A Net Skeptic's Conservative Manifesto

Anti-tech grump Evgeny Morozov overstates his case.

To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, by Evgeny Morozov, Public Affairs, 415 pages, $28.99

Evgeny Morozov’s latest book, To Save Everything, Click Here, follows the same blueprint as his first book, 2011’s The Net Delusion. He takes the over-zealous ramblings of a handful of Internet evangelists, suggests that Pollyannas like them are all around us, and then argues, implausibly, that their very ideas threaten to undermine our culture or humanity in some fashion. Along the way, he doles out generous heapings of unremitting, snarky scorn.

In the earlier book, Morozov used this formula to challenge the hyper-optimism that has infused debates over the Internet’s role in advancing human freedom and even regime change. In To Save Everything, the target is the way people invoke “the Internet” as the cure-all to every problem under the sun.

Morozov rejects the idea that “technology can make us better,” and he rails against “technological solutionism,” defined here as “recasting all complex social situations either as neatly defined problems with definitive, computable solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes that can be easily optimized” through algorithms or other digital fixes. These include, among other things, efforts to improve politics and elections through digital transparency, efforts to shore up the publishing business via crowdsourcing, and the use of various self-tracking technologies to monitor and improve our personal health.

He castigates those who would engage in a “mindless pursuit of this silicon Eden,” cautions that “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,” and argues that solutionism “should be resisted, circumvented, and unlearned.”

Morozov effectively pricks the bubble of irrational exuberance that has always accompanied new digital technologies. But as with his previous book, he refuses to quit while he’s ahead. Instead, he unsuccessfully labors to convince us that the very concept of “the Internet” holds no inherent meaning and that we have all been suffering from a sort of mass delusion about its existence. Worse yet, he offers only a limited and sometimes contradictory roadmap for building a better world and integrating new information technologies into it along the way.

The result is a treatise that is difficult to embrace, despite its sagacious advice not to allow our tools to become ends in and of themselves. Morozov wants to make sure technology never trumps our humanity, but in the process he presents a vision of reality that is virtual at best.

Pummeling the Pollyannas

Morozov’s first mission in the book—one that he generally accomplishes—is to prove that changing the world for the better is damned hard, and that no amount of blustery tech boosterism can solve such difficult problems as overcoming tyrannical rulers, curing disease, reducing crime, ending hunger, or better educating children. With wicked wit and palpable glee, Morozov demolishes simplistic notions that technology is a magical elixir for the world’s worst maladies.

More profoundly, he cautions that the very act of trying to address these problems by reducing them to efficiency-enhancing algorithms is potentially dehumanizing. “We shouldn’t mistake the easy availability of quick technological fixes for their moral desirability,” he argues. No matter what the Net boosters say, good intentions plus cool technology does not always equal positive results.

Morozov’s enemies list in this regard hasn’t changed much since the previous book. There are villains from the business world (Google’s Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg), the commentariat (Clay Shirky, Jeff Jarvis, Kevin Kelly), and the government (former State Department Senior Advisor for Innovation Alex Ross). These and other techno-evangelists earn Morozov’s unrelenting scorn because, he claims, their brand of “Internet-centrism” has “mangled how we think about the past, the present, and the future of technology regulation” and has diverted us “from a more robust debate about digital technologies.”

But Morozov overstates things here considerably. There isn’t any lack of “robust debate” about digital technologies and how to think about or even regulate them. Name just about any information technology you can think of—broadband networks, social networks, email services, ecommerce sites, smartphones and their various apps, geolocation technologies, texting, Twitter—and you’ll find plenty of critics and regulatory proposals.

There has grown in recent years a veritable cottage industry of cyber-cranks who publish a constant stream of books and essays with titles like, “How the Internet is Killing Our [fill in the blank].”  For every pundit guilty of overly exuberant Internet solutionism, you can find another guilty of over-simplified Internet victimization.

Against Technological Determinism

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  • Fluffy||

    certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living.

    I know it is considered a self-evident truism among Luddite fucks like this asshole that the internet is evil because it's killing "in-person, real-life interactions" that make up the only "real connectedness", but that's incredible bunk that falls apart under any kind of scrutiny at all.

    I would submit to you that "in-person, real-life interactions" actually kind of...suck.

    They're generally incredibly formulaic, devoid of content, and perfunctory.

    Think of the kind of prosaic, empty conversation you have at, say, a family reunion.

    "Hey, how have you been?"

    "Great, yourself?"

    "Fine, fine. How are the kids?"

    Blah blah blahdy fucking blah. And so forth, for ten minutes, communicating nothing that would not have been covered in two or three Facebook updates, and taking exactly zero steps outside of the ritual formula for such occasions.

    There's more actual content, more actual give and take, more communication in your average YouTube Comments section (to use a particularly derided example) than in 99% of the conversations that take place in real life worldwide.

  • robc||

    I can prove your point with an example from H&R.

    The death of JsubD, who I never met in person, affected me more than plenty of deaths of people I had actually met.

  • evie778||

    Start working at home with Google! It's by-far the best job Ive had. Last Tuesday I bought a gorgeous Lancia Straton from earning $4331 this - 5 weeks past. I began this 7-months ago and right away started to earn at least $69, per-hr. I use this website,,
    http://goo.gl/4z9pn

  • Fluffy||

    Honestly, I can think of several women I fucked who had less impact on my life, in the final analysis, than Joe from Lowell.

    If human life is a thing of the mind.

    And I think it is.

  • Virginian||

    Yep. One of the most wonderful things about the Internet is that it allows people who previously had no or few friends due to their interests or inclinations to find thousands or millions of people just like them.

    How many gay teenagers in less tolerant home or community environments are able to use an online community as a support group?

    You know, some parent bitching because their kid spends all their time playing multiplayer games. "Go see people, go hang out with the kids your age!!!" The stupid ones? The ones who pick on him? Fuck that, he's got a hundred people on his Warcraft friends list that share a hobby and form a distributed community.

    These are the same people who lament the loss of control that having only three TV channels gave them.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    These are the same people who lament the loss of control that having only three TV channels gave them.

    TOO MANY CHOICES - my older brother

  • AlmightyJB||

    I remember one of the first times I went on an internet forum and I'm having a conversation with someone inAbu Dhabi. I'm like the world just got a whole lot smaller. Most of the intelligent conversations I have are on the Internet. I'm a social person and I enjoy in person interactions as well but I agree that most of the time those conversations are pretty shallow and often repetitive.

  • SouthernSeaDog(Y-tarian)||

    "some parent bitching because their kid spends all their time playing multiplayer games. "Go see people, go hang out with the kids your age!!!"

    Yeah, and fuck the supposed "social" scene at High School and their shitty get-togethers.

    However, I have two younger brothers who do nothing but play XBox and spend all their disposable money on games/subscriptions. It gets to a point in which its not healthy. At least go outside for a walk or something. I was at the school last month that I'm going to next year. On the patio of almost every dorm room were fishing poles and beach umbrellas. Thats how you should spend most of your time, IMHO.

  • ||

    Hmmm.

    My wife was the sysadmin for an advanced cooking forum that I participated in. That's how I met her. We would not have met otherwise, since she lived thousands of miles away and traveled in totally different social circles.

    My best friend of the past 20 years was a fellow whom I met on a wine forum run by Prodigy. We had such fun with one another, we arranged to meet up and spend a weekend. This ended up with me choosing a job near where he lived so that we could get together three or four times a week (no homo). We would not have met otherwise, since he lived 400 miles away and traveled in totally different social circles.

    One author whose stuff I'd been reading for 30 years (a European guy) was on a forum I participated in, and seemed to have the same smart and witty personality in near-real-time as he had in his writing. We struck up several conversations, and started a correspondence. When I went over to Europe on business, we had dinner and an amazingly good time. Now, besides the correspondence, we spend a week or two every year at one another's homes, and he arranged for my scribblings to be published.

    Perhaps my favorite scientific author and I met up in London after having interacted on another internet forum. Likewise, we now write to one another daily, visit several times a year, and have taken several boozy road trips together. He was kind enough to put me in the dedication of his last book.

  • ||

    Did I mention one of my favorite blues/funk guitarists of the '60s and '70s? Wikipedia mentions that he's very reclusive and that his location these days is uncertain. I can tell you that for a week every year, he's in Santa Barbara, where we share a rented place and do some serious food and wine stuff, thanks to an interaction on a wine and cooking forum and ensuing email correspondence. He also helps me with my chord construction...

    I can't say enough about how the personal relations in my life has been enriched by the internet. Evgeny is a turd.

  • entropy_factor||

    I would say that "kinda suck" probably because you lack tangible social skills. Probably because you spend a lot of time online and not in the company of real people.

  • sinclairs||

    Cooper. even though Russell`s story is super... on friday I bought themselves a Chevrolet from having made $9334 this past five weeks and over $10k last-month. it's certainly the most financialy rewarding I have ever had. I actually started eight months/ago and pretty much immediately earned more than $72.. per/hr. I use this web-site,, http://www.wow92.com

  • Fluffy||

    I also have to laugh at this clown's desire to make devices work poorly.

    It's pretty clear that what he wants to achieve is to force people to have to concentrate on interacting with devices, because he sees concentration itself as valuable, apart from the output of achieving something with the device. If you value concentration in itself, it's would be better if Google didn't work well, because then instead of instantly being able to get an answer out of it, you'd have to work at it.

    And that seems almost reasonable, at first glance. Surely we are "more human" when we have to concentrate more?

    Except it's more bunk. Again.

    It falls into the trap of mistaking a parlor trick imitation of intelligence for the real thing. Since all our devices were poorly engineered in the past (or, at least, progressively less well engineered than they are now), and since information was difficult to retrieve in the past, the person who could quickly discern how to overcome bad engineering and the person who could memorize lots of trivia occupied a sort of privileged social space, where his Clever Hans type abilities looked like intelligence to most people. As devices become better engineered and as a trick memory becomes less important, people like that actually have to create something, see something new, to be perceived as intelligent. And they fucking hate it.

  • ||

    Ha, you nailed it. Rote memorization used to be a monetizable skill; not so much any more with instant information retrieval. And the memorizers hate it.

  • Virginian||

    Yeah I can still wreck pub trivia though. No smartphones allowed there.

    I keep trying to get Jeopardy, but they won't let me.

  • ||

    Ned Hastings: When traveling at a subsonic speed during the last one hour of hyper sleep, which vector of the Romulan Nebula will suffer the wrath of the impenetrable quickening? And, for extra points, how many wraths to the nearest molton? Be specific. This is a real question.

    Frylock: Aw, hell.

  • sulphurbottom||

    If just anybody can operate fancy machines, then how will smart people distinguish themselves?

  • Cytotoxic||

    'Knowing stuff' is still really important career wise and social wise. People can only retrieve info they know they are ignorant of and if they know where to get it. Most people don't know what they don't know.

  • Fred The Farmer||

    "Technology will find a hard time solving these problems."

    So how will it solve these problems, eugenics?

  • Irish||

    It's American. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS EUGENICS.

    This is your brain on American style racism.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Technology will find a hard time solving these problems.

    Most of those problems can be solved with drugs.

  • DenverJay||

    Yeah, solving one problem may lead to other problems; so what? Sure, obesity is bad, but I guarantee that starving is worse. Same thing with the "poor". The "poor" in the industrialized countries have a standard of living, and the longevity, that once only the very wealthiest and powerful could hope to achieve. Same thing with global warming caused by an efficient fuel source (hydrocarbons): I'd rather be able to afford air conditioning on a warm planet than struggle to heat a hovel in an ice age.

  • Longtorso||

    The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers [Paperback]
    Imagine an almost instantaneous communication system that would allow people and governments all over the world to send and receive messages about politics, war, illness, and family events. The government has tried and failed to control it, and its revolutionary nature is trumpeted loudly by its backers. The Internet? Nope, the humble telegraph fit this bill way back in the 1800s. The parallels between the now-ubiquitous Internet and the telegraph are amazing, offering insight into the ways new technologies can change the very fabric of society within a single generation....

  • Sevo||

    Nowhere does Theirer examine exactly how Morozov would accomplish his sabotage, but it doesn't take a lot of thought before it's obvious it won't be through market forces; who in hell would buy a computer that is designed to be difficult to use?
    Sorry, this guy is a 'conservative' in exactly the way progs are conservative; they think the world was just ducky in 1955 and they're more than willing to use your money and their force to return to those golden days.

  • GILMORE||

    more like 1933

  • Nazdrakke||

    Judging from this review his premise seems to reduce to: "technology might change the world from something I think I understand into something I don't and it therefore must be resisted."

  • Cytotoxic||

    He's a neocon aka a righty prog.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

  • Sevo||

    See?! See?! The internet didn't solve that!!

  • ||

    Time to ban assault meteors. Call your Congressional representative and tell them that Wolcott deserves a vote!

  • Sevo||

    "90%! 90%! 90%!"

  • ||

    "Vote Earth. Vote Sirius A. Manson."

  • GILMORE||

    ""Adam Thierer on Evgeny Morozov...""

    why do i feel something was misspelled?

  • Dr Johnson||

    he unsuccessfully labors to convince us that the very concept of “the Internet” holds no inherent meaning and that we have all been suffering from a sort of mass delusion about its existence

    I refute it thus! *launches Good Times virus*

  • da1prophet@gmail.com||

    Morozov is seriously trying to put toothpaste back into the tube here (though that might be the sort of 'crippled' technology he'd go for). It sounds as if he's using the pre DotCom bubble burst bagmen who'd be out trying to raise money to built the #2 BBQ sauce portal online b/c in the future everyone would buy BBQ sauce on line and the 'BBQ.com' domain was already taken. These types have already been pilloried over and over again for their hyper enthusiasm/brazen scamming of investors. Yet that doesn't negate the fact that in so many industries the Internet *has* changed the world and simultaneously 'solved problems' while disrupting the status quo (qv: the music biz). The fact that a few people were wrong about the application of a new technology doesn't invalidate its significance. And if the kooky 'flower petal lamp' ever did come to market it would be less than an hour before someone hacked it to stay on all the time and the instructions to do so (and to install an Android OS based ROM to operate it) posted online.

  • Sevo||

    ..."Yet that doesn't negate the fact that in so many industries the Internet *has* changed the world"...

    My company would not exist without the net.
    The costs of advertising, print material, market research, etc, without the web means it would never have even started (even presuming it would have qualified for SB gov't funding; don't know and don't care).

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

  • sulphurbottom||

    I did OK, but (spoiler alert) the presence of a Mars bar shows that this was put together by a Brit. I would've done better if they'd included more of the standard American fare, such as Snickers and (need I say it?) Twix.

  • ||

    Yeah, I only missed the Smarties and the Mars bar.

    I was WTF on the Smarties until I looked it up and saw that it's a completely different candy from what is marketed as Smarties in the US.

  • DenverJay||

    pretty sure I have seen Mars Bars here in the U.S of A.

  • ||

    THEY'RE ALL TWIX!

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Navajo the chosen one for new ‘Star Wars’ language dubbing

    In the new translation of “Star Wars,” Darth Vader is Luke’s bizhe’e.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Will Disney/LucasFilm just dub "A New Hope" or all three Star Wars movies?

  • WomSom||

    Sounds like a solid plan to me udde.

    www.GotzMyAnon.tk

  • stop telling lies||

    . . .silicon eden . . .

    What a great name for a band!

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I don't see the internet freeing disenfranchised citizens in ANY authoritarian society worth its dictatorial salt. I'm not a Luddite by any means but the reality I tend to side with is one that works to comprehend feasible strategies employed by strangling authority to ceaselessly limit freedom.

  • DenverJay||

    See? Without the internet, Marcus and this guy's cousin's step mom would have to get real jobs!

  • box_man||

    Morozov is exhibit A for why academics are really poor at understanding what is going on around them. I've worked in engineering for 20+ years and only an idiot couldn't see how profoundly the internet has changed the way things are done. One example: I can design a part in CAD, send it through the internet to a connected 3D printer and have it printed and sent back to me nearly overnight. The only human intervention is the guy on the other end unloading, cleaning and packing the part for shipping.

    The equivalent task used to mean I had to make a CAD file, go down to the computer department and get a tape or disk made, drive it or mail it to the prototype shop where another CAD jockey reads the file in and took a couple of days to create shop drawings that are printed out and sent to the shop floor where two or three guys spend another 3 or 4 days translating the print to CNC code and mill and machine the part, which then was shipped back to me a couple days after that.

    How can the internet not be a useful technology when it can transform workflows as radically as my example?

  • Redmanfms||

    The equivalent task used to mean I had to make a CAD file, go down to the computer department and get a tape or disk made, drive it or mail it to the prototype shop where another CAD jockey reads the file in and took a couple of days to create shop drawings that are printed out and sent to the shop floor where two or three guys spend another 3 or 4 days translating the print to CNC code and mill and machine the part, which then was shipped back to me a couple days after that.

    Look at all those high paying jerbs destroyed by technology!!

    /Luddite nitwit

  • Agile Cyborg||

    In reply to your Luddite nitwit:

    Whereas the fellow above you sends out his files to other fellows keeping them busy... My small invention partnership has now moved prototyping in-house with the readily available Replicator 2 hooked up to my workstation. We've likely impacted a few jobs somewhere with this move.

    It is inevitable that cheap machines will change the economy in ways few could have predicted. Not recognizing this might be its own form of Ludditism. The changes will be largely beneficial to bright and flexibly-minded individuals... the rest will be divided even more so by the brutal reality of standard economics.

  • DRM||

    You know what I like? This book has a Kindle edition.

  • phandaal||

    I met my wife on a dating site, and we aren't a rare case these days. We've also made a lot of friends through Meetup events.

    So, the Internet, being a huge impersonal human-destroyer, allows us to make what is probably one of the most intimate connections that two people can make.

    Yeah, Morozov is a moron.

  • Ex Libertas||

    Fear/distrust of technology is fear of humanity - fear of civilization. Technology is what separates us from other species, it is what makes us human. This is not some New-Age thinking, it is Rational Thinking. Humans are Tool Makers; computers, smartphones, the internet, satellites, etc. - these are the "advanced" tools of the 21st century. Just like the Written Word was the "advanced" tool of ancient times. Morozov's argument is self-contradictory and absurd. If he's against technology, why is he using technology (the written word, printing press, money, etc.) to make his point? Technology CAN solve a lot of problems, if those who design and engineer it have a clear vision and intelligence to make it happen. Technology is also probably the only way we can put humanity on a path to sustainable growth and prosperity (as is evident here: http://www.geopolitics.us/?p=1645 )

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