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

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

Evgeny Morozov

Language: English

Pages: 432

ISBN: 1610393708

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In the very near future, “smart” technologies and “big data” will allow us to make large-scale and sophisticated interventions in politics, culture, and everyday life. Technology will allow us to solve problems in highly original ways and create new incentives to get more people to do the right thing. But how will such “solutionism” affect our society, once deeply political, moral, and irresolvable dilemmas are recast as uncontroversial and easily manageable matters of technological efficiency? What if some such problems are simply vices in disguise? What if some friction in communication is productive and some hypocrisy in politics necessary? The temptation of the digital age is to fix everything—from crime to corruption to pollution to obesity—by digitally quantifying, tracking, or gamifying behavior. But when we change the motivations for our moral, ethical, and civic behavior we may also change the very nature of that behavior. Technology, Evgeny Morozov proposes, can be a force for improvement—but only if we keep solutionism in check and learn to appreciate the imperfections of liberal democracy. Some of those imperfections are not accidental but by design.

Arguing that we badly need a new, post-Internet way to debate the moral consequences of digital technologies, To Save Everything, Click Here warns against a world of seamless efficiency, where everyone is forced to wear Silicon Valley’s digital straitjacket.

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remember the past but, rather, to make sense of the present and the future. The story of the Protestant Reformation—with its allegorical battles between Catholic and Protestant churches, laity, clergy, 51 9781610391382-text_morozov 12/13/12 4:10 PM Page 52 To Save Everything, Click Here and high priests and the accompanying images of control and liberation—is one such usable past. Kelly notes that “the Protestant Reformation makes for good allegory because it separates power from control; it

roles in defining the person’s reputation and hiding other, more pertinent pieces, much like how the reflection in a house of mirrors distorts various aspects of a person’s body. Eightmaps.com is a straightforward example of “bouncing”— campaign disclosure forms were not envisioned to feed data into vigilante sites—but “highlighting and shading” is a bit trickier to grasp. Suppose you once gave money to an election campaign, and this information was duly posted online on the associated website.

neighborhoods might be less willing to report crimes in the first place. In fact, in a 2011 survey by an insurance company, 11 percent of respondents claimed to have seen an incident but chose not to report it, worried that higher crime statistics for their neighborhood would significantly reduce the value of their properties. David Hand, a professor of mathematics at Imperial College, notes that “the open data initiative ignores such feedback effects—[that is,] that the very act of publishing

beneficial uses as well. It entrenches pluralism as the only game in town, forcing the ruling party to acknowledge that its own “truth” may be just one way to tell the story. Partisanship, according to Rosenblum, “does not see pluralism and political conflict as a bow to necessity, a pragmatic recognition of the inevitability of disagreement. It demands severe self-discipline to acknowledge that my party’s status is just one part in a permanently pluralist politics, and hence the provisional

that information is good. Obviously, an author only benefits if people find out that his or her book contains useful information. There are no shades of grey in this. Truth is, after all, a binary function.” But is truth really a binary function? It might be—if one arrogantly assumes that one’s values and interests are the only “correct” values and interests out there. Technocratic thinking views pluralism as an enemy, not an ally—or, in geeks’ own parlance, it’s a bug, not a feature. As two

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