Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality

Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality

The father of virtual reality explains its dazzling possibilities by reflecting on his own lifelong relationship with technology.Bridging the gap between tech mania and the experience of being inside the human body, Jaron Lanier has written a three-pronged adventure into "virtual reality," by exposing its ability to illuminate and amplify our understanding of our species....

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Title:Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality
Author:Jaron Lanier
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Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality Reviews

  • Sam Tornio

    A little bit of every sort of book in here.

  • Trish

    The ideas in this book are so refreshing, thrilling, amusing, enlightening, and sad that they had me eagerly looking forward to another session with it whenever I got a chance. I found myself fearing what was to come as I read the final chapters. If I say I wish it had turned out differently, it wouldn’t make much difference. I am just so relieved & reassured that such people exist. We share a sensibility. I suppose such people forever be shunted aside by more talky types, louder but not mor

    The ideas in this book are so refreshing, thrilling, amusing, enlightening, and sad that they had me eagerly looking forward to another session with it whenever I got a chance. I found myself fearing what was to come as I read the final chapters. If I say I wish it had turned out differently, it wouldn’t make much difference. I am just so relieved & reassured that such people exist. We share a sensibility. I suppose such people forever be shunted aside by more talky types, louder but not more capable. Anyway, this kind of talent shares a bounty that accrues to all of us.

    Everyone knows Lanier was exceptional for his ideas about Virtual Reality. He created, with others, an industry through the force of his imagination. What many may not recognize was that amid the multiple dimensions that made his work so special was his insistence on keeping the humanity—the imperfection, the uncertainty…the godliness, if you will—central in any technological project. It turns out that slightly less capable people could grasp the technology but not the humanity in his work, the humanity being the harder part by orders of magnitude.

    It was amusing, hearing such a bright light discuss ‘the scene’ that surrounded his spectacular ideas and work in the 1980s and ‘90s, the people who contributed, the people who brought their wonder and their needs. He gives readers some concept of what VR is, how complicated it is, what it may accomplish, but he never loses sight of the beauty and amazing reality we can enjoy each and every day that is only enhanced by VR. Much will be accomplished by VR in years to come, he is sure, but whether those benefits accrue to all society or merely to a select few may be an open question.

    While ethnic diversity is greater now in Silicon Valley than it was when Lanier went there in the 1980s, Lanier fears it has less cognitive diversity. And while the Valley has retained some of its lefty-progressive origins, many younger techies have swung libertarian. Lanier thinks the internet had some of those left-right choices early on its development, when he and John Perry Barlow had a parting of ways about how cyberspace should be organized. It is with some regret that we look back at those earlier arguments and admit that though Barlow “won,” Lanier may have been right.

    Lanier was always on the side of a kind of limited freedom, i.e., the freedom to link to and acknowledge where one’s ideas originated and who we pass them to; the freedom not to be anonymous; or dispensing with the notion that ideas and work are “free” to anyone wishing to access it. he acknowledges that there were, even then, “a mythical dimension of masculine success…that [contains] a faint echo of military culture…” Lanier tells us of “a few young technical people, all male, who have done harm to themselves stressing about” the number of alien civilizations and the possibility of a virtual world containing within it other virtual worlds. He suggests the antidote to this kind of circular thinking is to engage in and feel the “luscious texture of actual, real reality.”

    In one of his later chapters, Lanier shares Advice for VR Designers and Artists, a list containing the wisdom of years of experimenting and learning. His last point is to remind everyone not to necessarily agree with him or anyone else. “Think for yourself.” This lesson is one which requires many more steps preceding it, so that we know how to do this, and why it is so critical to trust one’s own judgement. There is room for abuse in a virtual system. “The more intense a communication technology is, the more intensely it can be used to lie.”

    But what sticks with me about the virtual experience that Lanier describes is how integral the human is to it. It is the interaction with the virtual that is so exciting, not our watching of it. Our senses all come into play, not just and not necessarily ideally, our eyes. When asked if VR ought to be accomplished instead by direct brain stimulation, bypassing the senses, Lanier’s answer illuminates the nature of VR:

    If that quote doesn’t compute by reading it in the middle of a review, pick up the book. By the time he comes to it, it may just be the light you needed to see further into the meaning of technology.

    Lanier is not technical in this book. He knows he would lose most of us quickly. He talks instead about his own upbringing: you

    his personal history growing up in New Mexico and his infamous Dodge Dart. He talks also about going east (MIT, Columbia) and returning west (USC, Stanford), finding people to work with and inspiring others. He shares plenty of great stories and personal observations about some well-known figures in technology and music, and he divulges the devastating story of his first marriage and subsequent divorce. He talks about

    , and how the horrible marriage might have been worth it simply because he understood something new about the world that otherwise he may not have known.

    All I know is that this was a truly generous and spectacular sharing of the early days of VR. It was endlessly engaging, informative, and full of worldly wisdom from someone who has just about seen it all. I am so grateful. This was easily the most intellectually exciting and enjoyable read I've read this year, a perfect summer read.

  • Kent Winward

    Lanier's memoir-ish recounting of the creation of virtual reality technology and his philosophical musings on technology and how it impacts actual reality was well worth the read. I had numerous "of course" moments at the cross-cultural intersections of technology and society at large, i.e. technology and Silicon Valley intersecting with the psychedelic movement.

  • Tonstant Weader

    To many people, Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality. He coined the term in its contemporary usage though points to an older, literary use. Lanier is a credit-sharer, not a credit-grabber, so this memoir of his childhood, early work and years at VPL Research, Inc. is full of sharing the credit with mentors and collaborators. Lanier, though, is not your typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur/coder/inventor.

    First and foremost, Lanier is a humanist. Much of that may come from his unconvention

    To many people, Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality. He coined the term in its contemporary usage though points to an older, literary use. Lanier is a credit-sharer, not a credit-grabber, so this memoir of his childhood, early work and years at VPL Research, Inc. is full of sharing the credit with mentors and collaborators. Lanier, though, is not your typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur/coder/inventor.

    First and foremost, Lanier is a humanist. Much of that may come from his unconventional childhood. He lost his mother in a car accident when he was young. He grew up in New Mexico in a house his father allowed him to design (geodesic, sort of). He was taking college classes before he graduated high school. In fact, he never graduated. Much of his life reads like Hunter S. Thompson without the drugs and misogyny. Wild, free, spontaneous, and on the edge, that was his life, but it was a life of learning, always thinking, always learning.

    He talks about the development of virtual reality and computers. He also explains why he does not fear the singularity because he does not believe in artificial intelligence. He explains why VR is the anti-AI. In fact, he has fifty-two definitions of VR which is, of course, the “new everything.” He believes that as we develop technology, we also develop, that machines will not outpace us.

    He is full of opinions that reflect his humanism. He thinks the “weightlessness” of the internet leads to the fakery, fraud, theft, and vile abusiveness that is so common. Folks do not have to invest themselves and that lets them be their worst selves. There, I am sure he is right.

    What the heck did I just read? That’s kind of how I have felt all through reading Dawn of the New Everything. I enjoyed every minute of it, but it was a wild ride. I don’t have the background to make this an easy read. I don’t code. I know how to make bold and italic text, but that’s about it. Even simple things like hyperlinks, I have to look at a sample. So, this is a book that I expected to take me out of my comfort zone. It did more than that.

    There’s a stream of consciousness kind of speed and spontaneity to the text. It feels like it was spoken, not written. Perhaps it was. More than anything, though, it was sort of hallucinogenic. I might not understand it all, but it’s all original. His major theme is that we need to center computing and technology on humanity, not on the technology for the sake of technology. Technology should be contoured to humanity and not seek to shape humanity to its contours.

    Lanier sees risk in technology if it is produced without empathy, but also sees tremendous potential for technology, particularly virtual reality, to create empathy. I enjoyed this book very much even though it was a challenge and took me far too long to read it.

    I received an e-galley of Dawn of the New Everything from the publisher through NetGalley. There were no photos or illustrations in the e-galley but I have paged through the released version and it’s full of pictures.

    Dawn of the New Everything at Macmillan / Henry Holt & Co.

    Jaron Lanier author site

    Interview with Business Insider

  • Peter O'Kelly

    A review and interview to consider:

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