To Save Everything, Click Here: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: April 18th, 2013 by bobmorris

To Save EverythingTo Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism
Evgeny Morozov
PublicAffairs/Perseus Books Group (2013)

How and why the inefficiency of “solutionism” is compromising advanced technology

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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