This is the first in a series posts on topics relating to technology and human progress.
PART 1 – First impressions
In his book To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, Evgeny Morozov (also author of The Net Delusion) takes on what he calls the tyranny of ‘technological solutionism’. Essentially it’s when smart, well-meaning people – mostly from Silicon Valley – try to apply technological solutions to every problem they come across.
The issue is that very often these problems are far more complex than they appear, and the technological solutions often only deal with one small part of it. For example: education. If education was simply a question of transferring abstract information from one person to the next, then online tools and courses such as Wikipedia and Coursera could ‘solve’ all of our needs. As many students and educators have pointed out: they don’t.
So far, what strikes me about Morozov’s book is that:
-It clearly describes and critiques the dogma of ‘science can solve all our problems’, especially in the context of big data. Having never been to Silicon Valley, and not being ‘in’ on the tech world, it made me realise this is far more prevalent than I thought
-The kinds of people who fall prey to this line of thinking tend to be people who ask ‘how?’ and not ‘why?’ (i.e. the stereotypical engineer or business person). Being an engineer myself and having great respect for the essential role we otherwise play (try asking an activist or musician to build you a cell-phone or coordinate global food supply), my instinct is simply to want to connect Silicon Valley with a large number of literary, philosophical and generally ‘old & wise’ people to help provide better context and guidance to the technical solutions being proposed. Although perhaps this would make me guilty of solutionism.
According to Morozov, rejecting solutionism does not mean rejecting technology. Instead, it means taking the time to fully understand and embrace the complexities of the the world that surrounds us, and, where necessary, having the humility and restraint to leave things as they are.
Which reminds me of a quote* I am very fond of:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom, always, to discern between the two”
More to come…
*I believe it’s an old Christian prayer but unfortunately don’t know the original source – if you do, please share in the comments section below