I expected to like Evgeny vs. the internet a lot more than I did. Although I love technology, I am very skeptical of a lot of the pro-technology talk out there. I wanted to hear some serious take-downs of the b.s. that passes for wisdom in the technology space. Unfortunately, it was slim pickings. I don’t know if that’s because there’s little substance to Evgeny Morozov’s criticisms, or because the article isn’t very good. (It is too long.)
In any event, here are some highlights.
In The Net Delusion, Morozov “calls the idea that technology is the key ingredient to the promotion of democracy ‘cyber-utopianism,’ and shows just how thoroughly this idea has pervaded both the public and political consciousness.”
It’s completely normal for each generation to think “it’s different now.” They cast off the wisdom of their elders because the world has changed. To whatever extent that has been true in past generations, it’s an even bigger deal now. Smart phones and big data and speed cameras and ubiquitous technology are changing a lot of things.
But not everything. Some of the technology nonsense is a matter of confusing things that do change with things that don’t. For example, there are still bad people out there — even if they have a smart phone. And even if it’s an iPhone.
In this world of rapid change, people often fail to question assumptions. In one situation, Morozov was called an “internet scientist,” and then realized his usefulness in that role “depended entirely on the largely unexamined assumption that new media had a coherent and predictable effect on each country (or industry) it touched.”
I hear things like this all the time, and I see companies dumping money into the social media pit because they haven’t used ordinary business sense. They don’t have to, you see, because “it’s different this time.” You can’t rely on “old thinking.”
So-called “internet experts,” or “social media experts,” are often people who have fooled others into believing their promotional literature.
“Part of my job is to raise the cost of producing bullshit in this area, and to make sure people pay for that with shame, with being ridiculed, with harsh reviews, whatever,” he says.
That sounds like a noble calling. I just wish the article gave more examples.
Morozov speaks of “internet-centrism,” “which he describes as the ‘firm conviction that we are living through unique, revolutionary times, in which the previous truths no longer hold.’”
Right. It’s a big problem. Just because the big firms are run by young people doesn’t mean they’re your idealistic friends from college.
It’s just that he considers the larger notions of innate goodness and inevitability that “the internet” has been consciously imbued with to be bullshit. “You think about Big Pharma, Big Oil,” he says. “The mere fact that we use the term ‘big’ to talk about them means we’ve figured out that they probably have interests that diverge from those of the public. Nobody uses the term ‘big data’ in that sense.”
It’s painful to listen to idealistic young people complain about “big oil” and “big pharma” and Monsanto and all the currently fashionable bogey men and fail to realize that Google is probably a far bigger threat to their lives.
“Organizing the world’s information” sounds so intellectual and nice. It’s about as threatening as a librarian. But that’s where our liberties are going to be eroded. NSA didn’t get your personal data from big oil.
There’s a kind of insanity that overtakes people when they talk about the internet. Think about the newspapers that decided to publish their expensive editorial content in exchange for banner ads — which then went south. Or think about all the magazines that have pumped tons of money into iPad editions of their magazines — and almost nobody reads those things.
It’s important to keep up with trends and change with the times, but I have a recurring feeling that “it’s different now” also means that executives aren’t using normal business sense in their decisions.