More righteous technological contrarianism from Morozov (The Net Delusion, 2011, etc.).
Can technology solve social problems? To an extent, perhaps, writes the author. But for every Utopian application of a computer, dystopia awaits: Technology may afford hitherto disenfranchised or at least undercounted people an equal voice, but inside the world of clicks, likes and read-throughs lurk dragons. Morozov, who calls himself a “digital heretic,” doesn’t offer fully fleshed solutions to the problems a detechnologized world poses, but he dislikes the thought of the “frictionless future” all the same, even if its contours are sometimes vague. Having had experience with totalitarianism, Morozov is bothered by the prospect of social engineers having ever brighter and shinier tools at their disposal: “All will be tempted to exploit the power of these new techniques, either individually or in combination, to solve a particular problem, be it obesity, climate change, or congestion.” It’s not that those problems aren’t real; it’s that, by Morozov’s account, what underlies them are things human and not technological, requiring human solutions. Thus it is, he writes, that the brave new world of online education may be exciting to many, but it overlooks a strong component of academic success—namely, the face-to-face (F2F, that is) access students have to their professors. And as for a disintermediating site such as Rate Your Professors? It’s just another avatar, writes Morozov, of the introduction of “the consumerist mentality into education.”
Healthy skepticism dealt with a sometimes too-heavy hand, and a useful corrective for those who believe that we’ll somehow engineer ourselves out of our current mess.