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To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist Paperback – 3 Jul 2014
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If you've ever had the niggling feeling, as you spoon down your google, that there's no such thing as a free lunch, Morozov's book will tell you how you might end up paying for it (Brian Eno)
A clear voice of reason and critical thinking in the middle of today's neomania (Nassim Taleb, author of 'The Black Swan')
"Morozov is a relentless dragon-slayer in the puffed-up world of internet punditry."- Financial Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product description
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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.
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