Theological ‘Lock In’ | I Am Not A Gadget | Bad Faith [1]


One of my favourite podcasts is Material World – a science review from the BBC. In a recent episode, Jaron Lanier discussed his recently published manifesto: You Are Not A Gadget. I’ve ordered it, but not read it yet, but was very much taken by one line of thought he introduced in the interview – that of ‘lock in.’

The classic example of technological lock in is railway gauges. Once a gauge has been decided upon – very often an arbitrary decision – technologies that surround that decision have to literally fall into line. There is no point inventing a radical new steam train that doesn’t run on the current standard gauge – it would simply not be adopted, unless it was such a breakthrough that the huge amount of new investment was really worth it.

It seems that part of Lanier’s thesis is that similar ‘lock ins’ have emerged in digital technology. Software protocols and languages, and the evolution of certain ‘strong’ products such as the iPod have left us locked in to solutions that do not necessarily represent the ideal. What is more – this lock in has become fully accepted by us and we have co-evolved to adopt these gadgets unquestioningly. The result? A paucity of human creativity, a reduction in the breadth of human experience and innovation… Avatars locked in to lives and technologies over which we have little genuine control.

I’ve just finished reading the page proofs of ‘Other’ – due out in June and available for pre-order already. I’m really pleased with it, and was reminded again of Sartre’s thinking on life in ‘bad faith’ (blog series on this here), which appear to parallel very well with Lanier’s ideas. And it’s that that I’ll look at in the next post.


3 responses to “Theological ‘Lock In’ | I Am Not A Gadget | Bad Faith [1]”

  1. Cheers, which episode is that one?

    Lock-in is classic, you find it in DRM, in closed file formats which can come with proprietary software as well as in cheap printers with expensive toner cartridges.

    On one level it’s madness that Apple controls all the software which can run on the iPhone. Where else would we tolerate this? In time we may not.

    Unfortunately a locked-in system can appeal because the nature of the system allows it be designed as a whole, resulting in reliability and ease-of-use. Apple is excellent at this aspect of design. Emulating that is the challenge for designers of more open systems.

  2. Thanks Carl – the episode is here.

  3. Acetate Monkey

    Maybe a tangent to your thoughts, but the idea of lock-in relates to the sociological concept of boundary objects as bridges/roadblocks to communication: technology is adopted/rejected because the inherent worldview it contains provides [in]sufficient impetus for us to move out of the old technology.

    I can’t comment on Apple, but Microsoft was/is lock-in isn’t it? Grillions of people now use microsoft ‘gauge’ systems, but through hacking/shareware have redirected and expanded it so all kinds of shaped things can come down the track.