Evgeny Morozov remains my favorite critic of technology writing today. His book, Net Effect, is still the gold standard for criticism of Web 2.0 technologies, and the “techno-optimism” that pervades Silicon Valley. One of my largest concerns in the world today is that we have started to frame all problems in terms of technology - rather than in terms of humans, or politics, or really anything else. TED Talks are probably the largest purveyor of that notion today, and its ideology has become one of the main frameworks for thinking about the world today.
Morozov just wrote one of the most damning critiques I have read about this entire ecosystem. Everyone should read this article. Period, full stop Think critically about it, and then start to look at the world around us. I realize that not everyone will read the article, so I picked my top 10 favorite attack lines to summarize it.
The book review focuses mainly on Parag Khanna and his attempt to push his “Hybrid Reality.”
Only the rare reader would finish this piece of digito-futuristic nonsense unconvinced that technology is—to borrow a term of art from the philosopher Harry Frankfurt—bullshit.
Describing Khanna’s approach:
All of these insights are expressed in linguistic constructions of such absurdity and superficiality (“a world of ever-shifting (d)alliances,” “peer-to-peer micromanufacturing marketplace”) that Niall Ferguson’s “Chimerica” looks elegant and illuminating by comparison.
Summarizing the author’s work:
Khanna’s contempt for democracy and human rights aside, he is simply an intellectual impostor, emitting such lethal doses of banalities, inanities, and generalizations that his books ought to carry advisory notices.
On Khanna’s Hybrid Reality Institute, which can help companies handle the Singularity:
So far the firm’s main accomplishment seems to be convincing the TED Conference to print its verbose marketing brochure as a book. But perhaps 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.
My favorite part about their word choices:
In Hybrid Reality, everything is increasingly something else: gadgets are increasingly miraculous, technology is increasingly making its way into the human body, quiet moments are increasingly rare. This is a world in which pundits are increasingly using the word “increasingly” whenever they feel too lazy to look up the actual statistics, which, in the Khannas’ case, increasingly means all the time.
In the hands of skilled hustlers such as the Khannas, technology is itself a counterfeit concept, which does little but make complex ideas look deceptively simple. Much like Glenn Beck’s magic blackboard, it connects everything to everything without saying anything significant about anything.
One of my favorite quips regarding the quality of TED conferences:
Another recently published TED book called The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It—co-authored by Philip Zimbardo, of the Stanford Prison Experiment fame, is an apt example of what transpires when TED ideas happen to good people.
And a wonderful analogy:
As the science journalist Carl Zimmer has noted, The Demise of Guys gives a Daily Mail column as much credibility as a peer-reviewed paper.
My distaste for TED goes back a long time, but this effectively wraps my entire thinking in one sentenceL
The TED ideal of thought is the ideal of the “takeaway”—the shrinkage of thought for people too busy to think.
And my final quote, which really goes to show you the length that people are willing to go in their pursuit of these technological approaches:
And the gadgets do drop from the sky—Nicholas Negroponte, having spectacularly failed in his One Laptop Per Child quest, now wants to drop his own tablets from helicopters, which would make it harder for the African savages to say “no” to MIT’s (and TED’s) civilization. This is la mission civilatrice 2.0.
Haven’t read the article yet? You really, really, should. This is how you write a book review, and this is how you criticize technology.