Thursday, June 27, 2013

Non-Fiction: To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov

I really wanted to like Evgeny Morozov’s new book. On the surface of things, it has everything going for it. Researcher and scholar Morozov is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and a fellow at the New America Foundation. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Guardian, The New Republic, The Times Literary Supplement and many others. His voice is acerbic and confident and, if he is to be believed, Morozov has studied the future and what he found there terrified him.

As Morozov writes in the introduction to To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (PublicAffairs):
The ultimate goal of this book … is to uncover the attitudes, dispositions, and urges that comprise the solutionist mind-set, to show how they manifest themselves in specific projects to ameliorate the human condition, and to hint at how and why some of these attitudes, dispositions, and urges can and should be resisted, circumvented and unlearned.
Which as you read on, turns out to be a kind of fancy way of saying: All that stuff that computers make look easy? It’s kind of a lie.

Though Morozov is not yet 30, his acerbic voice has something of an old guy quality to it through some of this material. Or maybe it just seems that way to me because I’ve heard my Uncle Stan say a lot of this stuff in the past. (Albeit less elegantly and in less convincing tones.) In the end, the message -- like Uncle Stan’s -- seems to be: beware the ease of apparent freedom. Technology is the wolf and it’s dressed something like a sheep. Here again, Uncle Stan wouldn’t say it quite this way, but once he worked out the polysyllables, he’d applaud the sentiment:
For only by unlearning solutionism -- that is, by transcending the limits it imposes on our imaginations and by rebelling against its value system -- will we understand why attaining technological perfection without attending to the intricacies of the human condition and accounting for the complex world of practices and traditions, might not be worth the price.
I’m not advising you avoid To Save Everything, Click Here. In fact, the opposite is true. Morozov has crafted another thought-provoking work (after 2011’s The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. Are we sensing a theme here?). It is not possible to read this impressive tome without being pushed to thought and sometimes to action. One should keep in mind, though, that this is a subjective work. Though Morozov’s voice is, at times, commanding, it’s best to keep an open mind while reading him. ◊

Jones Atwater is a contributing editor to January Magazine.

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