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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 March 2015
Reading Evgeny Morozov's book is rather a rollercoaster ride as it swings from well-made criticisms of internet zealots through to arguments with large holes and contentious assumptions.

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.
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on 9 March 2014
This is an important and very inspiring book. Morozov is miles away from shallow technophobia and does not demonize the "Internet" or ubiquitous computing as something necessarily harmful or evil. His point is based on far deeper thinking and more substantial. Morozov discovers flaws in our shared thinking and narratives around the "Internet" (scare quotes intended) and digital cultures with their frequent hypes around social networks, social media, big data, open source, maker culture, crowd sourcing, crowd funding, quantified self, behavior change or whatever the latest and greatest TED talk was about.

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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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 16 April 2013
I agree with Evgeny Morozov that a never-ending quest to ameliorate, what Tania Murray Li characterizes as "the will to improve," has created problems whose disruptive and (yes) destructive impact has been exacerbated by various technologies. Morozov calls this pathology "solutionism." In Chapter One, he observes, "It's not only that many problems are not suited to the quick-and-easy solutionist tool kit. It'd also that what many solutionists presume to be 'problems' in need of solving are not problems at all; a deeper investigation into the very nature of these 'problems' would reveal that the inefficiency, ambiguity, and opacity -- whether in politics or everyday life -- that the newly empowered geeks and solutionists are rallying against are not in any sense problematic. Quite the opposite: these vices are often virtues in disguise. That, thanks to innovative technologies, the modern-day solutionist has an easy way to eliminate them does not make them any less virtuous."

Morozov probably knew that this book would generate a great deal of controversy, and it has because he almost gleefully challenges the assumptions and conclusions of what James O'Toole (in Leading Change) characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny if custom." "On the odd chance that this book succeeds, its great contribution to the public debate might lie in the redrawing the front lines of the intellectual battles about digital technologies."

Morozov seems to divide Internet thinkers (or at least those claim to have thought about it) into two groups. "Those front lines will separate a host of Internet thinkers who are convinced that `the Internet' is a useful analytical category that tells us something important about how the world really works from a group of post-Internet thinkers who see `the internet,' despite its undeniable physicality, as a socially constructed concept that could perhaps be studied by sociologists, historians, and anthropologists - much as they study the public life of ideas such as `science,' `class,' or `Darwinism' - but that tells us nothing about how the world works and even less about how it should."

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Morozov's analysis of "the folly of technological solutionism":

o Against the Internet Grain (Pages 21-25)
o Recycle the Cycle (57-62)
o The Perils of Information Reductivism (85-89)
o Future Perfect -- Democracy Isn't (107-110)
o Drowning in the Algorithmic Sea (146-153)
o The Rise of Unethical Critics (173-180)
o The Perils of Preemption (202-208)
o The Great Unraveling (238-243)
o Hunches and Fractured Pelvises (264-267)
o Madeleine: There's an App for That! (276-281)
o Phantoms and Backpacks (286-290)
o Monkeys, Sex, and Predictable Duress (305-309)
o Mad Men, Faded Denims, and Real Phonies (313-317)
o Radios, Caterpillars, and Lamps (325-328)
o On Frictionless Traps (344-350)

Before concluding his book, Morozov affirms, "Technology is not the enemy; our enemy is the romantic and revolutionary problem solver who resides within. We can do nothing to tame that little creature, but we can do a lot to tame its favorite weapon: "`the Internet.' Let's do it while we can - it would be deeply ironic if humanity were to die in the crossfire as its problem solvers attempted to transport that very humanity to a trouble-free world." Who will prevail, the Problem Creators (i.e. Solutionists) or the Problem Solvers? Stay tuned.
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on 3 April 2013
Morozov is combative, and seems to take a great deal of pleasure in dismantling the arguments of the cyber-utopians. Whether he succeeds will depend on whom he's attacking in a particular passage, but I'd give him serious credit for trying it, and for being persistent.

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"
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on 2 January 2016
As someone deeply interested in how technology is changing society I believed I would like this book and learn from it. But while Morozov undoubtedly makes good points, he doesn't bring anything new to the table. He doesn't inspire me. Maybe some people will make use of this book, but I didn't. I didn't read all of it fully because it's too long and not worth the effort.

Everyone is aware there are pro-internet zealots who rave about openness and transparency and so on. I was never taken in by their arguments, I have always dismissed them. I don't know their names or their works. It wouldn't occur to me that they would be in any way relevant to an intellectual discussion about the internet .

Yet almost this entire book is basically just picking up these people's writings and to use a recent word "fisking" them. Of course they're stupid, that goes without saying. Even many teenagers realize the foolishness in talking about the internet like that. Morozov takes some of the wildest, most "out-there" writers and then tut-tuts over their views and picks apart their arguments. Good, but where does that leave us? If I had to choose one way of describing this book it's "fisking" authors who I would rather stick needles in my eyeballs than listen to.

Other claims of his, such as that the "epochalist" view of history, science and the internet happening in revolutions or from great discontinuous milestones are all wrong, are too fuzzy and unfalsifiable for there to be meaning for me. You can always argue that "x is portrayed as being such and such, but actually it was a lot more subtle and more complicated than is made out". You can always argue that something is more complicated than it seems.

Morozov's thought and argument direction often don't seem very coherent to me. For example he spends the whole of chapter 2 lambasting the idea of the internet as an discrete entity and something not-physical, yet does exactly the same thing himself through most of the book, such as how he says the internet supposedly has its own political parties, the "pirate parties". He refers to this discrepancy himself soon after by talking about how the internet itself is ambiguous, mentioning it briefly in a ludicrous manner as if it actually adds some sort of weight to what he's been saying.

Morozov did not bring up anything new for me or make me think of things in a new light, even in a loose sense. The book is also way too long. He seems to have mastered the art of being long-winded to make the simplest of points. I swear, the book industry is really getting swamped with people who are churning out thousands of words to write things that could be done in a much smaller space. Ironically he talks about the perils of condensation of space when he could with some of it himself.
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on 18 May 2015
Interesting and refreshingly honest and critical take on the digital age, and its repercussions and political implications.
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on 27 June 2013
Click Here is an ambitious book that dismisses the claims of the online world to a privileged position in solving political and social problems and proposes an alternative use of technology to deal with those issues.

Morozov does a good job of rejecting the notion that "The Internet" is an ontological reality rather than a number of companies and individuals communicating through a certain medium. He rightly criticises the epochalism of geeks and their absurd claims of "The Internet" changing the way we think, making the past redundant and other overblown claims. He also denies that Google's algorithms are objective and free of bias and the notion the Web has a special claim for freedom of expression over and above the rest of media. Finally he correctly identifies the shallowness of computer algorithms in analysing human beings and calls for a deeper and richer understanding of humanity.

This is all very well but all that criticism should be directed to modern society as a whole, not just the Web. When Obama says "I only support policies that work" he is being just as insincere about his lack of bias and just as shallow in his politics as Google is with its algorithms. The claim of "The Internet" heralding a new era that breaks with the past has its companion in Governments saying that global warming or terrorism are issues that cannot be dealt with old rules, and the infantile view of humans is just as evident in modern politics (Cameron's "happiness index"). Morozov is the first to point to the lack of exceptionalism in the online world and that it is just a reflection of the offline society. This then raises the question of why writing a book about the failings of the Web, when these are overall failings of modern society. Morozov's preference for standard politics over online ones ignores that the latter is the offspring of the former.

In any case, the major failing of Morozov thesis is his support for alternative ways to deal with problems, for instance the Forget Me Not lamp. This is a lamp that gradually dims after being switched on; the user then has to regularly touch a pedal in order to reactivate the light. This is meant to get us into a "dialogue with the lamp" and "think" about energy consumption. The advantages of this method over outright restrictions on energy use is that the we engage in a thinking process that will turn us into responsible environmentalists out of our own accord and therefore bona fide greens that act out of genuine conviction rather than selfish consumers who go green because of Government impositions or incentives.

However saying that the lamp makes us "think" is a corruption of the idea of thinking. Genuine thought is spontaneous and autonomous but what the lamp does is prompting us to think about a specific issue in a specific manner and this should be described as education at best and indoctrination at worst. To talk about a "dialogue with the lamp" is to have a profoundly antihumanistic view of human beings and to completely misunderstand the philosophy of Oakeshott who Morozov quotes approvingly.

Morozov belongs to the illiberal section of the left which currently dominates the Democrat party in the US and Labour in Britain. His definition of the bedrock of democratic decision making as a "vast legal and political effort" betrays his preference for laws over civil society. His contempt for the masses is evident in phrases such as "free expression of ideas often erodes further the credibility of those who know" and therefore the marketplace of ideas must be regulated. This is straight out of the elitist-statist-authoritarian rulebook. That this kind of illiberal talk is mixed with praise for liberal giants such as Oakeshott and Trilling speaks of the intellectual confusion of Morozov. This is a book calling for Government regulation that at the same time quotes Hayek admiringly.

At the bottom of Morozov's thinking is the narcissistic conviction that his ideals (environmentalism, social justice etc) are shared by us all therefore the only question is how best to enforce them. He never considers how he would feel if his lamp suggestion was used to further conservative concerns instead. Take sexual promiscuity. A condom made of some material that only lasted a few minutes and thus forced the user to replace it several times would make the user "think" about the rights and wrongs of casual sex and thus fulfil Morozov's requirements. Would he support such an innovation? One suspects not.

Illiberal attempts to foist a certain ideology on the masses can take different forms; from the brainwashing of communist and fascist regimes and the bullying of some feminists and most trade unionists to the soft fascism of "Nudging". Morozov's contribution could be described as subliminal coercion and it's probably the most benign of the list (but also the most insidious) and one that should be rejected by true liberals.
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on 5 May 2013
Great book on the somewhat one-sided thinking of the technology industry (which btw I have been a part of for the last 12 years). Morozov broadens the lense used to explore the possibilities and limitations of new technologies wider than the narrow view of the so-called solutionists. Assumptions of singular values driving innovation (efficiency) and singular views of how humans operate (homo economicus/rational choice) is reviewed from the point of view of ethics, sociology, philosophy of science and much more. Thoroughly recommend reading this book if you're interested in technology, web 2.0 and similar.
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on 1 April 2013
Have to admit, I have had a chance to talk to the author in addition to having read the book, to his credit he accepted at least one of the claims he made was wrong. Shocked by ignorance which is reflected in the book, assumptions made while making sweeping statements assumes others are as ignorant as the author, e.g "correlation vs causality". Overall tries to depict that the author has read quite a large number of books/papers by recognized authors, but this does not remedy authors lack of deeper understanding of areas.
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