- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 892 KB
- Print Length: 408 pages
- Publisher: Penguin (21 Mar. 2013)
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00ADNP310
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- Customer reviews: 51 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #318,430 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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A clear voice of reason and critical thinking in the middle of today's neomania (Nassim Taleb, author of 'The Black Swan') --This text refers to the paperback edition.
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Given part of Mozorov's argument is that people are too ready to accept at face value self-confident statements about how the internet is and the world must adjust to it, this rollercoaster does at least achieve his aim of keeping readers on their toes.
If you read more than a handful of pages and don't find yourself swinging between agreeing, disagreeing and back again then the chances are you've not read those pages closely enough.
Mozorov is at his best when attacking how some "internet" values, such as transparency, are idolised - as if a technological context somehow magics away all those occasions when transparency runs up against other factors, such as discretion or forgetting, which also have value.
He is also good on how 'understanding the internet' is often used as a misleading synonym for 'you must apply these different, contentious values' such as when people demanding that politics adapts to the internet slip in a definition of 'adapting to the internet' which means 'adopting direct democracy'. Direct democracy has both its pros and cons, but it's not an absolute, unquestioned and inevitable good in the way many internet democracy enthusiasts present it when dressed up in demands that politicians embrace technology. You don't have to be a luddite to doubt that direct democracy is the right model to adopt - and as Mozorov points out, a true understanding of how the internet is impacting politics means understanding that it can support a multitude of different political models.
When he's less good is in taking examples of dilemmas and opportunities existing prior to the internet and then arguing not only that the internet doesn't remake everything anew (true) but also that it hasn't really changed things at all in many cases (not so true). So whilst it is true that the British government's 18th century Longitude Prize was an early example of crowdsourcing solutions, Mozorov goes too far in then arguing that the internet hasn't really made things different when in fact it has made crowdsourcing much easier and more widespread. Something doesn't have to be completely new to be significant.
Then there are also the quite poor sections, such as when Mozorov argues that using technology to harness reviews and votes, which then in turn determine which content gets produced and prominence - such as songs being promoted on a website in response to prior people's reviews - will lead to a homogenisation and dumbing down of artistic endeavour and human variety. You can just as well - in fact better - argue that by reducing production, storage and distribution costs, the internet makes variety easier and enables it to flourish.
After all, the sort of books I write are niche and will never get much in the way of bookshelf space in the high street, either now or in the past. Courtesy of the internet, however, they can find an audience without those bookshelf spaces.
These are just a few of the many points I could have covered in this piece, which in the end makes Mozorov's book definitely one to read; not so much for the extent to which you'll agree with it but for the extent to which it makes you think.
As a researcher in Human-Computer Interaction, I am partially to blame for contributing to the internet-centrism and solutionism that Morozov criticizes in a sometimes polemic but always in an incisive and very entertaining manner. At times I could not help laughing out loud when he again brilliantly takes apart the shared thinking and rhetoric of IT researchers, consultants, and "visionaries" - and this although his dry humor in writing has not spared the things that I truly belief in, work on, and have preached myself. Therefore, even if I do not agree with Morozov in every point, his sharp analysis of so many (actually a bit too many...) examples and cases have left a deep impression on me.
Morozov highlights how we happily and almost religiously apply concepts that we believe are inherent values of the "Internet" (e.g. openness, direct participation, crowd sourcing, wisdom of the crowd, efficient architectures) on society, economy, and politics. Often this happens based on a non-existing or only shallow knowledge of the wealth of pre-internet experiences and practices. This ignorance is legitimized by postulating that the "Internet" is an unprecedented historic singularity, that it will stay with us and remain (largely) unchanged, and that the digital revolution follows own rules anyway. These rules are explained and repeated to us by Silicon Valley visionaries and tech or business consultants but are actually not put to scrutiny by empirical investigation or the rigor and knowledge from long-established scientific disciplines.
In this way, the "Internet" colonizes all fields of our life ranging from politics and health care to education and imposes its (current) "values" on them. In a quasi-religious quest for "solving" problems with information technologies, and without looking at their far-reaching implications, everything MUST get leaner, more efficient, open, bottom-up, etc. ignoring centuries of already successful management, scientific expertise, and craftsmanship. And if we do not find the problems to which we can apply our new technologies, we are really good in creating them.
Again, you will most likely not agree with Morozov in every point, but his book inspires an extremely interesting discourse and makes you view the narratives and thinking of IT entrepreneurs, consultants, and researchers through a different and clearer lens. Overall the way Morozov puts actual human needs and the complexity of human nature (instead of the "Internet") into the center of a reflection about digital technologies is very compelling. For me, as a researcher in Human-Computer Interaction, this is nothing new and already at the heart of our work, but it is reassuring to read this and it also reveals the heartfelt humanism of the author that he cannot hide behind the sharpness and sometimes almost cynical feel of his arguments.
Although the book is long and sometimes feels a bit repetitive, I prefer this length over a more densely written and hard-to-read article. The many examples make Morozov's points concrete and graspable and overall the book is a long, but easy and inspiring read. Highly recommended.
I share his sentiments on the whole, and found some of the rhetorical quirks he adopts amusing and helpful -- things as simple as constantly putting "the Internet" in scare quotes, to dismantle the idea we tend to have of the Net as a unified, magical thing.
I'd argue that whatever you might think of his style or his book, it will be difficult to resent his having done it (twice, now, as The Net Delusion was similar) and stuck to his guns. More serious discussion concerning the internet would be welcome at the "very public" level. Sure, there are plenty of serious discussions about the internet, but the bestsellers are often those that seem to validate as wonderful whatever's already happening anyway. It may be wonderful -- but a critical voice, even a gadfly's voice, is great. And Morozov is frequently charming about how little he gives a damn.
Phil Jourdan, author of "Praise of Motherhood" and "What Precision, Such Restraint"
Top international reviews
without Internet (when I wrote this, not when it was posted)
Solutionism is the belief that every problem that humankind faces can be solved by the use of algorithms, clever sensors, big data and gamification techniques, while Internet centrism it’s the idea that we are living unique revolutionary times in which time-worn rules do not apply and that “the Internet” is a kind of mythical entity that has predefined rules that are pre-ordained and cannot be tinkered with.
Morozov's formidable intellect and critical capabilities dismantle these two ideas tirelessly, and his tirades against many of the apostles of these ideologies are almost painful to read, particularly against authors like Lawrence Lessig, Clay Shirky or Kevin Kelly. I think this sentence summarizes well his attitude: “Part of my job is to raise the cost of producing bulls*** in this area, and to make sure people pay for that with shame, with being ridiculed, with harsh reviews, whatever,”
To say that this book is thought provoking would be an understatement. I never thought that there could be so many angles and layers beneath very innocent looking design decisions in our society.
For example there is in principle nothing wrong with using wearable devices to track things like the steps we walk, our weight, blood pressure, etc, particularly if they help us to be healthier. But that information can be used against us by Insurance companies, and in a society where this is widespread, individuals who wouldn’t want to do it will be pressured by society to comply or looked upon as hopeless technophobes or luddites. Sounds far fetched? Well, it happened with cell phones and is now happening with Facebook.
There is also nothing wrong with using technology to reduce crime, but the problem here is the very definition of crime. For example in a "perfect” world incidents like Rosa Parks refusal to give her seat would have not happened, some clever algorithm coupled with face recognition techniques would have detected the problem in advanced and avoided confrontation by not letting a few darker faces to get in the bus in the first place.
Using game mechanics to get people to be better citizens, recycle more, exercise more, etc, also seems like a laudable goal, but after looking at it with morozovian lenses, we realize that it’s not only important to do the right thing, the why is also important. If people are only moved by incentives, they will eventually only move by them and lose any critical thinking capabilities.
In a world ruled by algorithms, there will be less confrontation and more efficiency but less deliberation and citizens would be slowly turned into consumers.
I disagree with Morozov’s constant criticism of geeks, though. Geeks need to be part of the solution not of the problem, not all of them are naive technoutopians who think human beings are automatons, slaves to rational choice theory.
Also, his suggested alternative of designs that generate friction to increase awareness of global problems like the caterpillar extension chord (which twists as in pain when a device is on stand by mode) or the Forget me Not lamp (which progressively gets dimmer), though intriguing and creative, i think will be very difficult to implement in a meaningful way.
All in all, a highly recommended book, it’s not an easy read, but it’s a refreshing voice in the usually uni-dimensional debate about technology, usually only focused on coolness and awesomeness.
Enter Evgeny Morozov. This book is a scathing attack on advocates of "the Internet," which Morozov invariably and rightly puts in scare quotes, because its champions celebrate a sinister chimera. It is a careful and thoughtful analysis of how we do and can think, of how can formulate our problems in order to solve them. The connection of these two aims is the heart of the book. Morozov makes a formidable and depressing case for a crazed, cheerleaderly numbness in our time, in which enthusiasm for technological means makes us virtually incapable of understanding their relation to real and possible ends. At the least, he annihilates the case for cyber utopias and technological optimism, through convincing demonstrations that they are poorly argued and factually groundless. But he is both smart and humble enough to realize that there's no going back, that the old religion isn't better after all, and that destroying "the Internet" as a phantasm is not enough. Tentatively, diffidently, but clearly, he gradually builds the case that the arrival and wildfire dissemination of the IPad, IPhone, and w[...] do not through previous human nature, and previous understandings of human nature, out the window. What is most urgently needful in our present calamity is neither the pretense that nothing has happened to us in fifty years, nor the insistence that we have no problems that cannot be fixed with a mouse click. The soul of the book is the timeless, hysterically forgotten maxim that neither pessimism nor optimism may precede understanding, because they will supplant it--with dire consequences. If there is a way to think in these exaggeration rich times, Morozov and his ilk will be our Virgils.
There's also a second, parallel critique that he advances in the book: that of solutionism - which he defines as the tendency to define problems as problems based solely on the fact that we have nice and quick technological solutions for solving them. The book then traces how these two intellectual pathologies - solutionism and Internet-centrism - interact in the context of recent efforts to fix politics, promote transparency, track and gamify everything, make crime impossible through situational crime prevention and predictive policing, and so forth.
It's not an easy book to read, not least because Morozov draws on what must be hundreds of thinkers to make his point. (And, wow, his range is impressive: I'm yet to read a book that references both Paul Ricoeur and Jeff Jarvis!) While it's a challenging read, it proves very rewarding, especially as the book progresses. The sections on design are to kill for.
There's a bit of "everyone but me is wrong" feel to this book but it's hardly a good reason to ignore it - what if Morozov is, indeed, right that everyone is wrong? Whatever one makes of him and his style, this book is so far the most significant challenge to the mindset of Silicon Valley and its apologists in the tech media and the lecture circuit (Morozov helpfully namechecks most of them in the book!)
All aspects of present tech changes involve a highly complex network of tools, people, opinions, physical locations, laws, life styles, etc. A combinatorial conundrum experienced, in small ways, in past with telephone books and catalogs but never before in real time. To make these contentions even more incredulous both cited experts say they are not in it for the money? A person recently took me on a tour of her Facebook ‘friends’ pages. She rapidly clicked through hundreds of pages only to comment ’I simply don’t have time to look at all these photos of somebody else’s toys and vacations?” In her case doesn’t seem Facebook serves well its most elementary objective. Zuckerberg and Schmidt are not the only tech optimists. Daily more books are printed with titles such as “Abundance”, “The Future”, “How to Create a Brain”, “Moral Machines”, "Darwin in the Machine", "Robots Will Steal Your Job", "Our Final Invention", "Big Data", and many others.
Tech accomplishments thus far are very impressive and arriving swiftly, thus a future rapidly becoming our present. As we race into this future there are examples of those studying implications of tech. They are not altogether optimistic or may be with highly qualified conclusions. An Oxford University study observes a realistic probability approaching 50% unemployment for many of 702 U.S. job classifications! Opposing claims are that new tech toys will increase job opportunities? Little if anything using Facebook or Google explicitly addresses problems such as employment. Many other studies look at influence of high tech on employment, environment, organization, political behavior, economic performance, politics and so on. Few of these studies are unqualifiedly optimistic. No tool or person can be conclusive about an indefinite future.
Present tech trends possess at least as much probability of adverse influence as have those in past. Morozov addresses some of these influences. One adverse influence of blogs is on daily news. In his view, with which I agree, bloggers have developed a forum “creating beachheads for manufacturing news”. An example he discusses is Huffington. The modus operandi of these blogs is such one need only respond to a blog, click ‘send’ and promptly forget it. Thus is produced a collection, a sample, of responses with opinions on which a new story can be constructed as an ‘exclusive’. Tech is easily a means of ‘participating’ in public affairs without pain of committing time or physical effort. Governments have also gone through experiments with tech. A Scandanavian country decided the public should be direct source of participation in creating legislation. They set up a system in which a set percent of the population could propose legislation for consideration by government. The program died because there was no mechanism to accommodate sector disagreements let alone ridiculous ideas, special interest motives, legally incomplete or impossible proposals, and so on. One could conclude such a tech process could make worse referendum/initiative tools. Being easier than the time consuming referendum/initiative process could completely paralyze California governing and grow deficits even faster. As early as 1821 Saint Simon proposed that “ . . decisions must be the result of scientific demonstrations totally independent of human will . . “ Didn’t work that way of course and probably won’t soon.
Will there come a day, observes Morozov, when we will pick up a book made by printing and binding a collection of tweets? Probably - but will it be entertaining or informative or useful in any way?
Morosov’s observations are useful but certainly not exhaustive. It is hoped tech optimists will take him seriously. I do.