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A Skimmer's Guide to Who Owns the Future?, by Jaron Lanier.

The book: Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier.

The big idea: Jaron Lanier imagines a world in which Google, Amazon, financial giants, and other huge, data-hungry organizations are compelled to compensate people for using their personal information. He argues that the resulting perpetual income streams would revive the middle class and help offset jobs lost to technology.

The backstory: Lanier is a virtual-reality pioneer (he co-founded VPL Research, the first maker of VR gloves and goggles); a Silicon Valley guru; and--more recently--a critic of the dystopian aspects of the digital revolution.

If you read nothing else: Manifestos such as this one succeed on the power of cumulative argument--they're not meant to be sampled. That said, Part Eight lays out Lanier's modest proposal for a sustainable information economy, in which people earn royalties on the tens of thousands of tiny contributions made over a lifetime of online participation.

The data that keeps giving: Lanier addresses every aspect of this model, including what happens after death (your data continues to provide payouts to your descendants at gradually decreasing rates).

Rigor rating: N/A (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). Who Owns the Future? is an intellectual exercise in futuristic economics. Yes, it's a straw man, but it's an uncommonly fleshed-out straw man that will make you think.

Last updated: Apr 30, 2013

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.

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