I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Evgeny Morozov, author of “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism.” He’s not the first person to come up with these ideas – there’s hardly anything about culture change that the great Philip Rieff didn’t say first – but he presents the issues so well, forcing me to reconsider points I’ve been flogging for years.
His New York Times editorial “Machines of Laughter and Forgetting” is one such article.
On the one hand, Morozov is suggesting that we need to re-evaluate our relationship with technology – and how it affects our habits of thought – in critical ways. (I’m going to quote at length):
“(T)echnology can save us a lot of cognitive effort, for “thinking” needs to happen only once, at the design stage. We’ll surround ourselves with gadgets and artifacts that will do exactly what they are meant to do — and they’ll do it in a frictionless, invisible way. “The ideal system so buries the technology that the user is not even aware of its presence,” announced the design guru Donald Norman in his landmark 1998 book, “The Invisible Computer.” But is that what we really want?
The hidden truth about many attempts to “bury” technology is that they embody an amoral and unsustainable vision. Pick any electrical appliance in your kitchen. The odds are that you have no idea how much electricity it consumes, let alone how it compares to other appliances and households. This ignorance is neither natural nor inevitable; it stems from a conscious decision by the designer of that kitchen appliance to free up your “cognitive resources” so that you can unleash your inner Oscar Wilde on “contemplating” other things. Multiply such ignorance by a few billion, and global warming no longer looks like a mystery.
Whitehead, it seems, was either wrong or extremely selective: on many important issues, civilization only destroys itself by extending the number of important operations that we can perform without thinking about them. On many issues, we want more thinking, not less.”
Yes … yes … absolutely, but … by the same token, there’s a difference between not falling unaware into habits of thought (or lack of thought, in this case) and not needing to go over every otherwise settled question every time we want to make a phone call. Continue reading How transparent do we want our technology to be?