Tongue Tied Linguistics

Book Talk – Chapter 2

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The Folly of Technological Solutionism

by Evgeny Morozov

In the first chapter, we saw the mindset of “solutionism,” this philosophy or world view that sees all of life’s struggles as problems that can be solved, so much so that the ends always justify the means.  An extremist view like this is only further fueled by fiery yet ambiguous language:  political slogans that polish nuggets like “hope” or “change” or “country first” leave much room for differing views.  “The Internet” is the magic catchall of choice used by solutionism’s disciples.  Chapter 2 chops up what we really mean when we say “the Internet.”  What are we really talking about, when we say “the Internet”?

“Today, ‘the Internet’ is regularly invoked to thwart critical thinking and exclude nongeeks from the discussion.”  (Page 18)

The lack of common knowledge surrounding “the Internet” is in part a fault on public education.  The world of academics cannot adapt to the quickening changes that occur today.  In a very real sense, general history classes struggle to cover the canon of important historical events that have transpired over the past 2000 plus years.  The last twenty to thirty years are too recent to reflect upon responsibly and they are still developing.

Schools have computer technology and students learn how to use a PC enough to access “the Internet.”  Skills and discourse unfolding on “the Internet” are expanding the scope of all subjects.  Experts in a particular field can continually revise an argument with new media flowing through “the Internet.”

Take history as a subject for example, and instead of focusing curriculum on particular material such as a canon of major events tied to specific dates, the focus now becomes how to think and act like an historian.  The students now seek an appreciation of the profession as a role to pursue to varying degrees.  Most students will not investigate the recent history of “the Internet.”

“… there’s something odd about how the geeks can simultaneously claim that the Internet is fixed and permanent and work extremely hard in the background to keep it that way.”  (Page 19)

history_book

“…it’s much easier to imagine how the world itself would end than to imagine the end of “the Internet.”  (Page 22)

What’s Minitel?  I recently looked up “Minitel” which is mentioned in passing on page 23 and I found out about how it was a French precursor to “the Internet.”  Apparently there are various communications systems intertwined in the history of “the Internet.”  The language used across “the Internet” is even knottier to peruse historically.  Hypertext transfer protocol is something most people have auto-filled by smart search engines embedded into seamless web browsers.

Behind the scenes, we fail to see the hidden bureaucracy and gatekeepers.  Apps for smart phones and tablets introduce new gatekeepers and the growing list of middle men involved in what we call “the Internet” is neatly tucked into a term that has endless possibilities.  This all leads to mythologizing “the Internet;” it can be all things.

Internet zealots call this recent time period an epoch.  They are clear to mark this time period as unique from all other time periods.  In fact, this ability to see our own time and so many time periods of the past leads one to believe in “Epochalism”—this timeless vacuum of thought that places our time on level with all other time periods, leaving the potential for our time to be radically different… or not.

 “…to imagine that somehow Politifact.com tells us something of interest about the nature of “the Internet”—assuming, for a moment, that such a nature exists—is dead wrong.”   (Page 39)

Those that embrace “epochalism” extend the magic of “the Internet” to a state of a nature, as if it is an organism that exists biologically.  Die-hards of “the Internet” would never think to question, or tinker with, something that we should not judge for who are we to judge.  Once again, we reach a point where “the Internet” serves all by being a blank slate of consciousness.

“The debates over electricity were, in fact, as dramatic and bizarre as the debates we are currently having about “the Internet,” its democratic potential, and its effect on our brains.”  (Page 44)

We need a vague, all encompassing term for things like “the Internet.”  The concern here is that of the grammar teacher complaining about the use of vague pronouns in how they could lead to the end of “it” all.  Ambiguity is good in moderation.

“A 2009 empirical study of students at five British universities found that ‘it is far too simplistic to describe young first-year students born after 1983 as a single generation … .  [They are] not homogenous in [their] use and appreciation of new technologies and … there are significant variations amongst students that lie within the Net generation age band.’”   (Page 46)

Adding to the mess of definitions and histories tangled in the term “the Internet,” we also have the fracturing of generational cohorts.  Students today have incredibly different exposures to “the Internet.”  Framing youth as digital natives versus digital immigrants lumps together far too many factions, adding to the reductionism of “the Internet.”

“As historian of science Steven Shapin argues, ‘The past is not transformed into the ‘modern world’ at any single moment…’”  (Page 47)

Advancing the timeless quality of “the Internet,” in that it literally stands outside of the bounds of time, the book continues to stress the ignorance of “those” that use this fog to patch public policy.  “Hyper-revolutionary times” are used as an excuse for wrong predictions and indefinite arguments.  The printing press can be accepted as a miracle and mile marker, when in actuality it is fluidly a part of evolving systems.

“The Jarvis-Einstein view of the world presumes tools are fixed.  They lie outside culture and history…”

“… ‘the Internet’ they find is unproblematic and unchanging, its democratic nature fixed in stone.” (Page 56)

And we have looped around again, how can this mysterious entity know as “the Internet” be unalienable and ephemeral at the same time?  Argument in the age of “the Internet” adds to the difficulties of defining “the Internet” and understanding its history and place in society.  By the time you address all sides of an issue you have deserted your audience and the argument has lost relevance.

“… look at the history of the post office—a communications network created by the government to foster free expression…”  (Page 60)

What governmental controls should be applied to “the Internet?”  Now, we are getting too close to the heart of the matter here.  Currently, the US Post Office is fading and under threat of dissolution.  Even though, it also broadened the power of the first amendment and federal government, retrospectively.  The post office lingers as an old idea.

A criticism by Paul Starr referenced in the book includes the idea that “… Congress … subsidized the circulation of newspapers irrespective of their viewpoint and spread postal service throughout the country.”  It is much easier for government to subsidize or outsource services in order to avoid blame for errors and poor quality.  Public education and electricity are locally provided and so is “the Internet.”

“Internet-centrism has also mangled how we think about the past, present, and the future of technology regulation.”  (Page 62)

Competition breeds better outcomes, similar to deliberation.  Successful economic systems that embrace capitalism tout competition as the solution to all problems; but, in the last chapter we discussed the concept of “solutionism” as a pervasive world view that is now fueled feverishly by technology.  We are to be skeptical of “solutionist” thinking, the type of thinking that dismisses the means in pursuit of the ends, the type of thinking that only sees the destination and ignores the journey, the type of thinking that ends the conversation by playing a never-ending record of noise.  Still, competition does have its place just as a tool like technology has its place.

When solutionism and “the Internet” combine, they forge a grand illusion.  This is the “smoke and mirrors” of today, behind which many evils lurk—and shedding light on the issue is ironically not the answer, or solution, in fact more light, or transparency, is the primary trick promoted by the toxic duo of solutionism and Internet-centrism, which is further described in the next chapter.  Cover your face, hold your breath and engage your skeptical lenses.

Imagine a future, in which the US Post Office delivers packets of data to each of the physical mailboxes it currently serves.  Instead of retrieving physical junk mail, paper destined to be trashed and recycled, connect your device (wirelessly even) too your mailboxes and unlock bundles of data.  Surely, internet service is as easy as hosting a health care web portal.  “The Internet” is what we make of it.  There is no greater vague pronoun than “we”, as in “We the People.”

dumberTongues

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19 thoughts on “Tongue Tied Linguistics

  1. The internet has opened so many doors for people from the past that are use to doing everything the old fashion way…The internet, or World Wide Web as it is called today makes everything many times easier because most people have a way to connect to the internet without physically sitting down behind a monitor and keyboard. The technical world is becoming more and more popular everyday as new phones and hand held devices are being promoted that come preinstalled with a connection to the internet. The internet can be just as good as it can be bad, because the internet opens people to many things that they probaly shouldn’t be opened too.

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  2. The internet and school have combined over the years so much that class is almost done all on the computer. Even when we have homework it’s done on the computer and most students use the internet also. But the internet isn’t just merging with our school but also with our social lives. The internet has websites that were made for people to communicate with each other and people have made it their life on the websites. When it comes to information about the person using the internet websites will monitor your activity and will make adds and give you viruses on your computer. I also believe that the internet could have a major roll in kids not going outside and being active.

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  3. The internet is a world of limitless choices. You have informative information that is extremely helpful if you can find a reliable website. Also entertainment places a major factor of the internet like Youtube for instance. Youtube has education videos, entertainment videos, and also videos that inform you about something you may know nothing about. The internet provides ways for companies to promote and advertise their products, and also company information to reach them. Also online shopping is extremely important especially for me since clothing and items that I like cannot be found in Ocala, Fl. Then you have the downfall to the internet. Hackers for instance stealing credit card information and identities. You have catfishers playing with emotions. You have sexual predators looking for their next victim and not to mention scams. But hey every good thing has a downside to it just like the internet.

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  4. The internet is the tool for many people in today’s society. People back in ancient history did not have access to the internet or social media, so it made their life 10 times hard to find out things or to figure out things. For the people who has access to the Internet has an much eaiser life than other people who does not. The Internet is a source for problems and answers. In today society the Internet is used for research, communication, jobs, and entertainment. Many people have became hooked on the Internet and can not live without it. The internet has an powerful effect on today’s society.

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  5. ill bet back when the first computer came everyone thought that was gonna be as good as it gets, well then they came out with hand held phones that could do everything a computer could do and then some! The enternet has led to so many discoveries and ideas, the world has the enternet at there finger tips all the time and can access it just about anywhere. But the part that sucks is it couuld lead to depression or serious trouble, for instance all these stupid social sites get people in a world of crap. for instance the fighting on them lead to bullying in a a sense. also you have kids that actually care what everyone else is saying and committing suicide over the stuff people say instead of ignoring it and carrying on with there life. but it is good for when your doing homework or finding a long lost friend!

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  6. many many years ago the internet never really meant much to people. People could care less about it and never think twice about it. In todays world the internet is such a big thing. People are litterally obssed with it and can barely live without it. The internet has helped with many things, you can apply for jobs, order pretty much anything, discover things, and almost anything you can think of. Even though the internet has many positive things theres alot cons that go along with it. kids posing threats, or bullying other kids, and things of that sort, besides that the internet is a great thing and will continue to get better.

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  7. Internet has made todays life alot easyer because we can almost find out anything we need to know on google but this has also made the everyday person lazy. Now you can just type in how ,what, who, when and find out almost anything but before google how did people find stuff out? Libarys? their almost a thing of the past because on the internet you can read any book you want. History has been made easyer to find and world news now can be read on the internet updated live if your not the kind person who doesnt watch tv. Now students in schools can simple go on google and do their homework , senior projects, any projects or essays so it is a very helpful tool for todays peoples but does this mean school for people in the past without internet was harder for them and life was harder back then for people because count how many times you go on the internet a day and inmagine if you never went on the internet again for rest of your life. It would make everything alot harder and nowadays you can apply for a job online before you had to get up to the place and fill out an application its a conveint tool but also causes lazyness.

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  8. “Theres an app for everything”. Through technology today via, internet, and internet required applications (apps, books, videos, instant messaging, emails, ect.), the world has changed. Books are becoming obsolete, considering most books you can find a copy of online. The internet is becoming so predominant, that even the US post office is in the path of becoming an endanged species. With Email, IM, texting, social networks, and various comunication applications that you can have access to as easy as reaching in your pocket. Theres no longer a need to write out a hand written note, and travel to the post office, just to wait a couple days for them to even recieve the informations. Then repeat the process on the other end just for their reply. The internet however takes up a lot of our time. Its ironic that something created to save us time (the internet) actually takes up the majority of some of our lives.

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  9. The internet or just technology in general is whats wrong with todays society. Everybody is so caught up with what the newest game or app is on their phones that they dont even pay attention to the outside world and whats goin on around them. Everything is done on the computer now, if you bring in your resume to a place your trying to get a job at, they’ll just laugh at you and tell you to send it in online. Back in the day before computers, everybody was respectful to one another and everybody knew what was happening in their community and were hard working cause they didnt have the internet or phone apps to distract them from life.

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  10. The internet or just technology in general is whats wrong with todays society. Everybody is so caught up with what the newest game or app is on their phones that they dont even pay attention to the outside world and whats goin on around them. Everything is done on the computer now, if you bring in your resume to a place your trying to get a job at, they’ll just laugh at you and tell you to send it in online. Back in the day before computers, everybody was respectful to one another and everybody knew what was happening in their community and were hard working cause they didnt have the internet or phone apps to distract them from life.

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  11. the internet takes alot of the work out of communicating and finding information. the internet gives you near unlimited resources. we no longer have to wait for the 5:00 news to discover the lasest world issues because we have blogs. no longer do we have to wait for days or even weeks for someone to recieve our letters and reply because we have email. internet makes our lives so much simpler. with sites like youtube and Wiki we dont have to spend hours flipping through manuals to figure out how to repair something or perform a task. Google supplies you with “infinte” knowlege on any topic. internet is an amazing luxury that is rapidly turning into a neccesity.

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  12. The Internet is a global network connecting a lot of computers. The Internet includes commercial, educational, and other networks. The internet allows us to communicate globally. Its also a much easier way to help us with research we do today. It allows us to receive and exchange data ,you can find out when things are happening the time and the place with just typing it in and clicking search. With internet we don’t have to worry about not knowing anything do to the social sites ( Google, Bing, Yahoo Answers) have the answers to any question we may possibly need to know. Back then it was hard for people to know anything and they had to do everything on their own because they don’t have the source of technology we have today. But internet is what’s wrong in society today due to cyber bullying and Facebook we don’t worry about What’s surrounding us technically I think It has became a big distraction to us, especially in school we are so wrapped up in games on our app stores and texting that we cant focus on completing our work. we cant live with out it.

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  13. The internet today is expanding rapidly. There are educational, commercial and other networks within the internet to day. You can exchange many things through the internet, Such as email to conform an appointment. The internet can be a bad thing also. People can cyber bully people through the internet on thing such as a chat group or ask.com (where you can be anonyms) or even through Facebook. There are people who pretend to be what there not on the internet.

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  14. Internet and education are known as a pair now-a-days. Each year as a student we did more and more things on the computer. We even do our standardized testing on the computer now. The internet has changed the world dramatically, in good ways and in bad. The internet helps us communicate globally, locally, answer a question, make an appointment, pay a bill, etc. It makes life so much easier because it gets the essentials out of the way so you can do other things with your life. But there are some downfalls to the internet. With rapid growth in technology and being able to get on the internet from smartphones, watches, some people get sucked into it to much. They spend all of their time in the social media and forget about the beautiful outside world and what life is all about. Another downfall about technology and the internet is that it has taken over the need for certain real jobs and put people out of work. There is not much of a need today for mailmen anymore, just UPS trucks really. But with everything that the internet brings I am glad we have it. Being able to look up basically any question and find its answer is amazing. You can find any picture, to help you with ideas, projects, etc. If you are a musician, painter, business entrepreneur, you can get found via the internet and create a name for yourself. I cannot wait to see what the future holds and where technology leads us.

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  15. The internet has helped in a lot of ways it has opened up a lot of closed doors for people.i believe the internet expands the human mind because there is so much you can learn from the web. there is so many question you can ask and they will be answered they might not always be right but they more than likely are accurate i personally love doing research on the web it really is a huge help

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  16. Humans definitely focus on the positive aspects of the internet. People love to update their family members through a facebook staus or skype with their family members and close friends in other states or countries. We tend to forget about the negative aspects of the internet/technology. I often go out to dinner with my family members and see families at other tables concentrating on their phones rather than having a conversation with each other. Also, the internet has caused identity theft. Some people would rather shop online than drive to the mall. Yes, it is easier to buy an item online , however, you risk the chance of all of your infomation being stolen. For example, a good friend of the family had $10,000 stolen from her bank account. The person spent a good amount of time tracking her. They got all of her information and even created a fake driver’s license. They managed to walk into two banks and walk out with a toal of 10,000. In conconclusion, people enjoy the internet so much that they forget the bad aspects.

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    1. The internet is uded both in good and bad ways. In school each year ee begin to work on computers more and more. In the future there will be no more pencil and paper because everyrhing will be done on computers. We already do mostly of our tests online so thats a sign right there this is just the beginning. Many people also use social media to harass others bully them and what not. People feel just because their behind a computer screen they can say anything, when they cant you can get into a lot of trouble.

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  17. The internet has opened so many doors for people from the past that are use to doing everything the old fashion way…The internet, or World Wide Web as it is called today makes everything many times easier because most people have a way to connect to the internet without physically sitting down behind a monitor and keyboard. The internet has changed the world dramatically, in good ways and in bad. The internet helps us communicate globally, locally, answer a question, make an appointment, pay a bill, etc. It makes life so much easier because it gets the essentials out of the way so you can do other things with your life.

    Like

  18. The internet has changed the way we use our brains to search and retain information. The World wide Web (www) makes it easier to find information. Before the internet we had to find someone who knew about the topic or read a book about that certain topic. Just because it is easier to find information however, the information may not always be correct. Something good that has come out of the internet is the ability to communicate not just on a local scale but a global scale as well.

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