Who Owns The Future? by Jaron Lanier [Summary]

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Who Owns The Future? is a book that describes hypothetical speculations about the future – which will most probably occur. Jaron Lanier argues that the middle classes will crumble if we keep concentrating more money and more power towards big digital networks (think Facebook and Google). He encourages us to rethink the way we consume information if we want to avoid another destructive, wallet-zeroing recession.

The Core Idea:

The book covers multiple topics but the main focus is on the future and how centralized servers, called Siren Servers – big data gatherers that are exploiting our privacy – will eventually rule the world. The way out of this seemingly despotic future? Reward independent site owners for what they do and share on the web. Otherwise, we’ll end up obeying some kind of tyrannous AI that will accumulate more wealth and power and only grow stronger and stronger.


  • Free things floating online are destroying jobs, not creating such.
  • Big online networks will get even bigger and terrorize us if we continue to support them.
  • The only way we can make society weather, in general, is by making most of the information online paid.

Key Lessons from Who Owns The Future?:

Lesson #1: Society Will Keep Getting Poorer When Digital Networks Become Even More Sophisticated

The book presents two ways that perfectly describe the distribution of wealth in the world:

  • A bell curve distribution: The bulge represents the masses and it means that the majority of the people have an average income. On the two ends we have people with a really low income and others with high income. The bigger the bulge – the middle class – the better the economy in this society.
  • A winner-take-all distribution: This is the desired state of every aspiring entrepreneur trying to conquer Silicon Valley and beyond. The winner-take-all is about monopolizing the market and amassing an enormous fortune, a.k.a. crushing your competitors. This is what happens when you create a cool app, your YouTube channel overcomes the algorithms, or you become the go-to site for getting a particular thing. Amazon is a good example. We immediately visit Amazon when we want to buy something online.

And while the winner-take-all distribution sounds super cool if you’re starting your own thing online, the bell curve distribution is the one we should aim for as a society.

A brief example to “get it” even more is the following: The more people buy goods from Amazon, the more Amazon will gain. Unfortunately, by doing so, the smaller shops will begin to crumble and eventually perish, leaving only one player in a market worth billions. How this affects us? The large organization will become despotic and we’ll have no other choice but to obey.

In reality, real artists are paid pennies while the big bucks get collected by centralized systems. This creates disbalance in the economy and leads to the disappearance of the middle-class.

Lesson #2: Ordinary People Are Not Compensated for The Information Taken From Them

When we copy or when we use a service, a product, without paying for it – for example when we share files or if we contribute to torrent sites – we’re basically undermining the economy as we know it and helping a poisonous centralized system become even bigger and eventually make economics even worse.

On top of that, we’re preventing the artist, the coder, the writer, who created the piece of information from receiving his fair share for his efforts.

You might think that you’re not doing anything wrong when you get stuff for free, that it’s just a file, a couple of pixels compressed in a folder, but you’re thinking wrong.

Every time you’re stealing digital info you’re harming the creator. Imagine if that person has no other way to feed his family. Would you still do it?

But there is even more to that.

Giant networks – Facebook and Google – are constantly stripping information out of us and are using it against us – to show us more ads and persuade us to buy things we don’t actually need.

What the author suggests is to implement some sort of a digital signature inside everything related to your online existence. This way, you’ll receive royalties every time your creation is used by people.

Hey there, sorry to interrupt…

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