Triptych image: Megan Cotts, "ECU"
EVGENY MOROZOV IS DONE WITH THE INTERNET. In his latest book, To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, Morozov dismantles the myth that the Internet is inherently a force for social change; it can no more fix higher education, save the economy, or topple a dictator than it can make us stupid, lonely, or shallow. “The Internet” (Morozov wraps the term in quotation marks for most of the book) is not a naturally occurring phenomenon or a living thing, but a socially constructed myth that “effortlessly fills minds, pockets, coffers, and even the most glaring narrative gaps.” “The myth of the Internet,” he argues, “tells us nothing about how the world works and even less about how it should.” In fact, at one point, he questions whether the Internet even exists.
Morozov is best known for the colorful hyperbole of his polemical criticism in The New Republic and elsewhere (his book reviews are often described as “devastating”), but the most compelling passages in To Save Everything follow a more measured tack, building bridges among the academic and popular literatures on technology in society. To understand the limitations of technocratic approaches to social problems, he reads in communication studies and political philosophy. To provide a context for his interpretation of the dominant Internet myth, Morozov draws on key works in the history, sociology, and anthropology of science and technology. The bibliography is diverse, ranging from the canonical debate between John Dewey and Walter Lippman on the role of expertise in democracy, to Bruno Latour’s more recent invitation to consider the agency of “non-human” actors. This type of synthetic work is all too rare in cultural criticism, and there is an excellent reading list embedded in the endnotes of To Save Everything, Click Here. If Morozov’s argument rings true — and, for the most part, it does — it is due to the strong philosophical foundation on which he stands.
To Save Everything is animated by a thoroughgoing critique of two central ideas that Morozov terms “solutionism” and “Internet-centrism.” The first describes an instrumental engagement with public life that regards all social and political issues as problems to be solved. The second refers to a fascination with the Internet as a wholly novel sociotechnical phenomenon (which Morozov first diagnosed in his 2011 book The Net Delusion). Solutionism and Internet-centrism are both worldviews infused with the technocratic values of efficiency, cleanliness, and productivity, values that are poorly suited, in Morozov’s view, to life in a pluralistic liberal democracy.
These terms allow Morozov to take a position outside the usual pro–con debates over digital technology. Rather than participate in the kind of either-or thinking characteristic of questions like “Is Google making us stupid?” (the title of an infamous 2008 Atlantic article by Nicholas G. Carr), Morozov explores the underlying assumptions that make such a question possible in the first place. Across an exhaustive — and, at times, exhausting — review of the recent technology literature, he traces a persistent, unexa...read more