Dawn of the New Everything – Jaron Lanier

I don’t often listen to people’s recommendations for memoirs. There is something of an automatic selection bias involved, in that if someone is recommending a memoir to me, it is probably because they are a fan of the person to begin with. Now here I am recommending a memoir to you, and all I can really do is confess to my bias.

I think Jaron Lanier is super interesting. You should read his books. And not just this one, all of them.

Jaron Lanier is a man wearing many hats. I came to him first as a person who holds opinions contrary to what everyone else in silicone valley tends to believe. He is as well a person who collects interesting musical instruments. But what he is most famous for, what started everything else for him, is the fact that Lanier was a pioneer of Virtual Reality. There is a lot of credit hogging in within the technology sector (people treat Jobs like a visionary when he was really much more of a charlatan and a cult leader), and often the credit goes where it doesn’t always belong. Lanier obviously did not do these things single-handedly, but he was one of the principal participants in their genesis. He is certainly someone you can be grateful to when you pick up the occulus rift.

I wasn’t sure to what extent I was really going to like this book. Lanier is interesting, but I’ve never touched a virtual reality set in my life. The whole thing seems to go against my premature curmudgeon lifestyle. I was much more interested in his philosophical works (having previously read two of his books before reading this one). It is understandable that the genesis of these thoughts isn’t mentioned here, as I can imagine it to be very difficult to put how one arrived at their thoughts onto paper (though the best memoir I ever read, Samuel Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water, does this masterfully). It instead focuses on Lanier’s early years, and those experiences that brought him from a slightly strange child living in the American Southwest to a prominent figure of the early days of Silicone Valley. It tries to help you understand how anyone could not only envision something like Virtual Reality, but also work towards implementing it. The book also gives you many tid bits that just make it a fascinating read: anecdotes, dialogues, and something more unique to this book, dozens of definitions of what Virtual Reality is and isn’t.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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