recognized as emblematic of the powerful influence of Facebook, it’s easy to begin to see the problem. There’s reason to suspect that the world is hurtling toward the end of human intelligence and this becomes all the more apparent in the extreme personalization that occurs through its manipulation mechanisms.
Going back to my philosophical roots, a metaphor can be made using the third person: Zuckerberg is writing the rules — from the “Metaverse” it’s up to the reader to “write” about. This differentiation between “content” and “covers” presents, at the very least, a discomfort with the very idea of privacy.
I am a different person from Mark Zuckerberg. His facts may be accurate and he may enjoy himself immensely, but I have no interest in his life, no cause to contribute to it, no part in his happiness. I do, however, want to contribute to mine, mine is my own, without having to analyze every single fact and reveal every nuance of my feelings.
Lanier also spoke on censorship, citing Singapore as an example of how controversial comments can be suppressed, leaving people feeling blocked. He identified this as a problem, but acknowledged that “This is quite different from your individual choices,” and he doesn’t recommend going against Facebook’s rules. He does, however, advise humans to “assert their freedom of speech even when it doesn’t come out right.”
Finally, Lanier makes mention of the “Logopia” phenomenon. The apparent belief that the world has a perfectly structured web of material, organization and goals is a characteristic to consider when looking at organized discourse, even if it presents itself in simplistic forms and has the appearance of a random, pointless obsession with existing in a “logic-driven” world. If you spent a lot of time working out your preference on graph theories and political ideologies as a teenager, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask: “Do we need to reduce ourselves to a logic-driven universe, deciding if everything is somehow missing, or creating new realities with a myriad of concepts?”
“You need to be able to destroy boundaries and not allow anything else to exist in the world as your narrative,” Lanier says. He believes that cutting off the “partners” we form and our “values,” which they may be shared with us as fellow citizens, is harmful to society. This of course leads us to the future of his upcoming book: “Virtual Reality For Dummies.”