Here is a stinging rebuke to the world the techies have built by George Packer in his article Change the World. The arc of his argument in these three paragraphs: that the world view of the tech made world is parochial, narrow, given to simplistic solutions; that out of this context has arisen a sort of libertarian ideology that offers tech solutions to superficials while the world burns; and that our focus on tech – which though narrow is described as a media revolution, not unlike the Industrial Revolution – may logically be related to many of the macro social problems we are experiencing, like inequality, among others.

My prof at university explained how ‘Who controls the media’ wins the prize. That the tech nerd – the audio video guy from high school, with his zero social skills, who never went out, who couldn’t engage in a proper conversation, who couldn’t conceive of anything beyond his singular realm of knowledge being significant – is now in charge is a crazy thought. It’s the reality in pretty well every office I have ever worked in; never the brightest or broadest, always the narrowly technically adept.

Here is George Packer; the full article is linked below:

Horowitz—who is the son of David Horowitz, the radical turned conservative polemicist—attributed Silicon Valley’s strain of libertarianism to the mentality of engineers. “Libertarianism is, theoretically, a relatively elegant solution,” he said. “People here have a great affinity for that kind of thing—they want elegance. Most people here are relatively apolitical and not that knowledgeable about how these large complicated systems of societies work. Libertarianism has got a lot of the false positives that Communism had, in that it’s a very simple solution that solves everything.” The intellectual model is not the dour Ayn Rand but Bay Area philosophers and gurus who imagine that limitless progress can be achieved through technology.


Technology can be an answer to incompetence and inefficiency. But it has little to say about larger issues of justice and fairness, unless you think that political problems are bugs that can be fixed by engineering rather than fundamental conflicts of interest and value. Evgeny Morozov, in his new book “To Save Everything, Click Here,” calls this belief “solutionism.” Morozov, who is twenty-nine and grew up in a mining town in Belarus, is the fiercest critic of technological optimism in America, tirelessly dismantling the language of its followers. “They want to be ‘open,’ they want to be ‘disruptive,’ they want to ‘innovate,’ ” Morozov told me. “The open agenda is, in many ways, the opposite of equality and justice. They think anything that helps you to bypass institutions is, by default, empowering or liberating. You might not be able to pay for health care or your insurance, but if you have an app on your phone that alerts you to the fact that you need to exercise more, or you aren’t eating healthily enough, they think they are solving the problem.”


One question for technology boosters—maybe the crucial one—is why, during the decades of the personal computer and the Internet, the American economy has grown so slowly, average wages have stagnated, the middle class has been hollowed out, and inequality has surged. Why has a revolution that is supposed to be as historically important as the industrial revolution coincided with a period of broader economic decline?

Change the World: Silicon Valley transfers its slogans—and its money—to the realm of politics, George Packer, The New Yorker, May 2013

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, Continue reading