Grab Life by the Knobs

Book Talk – Chapter 9

To Save Everything, Click Here:  The Folly of Technological Solutionism

by Evgeny Morozov

“Smart Gadgets, Dumb Humans”

If our gadgets extend us, then are they also under moral obligation?  Apparatuses, or devices of technology that we interact with, classically viewed as tools or institutions or concepts and other abstract cultural creations, fluidly extend humans by extending our bodies, abilities, and effects.  Prosthetic limbs replace our bodies, prescription glasses improve eyesight, so on and so forth, and yet at what point do we concede that what constitutes “a person” includes such an apparatus.

Access to a daily planner, a calculator or calender, to know the time even requires use of an apparatus, particularly under Western cultural terms.  Punctuality or mathematical accuracy are signs of work ethic and intelligence.  If new technology can exploit an advantage in gaining the appearance of extra effort, then are we to blame the lack of equal apparatus opportunity or do we assimilate this layer of bias and once again judge our situations as “un-effected” by the apparatus relationship.


Bruno Latour also starts the opening quote for chapter 9 with, “The moral law is in our hearts, but it is also in our apparatuses.”  The same apparatuses that help us sleep so soundly.  Furthermore, does this mean that your cloud data storage can be considered a part of your working mind and should be held accountable for the same moral responsibilities of your own.  We can have seamless product experiences like fast food dining and longer battery life on a gadget that charges wirelessly, and we can force upon these products programmed restrictions like calorie totals and recycling plans, but when do we institute Asimov’s laws of robotics?

It seems as though our apparatuses are spared moral agency at the risk of future manufacturers producing a refrigerator that refuses to preserve meat products, or at least keep our technology less than human so as to assuage our worries over their perceived enslavement.  Oscar Wilde wrote in The Soul of Man under Socialism:

The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.  (1891)

Meanwhile on page 326, Swedish designers seek to “discourage unthinking ideological assimilation and promote skepticism by increasing the poetic distance between people and products.”

From “erratic appliances” that draw attention to their energy consumption, to Germany’s Folkwang University of Arts and transformational products like the “caterpillar” extension cord and “forget me not” lamp:


Today, to engineer is to create a product in thy image.  In the words of Henry Petroski, to engineer is human.  Thus, what we engineer is an extension of us.  Our bridges are but framing of our ships.


“The art project was meant to get observers to reflect on the potentially high but invisible costs of unchecked economic growth: it’s somewhat odd that the rubber tree plant, indigenous to Southeast Asia and ‘ a symbol of life and ecology,’ has become ‘trapped inside a synthetic ecosystem, awaiting the arcane results of the NYSE.'”  (Page 330)


“All of these are open-ended questions that do not easily lend themselves to straightforward nudging, self-tracking, and game-ification.”  (Page 336)

 ” … our information habits are not very different from our energy habits: spend too much time getting all your information from various news aggregators and content farms who merely repackage expensive content produced by someone else, and you might be killing the news industry in a way not dissimilar from how leaving gadgets in the standby mode might be quietly and unnecessarily killing someone’s carbon offsets.” (Page 337)


“Projects that pursue the ‘right thing’ should always have a way through which the very definition of what counts as the ‘right thing’ can be challenged and subverted. Some of this happens anyway as users find a way to hack into their own devices. But this is not enough; designers and technologists should embrace the idea that their goal is not limited to making people use their devices; it’s also to make people think with their devices.” (Page 338)

If our kids are twerking and twitching to score the most points on Zamzee devices instead of playing with their energy allergic caterpillars, then maybe future generations will be healthy, athletically fit and environmentally conscientious.  And all of this can be purchased.  But as if our youth forgot how to subvert the system.  To fake your guardian into thinking you brushed your teeth is like using Snapchat.


The fashion of tomorrow will most likely incorporate subversive elements of public disguise in hope of avoiding algorithmic cameras.  Kentucky Derby day hats and outlandish church bonnets, hairstyles that obscure points of recognition, all add to our layering of masks.  Our faces are covered by apparatuses.

When muckrakers become muck-gamers and the museums of the 21st century start showcasing replica designs of old websites and printing tracts of mindless Internet content, the thought of placing constraints on technological progress will be permanently unchecked.


Bernard Crick is quoted as saying, “Boredom with established truths is a great enemy of free men.”

“…the question is not whether constraints should exist at all, but how to locate them in a way that most effectively promotes all aspects of human flourishing.  Wherever they are located, they will be challenged, but that does not necessarily make all constraints illegitimate.”  (Page 346)


To grab life by the knobs, we must gain access to the knobs…


“…if we start with the premise that being in command of your own ship is constitutive of being human.”  (Page 349)



10 thoughts on “Grab Life by the Knobs

  1. I agree with the fact that everything that we use has a connective relation at being helpful in our techniclelogical advantage. Even though it may require the use of energy which can either be from power plants to just your own strength and energy from the oxygen that we breath. Also by using our minds we also see things possibly different from other becuase everyones brains acts a different way but can be very similar at the same point. It all goes to show that we use our minds for the colors that we see on a tv to the colors that we see on other devices our minds act alike in similar ways but we all use them everyday.


  2. Technology has taken over modern day. Thats why kids are less fit and active cause they rather sit in th A/C all day play video games and stuff, when they should be outside enjoying the outside playing outside. We think we can do everything by technology now days that stuff isn’t being done. you have a lot more fun with out technology than you do with it. We just gotta use our minds and imaginatations.


  3. Technology is being relied on too much by our society today. Many work behind a computer all day and many are distracted by their cell phones and do not realize what is going on around them. Technology does help us in our day to day lives but it is becoming bad because many do not know what to do without the internet or technology. While many do not go outside and become unhealthy and would rather sit around on their phones some do not become as reliant on technology they do not let it take over their lives.


  4. Technology is a good thing and does help modern day life and make it better but it should not be something the human race depends on because it all could be gone in the blink of an eye. Inmagine a race that depends souly on technology and is made lazy by having it and then one day all the technology in the world is shutdown and nothing every works again. Would their survival rate be below that of a human race that never had technology and knew how to live without it? I think humans should learn to live without technology as a neccesitie and just a thing they use but dont need because one day technology may be extinct .


  5. Technology has become so much of our daily lives that its gotton to the piont to where we can’t live without it. For certain people that is literally what keeps them alive. For the people that say that they are gunna die because the internet went out or that their phone just died and they cant uplaod a picture of their coffee to instagram, well those people need some fresh air and need to leave all their technology at home because it has taken ahold of their lives so bad that that is all they can think about.


  6. Technology I feel has taken over. There isn’t many kids that actually will get off of there video game to go pick up a ball and go play street ball with there friends. They would rather sit and talk on a head set about how many kills they got on Call of Duty


  7. We shouldnt rely on technology as much as we do. There would be less crime and obesity if we werent on technology 24/7 and instead were outside. And our grades would be better in school cause we would have to pay attention, not use a caculator or google for everything


  8. Technology has grown to be a mold of our hands. The rapid changes of technology has grabbed more attention like no other. You can’t sit in a doctors office or a restaurant and not see ones on a cellphone, a tablet or an iPad.. Technology is shaping the world around us. We use technology every day. It’s officially taking over the modern day. How many kids do you see going out side anymore? They are inside on the couch watching tv, on the computer or on the phone or iPad.


  9. I feel as if tecnology is taking over. kids rather sit on the couch and play video games and update the socalmedia sites. You can not go anywere without seeing people eyes glued to their phone screen. People only see the good in cell phone, but there is alot more bad that comes from it. I feel as if we dident have cell phones the school would be more successful in life and would have more movation to go out and get a job.


  10. Technology has taken control over. We would rather stay inside and watch tv than go outside and play. Cellphones have probably made the biggest impact on everyone. you cannot go anywhere without seeing someone glued their cellphone. If we didn’t have all this technology distracting us then maybe we might actually take charge and come out of this hole that our country is in.


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