A kindred spirit in a 29-year-old? Well, maybe, though Evgeny Morozov gets far more traction than I ever will. Still, the immediate sense of camaraderie was obvious. From the latest cover story at the Columbia Journalism Review:
To say that Morozov has gone out of his way to irritate powerful and influential people in the tech world doesn’t quite capture it. Doing so is his primary occupation. In the Morozovian worldview, New York University professor and social-media theorist Clay Shirky is a “consultant-cum-intellectual”; Google’s mission is to “monetize all of the world’s information and make it universally inaccessible and profitable”; and Tim O’Reilly, the Silicon Valley publisher and venture capitalist who coined “Web 2.0,” is an Orwellian “meme hustler” and the main culprit behind “the enduring emptiness of our technology debates.” To millions of viewers, TED talks are inspirational speeches about “ideas worth spreading” in science and technology. To Morozov they are a “sinister” hyping of “ideas no footnotes can support.”
Or try this passage. It’s a takedown of a work of technological triumphalism called Hybrid Reality, but it doubles as a summary of his thinking about the entirety of the tech discourse: “[P]erhaps this is what the Hybrid Age is all about: marketing masquerading as theory, charlatans masquerading as philosophers, a New Age cult masquerading as a university, business masquerading as redemption, slogans masquerading as truths.”
At some point, though, the hollerin’ ends, everyone’s feelings are hurt, and it’s time to talk about what we’ve learned.
The complaint about Morozov, aside from all the people who just hate him because he’s so mean, is that his efforts to tear down the edifice of technological adoration built on a foundation of bullshit don’t “solve” the problem of those who live there.
Many of Morozov’s opponents dismiss him as a spoiled child, someone who sits in the corner refusing, as Tim O’Reilly once said, to be “useful,” shouting insults at the adults as they roll up their sleeves and solve the world’s problems.
The working assumption is that criticism is purely destructive, when we should all join hands and work toward the perfect future, solving all of society’s problems, and ignoring that one side’s solution is the other side’s problem since we all suffer the myopia of believing that we’re right and anyone who disagrees is a disingenuous moron. But as I’ve argued before, this assumption is guided by a child-like misapprehension of problem solving.
Morozov insists that his refusal to be useful is its own kind of usefulness—and even, as he recently wrote in one of his essays for German newspapers, an intellectual duty. Traditionally, this is an uncontroversial definition of the role of the critic in intellectual life. But not in the relentlessly sunny realm of the tech gurus, where such obstinance must be baffling, even perverse.
When everyone around you is lauding the fabulous future just over the next ledge, someone has to caution people to look before they leap. It’s not appreciated. We harsh the glow of positivity. We sing a sour note in the four-part harmony of Kumbaya.
And maybe we’re completely wrong, but at least we make you think before you hop on the train that takes you off the cliff to certain ruin. Every religion needs heretics.
H/T Mark Bennett