The October 29, 2018 Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture speaker, Jaron Lanier, is featured in the Santa Cruz Good Times ahead of the signature THI event. Lanier’s lecture, How the Internet Failed and How to Recreate It, will kick off a year of programming dedicated to Data and Democracy.
In the article, Lanier offers a peek of the vision he will bring to UC Santa Cruz and articulates the need for humanistic thinking to address our contemporary relationship with social media. As Wallace Baine writes, “Lanier claims that social media destroys exactly that humanist connective tissue that great art works to create: empathy. Social-media bubbles reinforce tribalism and weaken the impulse to commonality, allowing people to become both victimizers and victims.”
Lanier also details the potential dangers of social media and the internet to destroy “societal and economic norms.” Lanier’s warning affirms the need to engage in sustained, interdisciplinary conversation about Data and Democracy and think beyond the economic and technological components of online platforms. Join THI throughout the year to consider what it means to be human as technologies advance and transform the world around us.
Lanier, author of ‘Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,’ will present the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture ‘ on Monday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the UC Santa Cruz Music Recital Hall. The event is sold out. Watch live at thi.ucsc.edu/livestream.
October 17, 2018
Wallace Baine, “Jaron Lanier to Santa Cruz: Quit Social Media Now,” Good Times
Like Jacob Marley in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the moldering ghost of psychologist B.F. Skinner haunts the pages of Jaron Lanier’s new self-explanatory manifesto Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.
Today, most people might only vaguely recognize Skinner’s name from Psych 101 classes. But in the 1960s and ’70s, Skinner and his work were front and center in the national conversation. Promoting a theory that came to be known as “behavior modification,” Skinner considered humans easily programmable animals, vulnerable to all kinds of manipulation and coercion—mostly beyond conscious reasoning—through a regiment of rewards and punishments.
During the Nixon era, Skinner’s ideas were wielded by the left in sometimes apocalyptic critiques of television and the advertising industry, and by the right against Soviet-style communism: Were people being hypnotized on a mass scale by malevolent outside forces into behaving against their self-interest?
Skinner would not recognize the language that we regularly use today to describe contemporary mass communications—trolling, gaslighting, fake news, hate-tweeting, hashtags. But the methods and the outcomes of the social-media age, at least according to Lanier, are straight out of Skinner, recast in the terms of modern cognitive brain science. In his well-known provocative and blunt style, Lanier gets right to the point in Ten Arguments’ chapter headings: “Social Media is Making You Into an Asshole,” “Social Media is Making You Unhappy,” “Social Media Hates Your Soul.”
As Lanier points out in his book, Skinner’s theories resulted in a lot of cheesy mind-control themes in movies and pop culture. But it’s only now—a couple of generations later, after the rise of internet culture—that mass manipulation and granular surveillance has become a practical business model. These practices on the part of social-media companies and other internet giants are, he writes, “unethical, dangerous, cruel and inhumane.”
On Monday, Oct. 29, Lanier comes to UC Santa Cruz as part of the Peggy Downes Baskin Ethics Lecture Series, co-sponsored by UCSC’s Humanities Institute and Bookshop Santa Cruz, with a message that cannot be better articulated than the title of his book. He’s making the case that the social media world robs people of free will, distorts relationships, creates destructive addictions, destroys political compromise and progress, and alters the functioning of the human mind, particularly young and developing minds. The most efficacious way out of this emerging hellscape is to delete your social media accounts. All of them. Permanently. Right now.
Lanier is not exactly a voice in the wilderness in his critique of the world that Facebook and Twitter have given us. Since the inflection point of the 2016 election, the voices of protest against online surveillance and manipulation have grown louder and more varied.