Magazine article The Spectator

When the Solution Becomes the Problem

Magazine article The Spectator

When the Solution Becomes the Problem

Article excerpt

To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov Allen Lane, £18, pp. 432, ISBN 9781610391382 Technology may not have taken over the world, but it is making quite good progress in taking over our lives. Thirty years ago, receiving a phone call was the height of communication stimulus. Now, we are programmed to expect several emails an hour and can become anxious if we don't receive them.

It's worse than a bad habit. Scientists suggest the constant distractions offered by technology have even altered the chemical balance in our brains.

The information revolution has made us more connected, switched-on and informed than ever before. Thanks to near-universal access to the internet, humans can access almost every piece of knowledge accumulated by mankind in the blink of an eye. Even The Jetsons did not predict how ingrained communication technology would become in our lives.

All this free exchange of information has affected our thinking about dogma. Society's consensus has shifted, so if an idea comes from the digital world it is treated as a message from the future: an instruction, to be enacted in all areas of our lives. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in politics. Why should ministers and mandarins operate behind closed doors when their every movement can be put online? Why hold fundraising dinners in smoke-free rooms when you can donate through a website?

Why not put the whole of the civil service online?

Enter Evgeny Morozov - a lone voice defying the consensus. Prophesying the future of technology may be a mug's game, but he is one mug who does it well. Morozov is a prominent sceptic of 'the net', who has argued for caution with the rapid pace at which technology is evolving. In his first book, The Net Delusion, Morozov demolished the argument that the internet was a catalyst for the Arab Spring. Now, in To Save Everything, Click Here, he is gunning for 'big data' - the current buzzword among the everoptimistic Silicon Valley nerds. His subject, then, is the possibilities - and dangers - of manipulating the astronomical quantities of data stored online.

The book explains the threat posed by a digital version of the architectural concept 'solutionism, an unhealthy preoccupation with sexy, monumental, and narrow-minded solutions'. Practically, this is solving problems that don't really exist. …

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