April 30th, 2013
Over at The New Atlantis with a deeply-engaged review of Evgeny Morozov’s The Save Everything Click Here. Her essay is, as you’d expect, a pretty good discussion-starter on Morozov and the world of techno-utopianism. Sample awesome:
In Buddhist philosophy, people are encouraged to embrace discomfort and inconvenience as important aspects of a fully lived life. But most people aren’t Buddhists; they want convenience, and insofar as we are living in a convenience culture, we are actively discouraged from living with limits and instead taught to treat them as simply technical problems to overcome — bumps on the road to glorious efficiency and greater happiness. The technologies we buy to make our lives more convenient inherently discourage conscious reflection about our use of them. As a 2012 advertisement for the iPadput it, “When a screen becomes this good, it’s simply you and the things you care about.”
For his part Morozov embraces “a dynamic view of selfhood as something that emerges only slowly and gradually — both in the context of individual self-development and across generations in the broader historical context,” and he correctly notes that our technologies “actively shape our notion of the self; they even define how and what we think about it.” But apart from politics, he says little about other social and cultural institutions that contribute to the construction of the self, and that also offer havens from the relentless self-exposure that our use of technology demands — havens that will become more important in the future.
This strikes me as (possibly) the heart of most of our discussions about modernity. Both the state and technology are expanding and laying claim to authorities which have historically been the province of the institutions of civil society. Part of that is ideological; part of it is practical. And some institutions of civil society have shriveled on their own while others have been actively crowded out by, for instance, the pervasive, all-devouring “morality” of the free-market.
Rosen is pro-Morozov (albeit with some reservations) but her sense is that Morozov’s critique of techno-utopianism is incomplete in some fundamental ways. But that doesn’t make it any less welcome.
Interesting how you too-much-capitalism “squishes” (sayeth you, not I) immediately brand GOOG’s sorting & indexing & commodifying of everything (food + water in Q4) as the age-old Invisible Hand Mischief reprised. On a social basis I know people from the milieu actually maintaining the supposed Moloch/Doomsday contraption over on the wrong side of the Santa Cruz range, and they’d all be fairly horrified to glimpse that reflection in the mirror surface you’ve mocked up. I don’t mean Schmidt, but would include the twentysomething bobos fresh out of costly masters’ programs–certainly capable of a routine level of youthful greed and status passion, but way too moralistic to be Michael Lewis characters. They skew toward a bedrock belief that whatever foundation they’re laying is ipso facto “better than what came before”