Book Talk – Intro
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov
Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the tribe known as Silicon Valley have cornered the market on news and gossip, basically how we talk and what we talk about. Their philosophy is computerized productivity, algorithmic solutions that use tech devices to connect to networks that transfer all types of media. You could argue that the age of totalitarianism has turned into an agreement that we entered into one mouse click at a time. 2+2=5 because the 1 and 0 are hidden behind a slick visual interface.
Essentially the information business of the famed Information Age is pushing information as the solution or answer to everything and anything. The argument is hard to refute, yet the implications, or the consequences and effects, of this thinking naturally flow into numerous problems that warrant your attention. A buffet of interests are effected by the information industry.
The very way you are receiving this information (what you are currently reading, online through an electronic screen powered by computer hardware linked by telecommunications networks using energy across charging stations and cell towers to the mysterious cloud servers storing, archiving and most of all consuming your attention and time like a dog snatching a scrap of food from the Thanksgiving dinner set atop your dining room table; we can choose to embrace the dog’s hunger or scold the unmannerly mongrel.
Watch this video and consider the argument below:
Do you see the video as depicting technology as the cause of people acting in anti-social ways physically – such as not looking at the person sitting across from you at a table, or witnessing some event live instead of through the lens of your camera, socializing with friends in physical proximity but mentally acting totally distant?
If we allow the invisible hand of capitalism to roll the dice that decide the future of our economy and thus our culture too, then we should ponder how the information industry which dominates our economy in unprecedented ways, changes our culture in long term time frames. Like the balance of a pendulum we must know our past as well as our future and vice versa, for if we are to know our future we are to plunge through the past; more clues and observations give us data or information so that we may make an informed decision. Here we go again, another loopy argument, but then you start to realize how do I express my self. How would you communicate a message to an audience nowadays?
When we break down what holds a person’s attention we take control of life.
Every tribe, or interest group, or artist, or entrepreneur, or philosopher, from the religious zealots to small business owners, are considering how to gain the attention of a particular audience. You can believe it or not, that most people have a product of some form that is sold through some form of advertising, or you can choose to not engage in business and technology; but, when a time comes or a desire rises in which you desperately need a microphone, or soap box, where will you stand?
We have gone on a long rhetorical journey and the book To Save Everything… charts a similar course–this book is thorough and convincing. The author, Morozov reads like a bureaucratic boss straight out of Papers, Please
Morozov brings the critical eye of a hawk spotting a field mouse. He assesses both sides of the argument and weighs the rodent before deciding a course of action and the most impressive part is his ability to balance bias without actually striking an ulterior motive; it is hard to tell what product he is selling; it’s almost as if he is preaching moderation, which appears to be not compatible with capitalism.
Capitalism and science combine and we witness the recent phenomena of this idea called “solutionism”. Solutionism is described in detail in chapter 1. Needless to say, the idea of moderation can be made into an extreme, we can capitalize on moderation with the use of technology and information, IT can be the answer and solution to all of our problems, which is why the full title of To Save Everything Click Here minimizes the “Here” to point out the reality of “clicking” being the answer to all of our problems.
As much as we produce a concept like Free Rice or use our mobile maps to mobilize humanitarian aid, we simply shift a physical burden onto a swipe-able or click-able task. Minecraft is powered by an infrastructure made of material resources. When we enter post-modern states and capitalize on meta-processes that compound virtual prospects we move multiple steps from the tangible products and into territory that is no longer theoretical.
When information is the product = everyone wins! Everyone has some way of generating information and this becomes the new labor. But how can our resources be our labors and products? No time for questions, we must continue down the rabbit hole–and the introduction opens with quotes by Aldous Huxley and Jeff Jarvis, or the Lewis Carroll and Willy Wonka of modern quixotic information giants.
So if you have the time to read this, then you must have the time to understand why you have the time to read this. The book reads like one long paradox. You see counter after counter and cause and effect branches trimmed like bonsai. You should be convinced three paragraphs into the introduction that the philosophy of the richest companies is something to learn more about– the cultural capital in shaping the conversations we are all engaged in is rather substantial by any means.
Don’t be afraid of what you see in the mirror: “Fitter, Happier, more productive” appears to be the motto of the future.
If we use our devices and the power of “the Internet”, which is articulated in depth in chapter 2, we can solve any and all problems including moderation. Just program your music playlist to shuffle, or set your fine-tuned virtual service to “spontaneous” and you will achieve it all. Ask and you shall receive. Think it and it is done, forget about how it will be undone. Move over “I think, therefore I am” and say it sooner, shorter, faster, better, and more data rich than ever before…”ithink” is the the philosophy of Apple. Except our past builds like the trash in our landfills. The bones pile up, the roads swell with motorists and planetary cyclists ironically demand bike lanes while denying urban sprawl as the answer. Chop down a forest and erect a radio tower and tell everyone to stop reading. Right, here is the message: turn off your TV.
But wait, how could anyone argue against an opponent that walks away? So you reluctantly chase after this rabbit hopping down a path not taken. I’m guilty of promoting “solutionism” and “the Internet” as the answer to all our problems. How else can you convince yourself or others to spend more money and time on a new device or program that only marginally increases your overall sensory experience. How clear can our audio and video be heard and seen by our biological ears and eyes? When does high definition reach its highest entry? How fast should our computers process information before we fail to notice the increased speed?
When you start to rip apart this fat rat you reveal a host of additional meals. The pie expands. True philosophy blooms. Questions beget more questions and time is spent wondering. And the question of “Why?” starts to answer itself. We have died and gone to heaven. We found a genie of sorts, but it really feels more like a monkey’s paw; you know one of those conundrums in which you have the awesome power to make a wish and your wish turns out to cause unintended consequences. We are all enjoying the profits and benefits of information technology — we, at least those that have access– or is everyone indirectly soaking up some of that “trickle-down” credit flow?
There are articles that pop up occasionally that hint at the untold wealth creation generating from the use of IT driven solutions. Some have calculated the time we save by being able to calculate with calculators, or factor in the time it takes for you to use a search engine to find some trivial information — surely, if you have access to trivia at your fingertips you must also have a grip on anything you touch, the Midas touch, suddenly you are turning everything into gold. Futurama, the clever satirical animation show, can teach us about a future that is exactly what we want. When we get what we want we still are unhappy, or equally, being spontaneous also includes not being spontaneous at times. Everyone likes surprises and if you don’t like surprises well then there will be no surprises. Surely we can’t all be satisfied and all our questions be answered in just one click. Please tell me we have more questions in our minds than answers in our eyes.
What do you think? Are we already in a future in which our troubles are as trivial as our joys or is the IT industry operating a show of wizardry and magic and we are too enthralled to peak behind the curtain or too scared to know the trick and ruin the spectator’s experience? Are our problems simply consequences of our joys, only to be managed efficiently like data in a spreadsheet, programmed like an alarm clock and scheduled in our calendars to be enforced by the deadlines?
The critics of technology from past to present usually get bogged down in refuting the feasibility of a technology: can Facebook really scan a crowd of sports fans and capture fugitives, or can every classroom be installed with surveillance cameras–instead of getting lost in whether or not a technology can be used or can accomplish what it claims to do, we should enter into conversations about whether or not the issue is a problem that requires our attention or some action at all. The deeper debates on morals and rationale are becoming overshadowed by the waves of technical tricks and ticks. The thesis of the book drops onto target swiftly.
Should we value efficiency, transparency, certitude, and perfection over a slew of evil twins seen as friction, opacity, ambiguity, and imperfection…precisely
Imperfection, ambiguity, opacity, disorder, and the opportunity to err, to sin, to do the wrong thing: all of these are constitutive of human freedom, and any concentrated attempt to root them out will root out that freedom.
There you have it. Technology is a tool or an instrument and can be wielded as a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. The good, the bad, and the ugly truth of it all. Except this narrative will focus on the bad side of IT because the praise is overwhelming. Get ready for the vegetarian at Thanksgiving dinner to let you know why they are not eating turkey. We listen politely and savor the succulent breast meat with extra gusto. Some things are not broken and don’t need to be fixed. Change is great until you are happy, then the status quo is desired to preserve that state of happiness, but if you freeze your ability to change, your happiness can become stale. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and this is the most commendable goal of them all. Thought for the sake of thought is entertaining, but thought that leads to action is profound; this is the fuel of innovation. Human resources have unlimited potential when applied to our imagination. We can see our future and plot a course that exceeds our expectations. We can choose to collect data or we can process data into powerful moves.
How do you think outside the box? You start by defining the box.
For only by unlearning solutionism–that is, by transcending the limits it imposes on our imaginations and by rebelling against its value system–will we understand why attaining technological perfection, without attending to the intricacies of the human condition and accounting for the complex world of practices and traditions, might not be worth the price.
Can you imagine a world beyond the age of information?
Can you picture what the next telecommunications breakthrough will look like, after “the Internet”?
How will we be communicating in ten, twenty years?
Knowledge. Power. Discourse. Know the language of the future and you can learn the language of those in power. Your future feeds on the discourse of those in power and those in the know. We could combine all the world’s knowledge with an additive approach by storing it all in a cloud. Or we could develop and apply programs that think instead of just serving and unleash the power to exponentially multiply the world’s knowledge beyond the collective effect. Synergy can earn compound interest and it can also be wagered in gambits that are leveraged 10 to 1. As much as we love our ideal version of the future, we must acknowledge that something different is out there.
Which is why the saddest reality is the one not read, the turkey dinner not eaten because your guest is unable to choose between nothing and nothing. If you cannot afford to opt into this bright new future what choice do you really have?
Literacy used to be the way to learn the new language. Academia and the publishing world in general revolve around the print word whether it is digital or sold as a product. If we value reading as an essential skill, one that we teach all youth, then to view the ability to read as fundamental to life is to recognize this unalienable right to learn. How can we deny that the language of today as well as the language of tomorrow is being formed by the tools of today and tomorrow? My naive eagerness to solve education leads me to believe wholeheartedly that every child deserves access to this IT realm, and if we fail to equip our youth with the skills to use these tools we fail to teach them how to learn.
No longer can we ask our kids to think outside the box while keeping them outside the box. Because if there is anything to learn about the future of IT, it is that nanotechnology highlights the infinite space inward.