feedback and failure: solutionism
May 28, 2013, 11:29 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

jouro.583.A favorite professor in architecture school – Prangnell – gave a favorite lecture on gifts.  He told us how making a building is like giving a gift, and how the motivations behind giving gifts closely parallel how we design for the public realm.

There are many ways of giving gifts:  give something I like; give something I think she will like; give something I want him to like; give to assuage an emotion, like guilt or longing; give to feel better about myself; give to increase attention and a feeling of love; give to show off a sense of taste or wealth.

Prangnell’s lecture was better than mine is turning out to be; but of course his point is that giving a gift well is an act replete with intentionality and emotion: of not knowing, of empathy, of deciding and acting and of hope:  that this thing will delight or ignite a passion or spark a memory, or unite us in some way.

Following is a dystopian view of giving gifts in which the joy of not knowing, the pleasure and pain of thinking, choosing, doing, risking and giving are all removed.  By none other than the kings of social media – and who knows maybe soon also the world –  facebook.

From Morozov, The Perils of Perfection:

LAST month Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s former marketing director, enthused about a trendy app to “crowdsource absolutely every decision in your life.” Called Seesaw, the app lets you run instant polls of your friends and ask for advice on anything: what wedding dress to buy, what latte drink to order and soon, perhaps, what political candidate to support. Seesaw offers an interesting twist on how we think about feedback and failure. It used to be that we bought things to impress our friends, fully aware that they might not like our purchases. Now this logic is inverted: if something impresses our friends, we buy it. The risks of rejection have been minimized; we know well in advance how many Facebook “likes” our every decision would accumulate. Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher who celebrated the anguish of decision as a hallmark of responsibility, has no place in Silicon Valley. Whatever their contribution to our maturity as human beings, decisions also bring out pain and, faced with a choice between maturity and pain-minimization, Silicon Valley has chosen the latter — perhaps as a result of yet another instant poll. […] All these efforts to ease the torments of existence might sound like paradise to Silicon Valley. But for the rest of us, they will be hell. They are driven by a pervasive and dangerous ideology that I call “solutionism”: an intellectual pathology that recognizes problems as problems based on just one criterion: whether they are “solvable” with a nice and clean technological solution at our disposal. Thus, forgetting and inconsistency become “problems” simply because we have the tools to get rid of them — and not because we’ve weighed all the philosophical pros and cons.

Evgeny Morozov, The Perils of Perfection, New York Times

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