Who Owns the Future?
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: July 2013
Duration: 12 hours 5 minutes
Jaron Lanier is the prophet of Silicon Valley--the father of virtual reality and one of the most visionary thinkers about technology and culture of our time.
Today, you can’t buy a car, fill it up with gas, drill for oil, wear a prosthetic limb, undergo certain types of surgery, or play a game on the Xbox without benefiting from his inventions and insights. When Hollywood wants to envision the future, directors bring Jaron on set to tell them what it will look like.
When Knopf published his book You Are Not a Gadget, it received major attention and sold fifty thousand copies. That book was a critique of social media, and was mostly a synthesis of previous writings. Still, Michiko Kakutani named it one of her ten favorite books of the year. It was the cover of the New York Review of Books and featured widely. Jaron was named to the Time 100 and the New Yorker published a major profile of him.
This book, Who Owns the Future?, is much more ambitious and controversial. It’s about the effect network technology is having on our economy, and it connects the rise of digital networks (like Google and Facebook, but also hedge funds and mortgage lenders) over the past several years to the recession and decline of the middle class.
Here’s an example of how that works. Kodak, at the height of its power, employed 140,000 people and was worth 28 billion dollars. They even invented the first digital camera sensor. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography is Instagram, which was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars last year, when it employed only thirteen people.
Where did those 139,987 jobs go? And what happened to the wealth that those middle-class jobs created? This book is built to answer questions just like that. As technology flattens more and more industries, from media to medicine to manufacturing, we will face huge new challenges to our employment.
It’s absolutely essential that we figure out how our information economy can support a thriving middle class. And that’s where Jaron Lanier comes in. Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars because those thirteen people are so great. It’s worth that much because of the millions of users who contribute to their network, but don’t get paid for it. Networks need a great number of people to participate in them in order to generate value. But when they do, only a small number of people get paid, and that has the net effect of eroding the middle class--by concentrating wealth, while limiting overall economic growth.
This book proposes an alternative future in which each one of us is paid for what we do and share on the web. Everyone who lives a part of their lives online, or who works in a business that’s being affected by new technology, has a stake in this debate. As Lanier writes, "information is just people in disguise"—and our markets should be rewarding people in an information economy, rather than taking advantage of them.
Who Owns the Future? is hardheaded but hopeful, a new masterwork that will be revered for its humane insight into the effect technology has had on our culture and economy, and how we can win back our future.