Lock-in is apparently a concept well known among engineers, but I was unfamiliar with it until this book. It’s worth thinking about. Basically, the concept is that in large complex systems, simple, often arbitrary, decisions can have long lasting effects, which when compounded, can limit the possibilities for future use of the system.
The example Lanier gives is midi. A tool which was originally intended to assist in the control of keyboards by computers is now so ingrained in all electronic music, that it has limited the ability of artists to rethink the way music sounds on the internet thereby “locking in” the way we hear most music. It’s a compelling concept, and one I’m thinking about a lot in my own work, where I’m attempting to be more thoughtful in my decisions to allow for greater flexibility going forward.