Will Our Devices Solve All Our Problems?
Is technology leading us to assume that all human problems have a sleek and efficient solution? Evgeny Morozov, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy and author of the The Net Delusion, is concerned that this might be the case:
“I worry that as the problem-solving power of our technologies increases, our ability to distinguish between important and trivial or even non-existent problems diminishes. Just because we have ‘smart’ solutions to fix every single problem under the sun doesn’t mean that all of them deserve our attention. In fact, some of them may not be problems at all; that certain social and individual situations are awkward, imperfect noisy, opaque or risky might be by design. Or, as the geeks like to say, some bugs are not bugs—some bugs are features.
I find myself preoccupied with the invisible costs of ‘smart’ solutions in part because Silicon Valley mavericks are not lying to us: technologies are not only become more powerful—they are also becoming more ubiquitous. We used to think that, somehow, digital technologies lived in a national reserve of some kind—first, we called this imaginary place ‘cyberspace’ and then we switched to the more neutral label of ‘the Internet’—and it’s only in the last few years, with the proliferation of geolocational services, self-driving cars, smart glasses, that we grasped that, perhaps, such national reserves were a myth and digital technologies would literally be everywhere: in our fridges, in our belts, in our books, in our trash bins.
All this smart awesomeness will make our environment more plastic and more programmable. It will also make it very tempting to design out all imperfections—just because we can!—from our interactions, social institutions, politics. Blinded by the awesomeness of our tools, we might forget that some problems and imperfections are just the normal costs of accepting the social contract of living with other human beings, treating them with dignity, and ensuring that, in our recent pursuit of a perfect society, we do not shut off the door to change. The latter usually happens in rambunctious, chaotic, and imperfectly designed environments; sterile environments, where everyone is content, are not well-known for innovation, of either technological or social variety.” (Read more here.)
I appreciate Morozov’s points—especially his sharp observation that technology can no longer be confined to a separate realm like “cyberspace,” but is everywhere in our lives. But I also see plenty of human messiness and irrationality that, for better or for worse, is in no danger of being cleaned up and sanitized by technology.
What do you think?