When you learn that Evgeny Morozov’s previous book was called The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, you quickly realize that his new book, To Save Everything, Click Here, isn’t likely to be an ode to the utopian wonder of the Web. And indeed it isn’t.
Morozov, a scholar and writer who studies the political and social implications of technology, scoffs at what he calls “solutionism,” the idea that with enough Big Data, computing power, and crowdsourcing, the world, led by Silicon Valley eggheads and entrepreneurs celebrating “openness,” will somehow magically solve problems from pollution to terrorism to oppression.
Let’s put it this way: Morozov really hates the TED Conference and rolls his eyes when Google and Facebook talk about their true missions being about “changing the world” rather than making a buck.
“In the grand scheme of things, what exactly is being improved is not very important; being able to change things, to get humans to behave in more responsible and sustainable ways, to maximize efficiency, is all that matters,” he writes. “Imperfection, ambiguity, opacity, disorder, and the opportunity to err, to sin, to do the wrong thing: all of these are constitutive of human freedom, and any concentrated attempt to root them out will root out that freedom as well.” Recasting every complex social problem as a computational challenge to be addressed with algorithms simply won’t work, he contends.
And who says openness is always inherently a good thing? Morozov asks. A nightclub without a bouncer is open, but if chaos commences inside should we still celebrate the club’s open environment? And why, he wonders, do we automatically assume that if something is done the “Internet” way, it’s better by definition? Kickstarter is an open and “democratic” way to fund art projects, but will it ultimately yield the best art, or is it simply a popularity contest that will lead straight to the lowest common denominator?
Taking shots at some of the Internet’s most famous boosters — including Clay Shirky, Steven Johnson, Jeff Jarvis and Lawrence Lessig — Morozov isn’t scared to make enemies. The blowback: Some have labeled him a bully, an apologist for censors and repressors, and the Bill O’Reilly of the Internet.
The crux of Morozov’s argument is that “there is no such thing as the Internet,” at least not the holy omniscient Internet most of us imagine. Still, he was able to write a long book about it, so there must be something there worth discussing. He is a provocateur, a flamethrower, someone who could inspire some rousing debates in the cafeterias of Silicon Valley’s top companies … if only the young coders weren’t already so completely convinced of the nobility of their missions.
To Save Everything, Click Here, by Evgeny Morozov, hardcover, 412 pages. Published by PublicAffairs.