Jaron Lanier and the Bummer machine of making heads

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

An American information technologist named Jaron Lanier is also the author of several books of critique of the Digital Age, such as You are not a Gadget: The Manifesto (2010), Who Owns the Future? (2013), Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality (2017). Lanier has just published his fourth book entitled Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), in which he denounces Silicon Valley in general, and Facebook , in particular, as real head-turning machines.

Lanier called the ‘Bummer’ head-turning machine, an acronym in the phrase “Behavior of Others, Modified and Transformed into a Empire for Rent” (Behavior of Others, Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent).

The following is excerpted from the article by Danny Fortson published in The Sunday Times Magazine, 19.05.2018, about Lanier Ten’s new book Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now:

At the heart of his concern is the coupling of the smartphone, an always-on supercomputer, and tracking device, and advertising, which has been utterly transformed from a periodic annoyance that would materialise in defined places – during your favorite television show, on a billboard, in a magazine – to something else entirely. “Everyone who is in social media is getting individualised, continuously adjusted stimuli, without a break, so long as they use their smartphones,” he writes. “What might once have been called advertising must now be understood as continuous behaviour modification on a titanic scale.”

Even more alarming: The Bummer machine is getting stronger every day because what algorithms need more than anything is data to crunch and behaviours to analyse. … The more raw material the algorithms have to work with, the more effective they become. Hence Lanier’s call for mass deletion: “The arc of history has reversed with the arrival of the Bummer machine,” he says. “Quitting is the only way, for now, to learn what can replace our grand mistake.”

The argument goes like this: algorithms are optimised to create engagement and they work extremely well. The average millenial checks his phone 150 times a day. It is typically the first thing they do when they get up and the last thing before they go to sleep. More than 2 bn people are in FaceBook, roughly the same number of followers of Christianity.

The result is that society has “darkened a few shades”, Lanier argues. “If you don’t see the dark ads, the ambient whispers, the cold-hearted memes that someone else sees, that person will seem crazy to you. And that is our new Bummer world . We seem crazy to each other because Baummer is robbing us of our theories of one another’s minds.”

Our solution is to be like a cat, that is, be impervious to instruction or control.

Here are Lanier’s 10 reasons why people should delete their social media accounts:

  1. You are loosing your free will;
  2. Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times;
  3. Social media is turning you into an asshole;
  4. Social media is undermining truth;
  5. Social media is making what you say meaningless;
  6. Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy;
  7. Social media is making you unhappy;
  8. Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity;
  9. Social media is making politics impossible;
  10. Social media hates your soul;


The above was taken from Danny Fortson’s interview of Jaron Lanier published in The Sunday Times Magazine, 19.05.2018, about Lanier’s latest book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

Jo Pires-O`Brien is the founder-editor of PortVitoria, a magazine of the Iberian culture