"Early next year, Terre Thaemlitz will release a multi-media package called Soulnessless, featuring more than 30 hours of music, video and text.

Though many know him as a deep house DJ and producer who sometimes goes by the name DJ Sprinkles, Thaemlitz has always had a serious intellectual streak, especially when it comes to music, politics, gender and identity. Soulnessless is primarily concerned with music. By featuring such a huge amount of varied content, it aims to push "the boundaries of the album format in today's post-CD era," and at a whopping eight gigabytes, it nearly defies the digital download era as well. According to Thaemlitz's label, Comatonse Recordings, "this is both an attempt to explore the unprecedented recording lengths offered by the MP3 format (a feature which goes largely unrecognized as a result of its near exclusive use as a format for quick downloads), as well as an act of resistance to online distributorships."

We know the consequences of this instinctively; we feel them. We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us? Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”? What Lanier, a software expert, reveals to me, a software idiot, is what must be obvious (to software experts): software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible.

Lanier asks us to consider, for example, the humble file, or rather, to consider a world without “files.” (The first iteration of the Macintosh, which never shipped, didn’t have files.) I confess this thought experiment stumped me about as much as if I’d been asked to consider persisting in a world without “time.” And then consider further that these designs, so often taken up in a slap-dash, last-minute fashion, become “locked in,” and, because they are software, used by millions, too often become impossible to adapt, or change. MIDI, an inflexible, early-1980s digital music protocol for connecting different musical components, such as a keyboard and a computer, takes no account of, say, the fluid line of a soprano’s coloratura; it is still the basis of most of the tinny music we hear every day—in our phones, in the charts, in elevators—simply because it became, in software terms, too big to fail, too big to change.

Lanier wants us to be attentive to the software into which we are “locked in.” Is it really fulfilling our needs? Or are we reducing the needs we feel in order to convince ourselves that the software isn’t limited? As Lanier argues:

Different media designs stimulate different potentials in human nature. We shouldn’t seek to make the pack mentality as efficient as possible. We should instead seek to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence.

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