[note: I wrote the following post one Sunday afternoon nearly two months ago. It was no great shakes, but I was happy to have finally written something to break out of my Wetmachine doldrums. I set it aside to jell overnight, intending to re-read, put in links, give it a once-over the next day before posting it. However on that next day, Monday , the bombing attack at the Boston Marathon occurred, and publishing this little essay was clearly inappropriate. Time has passed & I’ve finally gotten around to re-reading and putting in the links. It’s no longer as timely as it was, but in any event, here it is. . .]
Evgeny Morozov is a guy with a soapbox and a schtick.
His soapbox is his position as a “go to” authority on technoskepticism — that is, he makes his living pointing out, to any who care to listen, The Folly of Technological Solutionism (which phrase I italicize because it’s also the subtitle of his latest book, whose primary title is To Save Everything, Click Here).
His schtick is finding influential people who embrace (or appear to embrace) this philosophy of technological solutionism and taking them down a peg or two. And he’s really good at peg-decrementing — which probably accounts for the prominence of his soapbox, which includes positions at prestigious academic institutions (Stanford, Georgetown) and think tanks, and regular appearances in prominent publications (New York Times, Foreign Affairs) and a TED fellowship.
Consider, for example, Morozov’s hilarious (and quite well-deserved, in my opinion) evisceration of former San Francisco mayor, and current Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, in a Bookforum review of Newsom’s book Citizenville:
In a flourish [in the publisher’s catalog] as logical as it is grammatical, we learn that “Newsom’s quest to modernize one of America’s most modern cities—and the amazing results he achieves—form the backbone of this far-reaching book.”
Alas, this dubiously signifying nonsense does not let up between the covers of Citizenville. To say that Newsom’s ruminations on technology and politics come in fifty shades of bullshit is to give this all-too-representative study in online civic boosterism too much credit. Newsom’s bullshit is solidly and tediously monochrome.
The essay gets only more brutal from there. I loved it when I read it; I actually exclaimed “YES!” out loud a few times, which seemed to startle my fellow passengers on the New Jersey Transit train from Penn Station to Chatham, New Jersey. When he’s on target, Morozov can be brilliant, funny, and merciless.
Recently Morozov turned his attention on Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media (formerly O’Reilly & Associates), the so-called visionary whose careers first as a publisher of books on computer technology and then as impresario of various conferences that bear his name catapulted him to international prominence as a commentator on where technology is, or might be, taking us as a nation and even as a species.
To put it mildly, Morozov doesn’t care much for O’Reilly. In fact he seems to reserve for O’Reilly a disdain much more intense than that which he evinced for the poseur airhead Gavin Newsom. In a recent piece in the smugly iconoclastic magazine The Baffler, (“The Meme Hustler — Tim O’Reilly’s Crazy Talk”) Morozov goes after O’Reilly like an angry Rottweiler. Or more accurately, he goes after a caricature of O’Reilly like a caricature of an angry Rottweiler. I really enjoyed Morozov’s take-down of Newsom, and O’Reilly (“Saint Tim”) is, frankly, an object of veneration in some circles who could stand a little ribbing. I’m a Walt Whitman kind of guy in that I don’t have much tolerance for the veneration of popes, Dalai Lamas or Steve Jobses; Whitman enjoined us to “tip your cap to no man”, and I’m down with that. So I wouldn’t mind seeing St. Tim taken down a notch or two, just on general principles. I had done a 30-second skim read of Morozov’s essay when it first appeared in The Baffler and it looked promising, so I was looking forward to actually reading The Meme Hustler when I found the time to do so. I found the time yesterday.
Man, what a disappointment. What a pompous, shallow, unfair, error-filled and hysterical piece of dreck. Essentially, I found The Meme Hustler stupid and baffling. It made me angry. I explain why below the fold.