Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Morozov's Buzzword

Evgeny Morozov set off something of a firestorm recently making comments of this kind. I personally regard the critique of Morozov the thinker as vitally important and regard the pyrotechnics of Morozov the stylist as enormously congenial, so I won't make too much of the patent parallel American Dream of clever irritated wordsmiths in anti-intellectual America who instead write a book, disrupt a discourse, coin a buzzword or two of their own and hope to make a splash. (By the way, count me IN!) So much of the difficulty in criticizing futurologists is that what one wants is to make more explicit the actual costs, risks, and benefits of ongoing technoscientific changes to the diversity of their stakeholders and what one ends up battling are the deceptive and deranging promotional and self-promotional practices of advertizers and marketeers, press-releases whomping up cash and attention for celebrity CEOs, advertorial pop-tech journalists looking to hook eyeballs with wish-fulfillment fantasies and disasterbation, and then a passel of Very Serious think-tank pseudo-intellectuals and futurologists whose "analysis" is hard to distinguish, really, in its endless re-packaging of the same stale promises of superintelligence, supercapacitation, superlongevity, and superabundance forever hyperbolized from the same sorts of modest, qualified, isolated bits of research and whimsy from the PR hustlers themselves. To an important extent it is the very incessance of the scam and the persistence of its dangers for serious technodevelopmental deliberation in the face of actually urgent shared problems (anthropogenic climate change, irrational urbanization, global plutocracy and the catastrophe of unmet needs in overexploited regions of the world, neglected treatable diseases and structural pandemic enablement, unprecedented weapons proliferation, and so on) that produces and shapes the recurring gestures and tropes of the critique. Of course, already available terms -- some available for a century or more! -- like technofix, reductionism, scientism, technological determinism, autonomous technology, unsustainability, monologism, instrumental rationalization, speculators, snake-oil, and even imperialism connect us to aspects and sorts of critique like the one Morozov is making again of the irrational exuberants and circus barkers and flim-flam artists of the digital domain. It is because the crust of techno-triumphalist convention reforms so irresistibly in American capitalist settings we need neologisms like Morozov's "Solutionism" right about now and will no doubt need comparable spurs again sooner than we would wish.

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