The Bottomless Glass of Evgeny Morozov

4 Mar

Eastern Europeans have a natural (or, as we will argue, historically necessitated) proclivity to be negative and I fit that stereotype pretty well. I am not a glass-half-full person. “Tell me what you are doing, and I will tell you what is wrong with it” is a pretty accurate description of my attitude. So, you can’t blame me, if I get fixated on someone whose glass is so empty that it makes mine look like it’s overflowing.

Meet Evgeny Morozov – a fellow Eastern European and “a writer and researcher, who studies political and social implications of technology.” It is an amazing field to dedicate your career to. On one hand, technology changes so quickly that, by the time you have discovered a phenomenon to study (music sharing via Napster, anyone?), it is gone. At the same time, our understanding of individual and group psychology and behavior is growing exponentially. One would imagine that the combination of these two factors would provide a researcher with plentiful opportunities to observe, investigate, develop and test hypotheses, build and tear down assumptions.

And then you have Morozov. He does not exactly study and research technology, he speculates about its impact. All of us in the tech world do a lot of that, but his bias is so strong that to describe him as a researcher is as accurate as to say that the American Family Association is about family. Judge for yourself:

  • In his latest New York Times piece, The Perils of Perfection, he argues that we should not use technology to fix our imperfections unless we are confident that the technology solutions Silicon Valley comes up with have pure intent. On the surface, that makes sense. And then you think about, where medicine would be right now, if we took the same approach with pharmaceutical research. Should we ignore progress, if it is driven by the desire for business success?
  • Earlier in 2012, he lamented about the Death of Cyberflaneurism, that ancient art of browsing the Internet for useless information. I guess, sites like Brain Pickings, which does an amazing job of finding interesting information; Prismatic that curates news content for you, or even Facebook (let alone Pinterest), where friends share a lot of useless stuff, make the art too easy.
  • And then there is his recurring column, Future Tense, on Slate.com. If someone reads his posts a hundred years from now, they would conclude that the Internet is killing us.

ImageTo be fair, Morozov does have a nose for the silliness and over-the-top enthusiasm of technologists. His ridicule of pointless services that Tweet after you die, products that “erase” the homeless from your view, or forums (TED) that make a communist parade seem propaganda-free, are absolutely on target. Yet, when I read his pieces, I can’t help but think of agent Nelson Van Alden, Boardwalk Empire’s puritanical government official, whose obsession seems a tad unhealthy. Does Morozov denounce technology because he likes it too much?

In one of his pieces, Morozov quotes Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, who argued that being inconsistent is the only way to avoid becoming a doctrinaire ideologue. Morozov writes with admiration:

“For Kolakowski, absolute consistency is identical to fanaticism.”

Smart man, that Kolakowski.

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22 Responses to “The Bottomless Glass of Evgeny Morozov”

  1. segmation March 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Emilia, You probably are aware that Leszek Kolakowski, was known for rejecting Marxism and also helped inspire the Solidarity movement in his native land while living in exile just as Evgeny Morozov does with his ideas in today’s world. Go Evgeny and thank you Emilia for this blog and making us aware.

    • epalaveeva March 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      I have heard of Kolakowski, but have not read his works. Morozov seems to admire him, yet at the same time, he is so absolutely consistent in his rejections of technology, that (to me at least) he becomes the very example of what Kolakowski argues against. I found this ironic. Thanks for reading and commenting…

  2. Richard McCargar March 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Morozov revels in his role as tech-contrarian. This is how he makes his living.

    I see it as similar to the minister who may no longer believe in religious dogma, but continues because it’s how he makes his living. He doesn’t have to believe it, because he figures it does no harm, puts food on his table, and can always claim to be the “advocatus diaboli.”

    • epalaveeva March 14, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      I am not so sure it does not cause any harm with the amount of attention and airtime he gets.

      • Richard McCargar March 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

        R & D expenditures is higher than at any time since WWII.

        His pessimism slows nothing.

      • epalaveeva March 17, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

        It is just annoying how much attention he gets for unsubstantiated opinions. I am trying to counter that with unsubstantiated opinions of my own. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Richard McCargar March 17, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

        Try to think of it this way. There is a sufficient audience to keep him afloat, but he doesn’t really impact research and development in the world.

        Kind of like a rapper that everyone wonders why he is so popular. It only takes a couple hundred thousand people to make them rich, but it’s a tiny fraction of all people.

        Same with tv shows. What percentage of people watch a particular “hit” show? Always just a fraction of the population, but because it gets press, it seems to be the biggest thing going.

      • epalaveeva March 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

        See–you are a half-full glass of person:) Maybe I do have more in common with Morozov than I care to admit? It takes one to know one. Have a great day.

      • Richard McCargar March 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

        To go from living in a small (population 1800), midwest town, to designing IC’s for spacecraft, and building an international company to manufacture the parts, I couldn’t be a pessimist.

        Best to you.

  3. History of Capitalism March 14, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    I have not read of Kolakowski yet, but is comment on inconsistency is so point that I think I will have to check him out.

  4. Riley Streeten March 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    I’ll check him out!

  5. Ronald Gluck March 14, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Morozov is a necessary force to bring some critical thinking back in style

  6. Bob Row March 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    I’m not sure I can endorse your sociological observations about Eastern Europeans; even if witty as they are . Many Jews coming to the Americas a century ago (like my elders to Argentina) from there used to embrace center-left views, which we may label in general as “optimistic”.
    Besides, there was a lot of “optimism” among the remaining there to embrace the long struggle towards Western-style Capitalism.

    Regarding Kolakowski, I read his account of Marxism in three thick volumes. He certainly has a consistent yet simplistic view on the subject: Marxism is nothing but a modern form of Platonism. You have to got the passion to do such amount of work to expose such little thought.

    As for Morozov, what can I say? I follow his tweets. I find his pessimism amusing as I can’t help it but to see him as a successful exiled embittered by the support the ruler of his country enjoy.
    Oh! and he does a good subject for caricature. http://bobrow.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/trotskymorozov-cyberactivism-and-paleo-conservatism/

    • epalaveeva March 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment and great caricature.

      Re: Eastern Europe–My observations apply mostly to post-communist Bulgaria, so my generalization may be off base. But witticism counts.

      I have not read Kolakowski, but Morozov quoted his views on fanaticism yet failed to recognize that he himself fits the description of a fanatic to a T.

      I also am not sure if Morozov can be described as an exile. An exile in my view is someone who criticizes the government of his own country and is forced to emmigrate because of risk of persecution. To my best knowledge, his criticism focuses mostly on his host country (and he never tried to go back after graduating from AUBG). But I may be completely wrong. Requires too much research that is not worth it.

      • Bob Row March 19, 2013 at 1:35 am #

        He was involved in students activism in Belarus and he told how the rulers there employed tech advances to infiltrate and dissolve the opposition.

  7. leah j. wolfe March 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Haha, cynics unite! I love the humor used to describe a serious topic. Fantastic (and informative) read.

  8. russianmartini March 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    I know what you mean about the Eastern-European tendency to be negative. My family is somewhat the same way. Well, I wouldn’t say they are negative but I would definitely say that they are “suspicious of the positive.” They tend to feel that good people have an “agenda” and good things always come with a “catch.”

    • epalaveeva March 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

      Yes, despite being aware of it, I find it hard to trust not good people, but positive people.

  9. playgroundentertainment March 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Ha Ha Ha, Eastern Europeans do tend to be more negative, why??? Even all the overly existential literature makes me want to shoot myself. For the kids try http://www.playgroundentertainmentgroup.com

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Nostalgia | Analog & Antisocial - March 26, 2013

    […] fact that positive thinking is an obsession in Bulgaria in and of itself is ironic and alarming. It is like seeing a tribe of life-long, committed vegetarians in a serious discussion […]

  2. Three Weekend Randoms | Analog & Antisocial - April 6, 2013

    […] respect passion when it is sincere and authentic, even if they do not agree with your opinion. More critics should consider following Ebert’s graceful […]

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