Tech Criticism is Dead?

Evgeny Morozow has been one of the more spicy academics during the past years. He combines philosophy, internet criticism and social science to deliver clever and well-founded blows to the world.

While reading this, I got the impression that he is starting to run out of steam. He was always a bit of a pessimist or cynic, but now it feels like he’s doubting what he’s doing:

Why, then, aspire to practice any kind of technology criticism at all? I am afraid I do not have a convincing answer. If history has, in fact, ended in America—with venture capital (represented by Silicon Valley) and the neoliberal militaristic state (represented by the NSA) guarding the sole entrance to its crypt—then the only real task facing the radical technology critic should be to resuscitate that history. But this surely can’t be done within the discourse of technology, and given the steep price of admission, the technology critic might begin most logically by acknowledging defeat.

He’s talking about the academic world, and seems to intentionally ignore a lot of active criticism that is taking place in media studies, art, sociology, design, and so on. But I think his point is: the criticism is not making an impact on the public so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

Internet freedom mongers were apalled by Pirate Bay-founder Peter Sunde saying that the battle of the free internet has been lost and it’s time to move on. Compared with the two other admins of Pirate Bay, he was more into the political aspects of internet activism, rather than the technology. And he still is.

Morozow too, has his aim on larger political questions. He slanders on the technologists and the technology critics who fail to see the bigger picture. Like in the Apple vs FBI-debate that was not only about technnology (encryption) and personal integrity, but much more complex. The issue at hand is not what technology does to the daily lives of human brains, and their job bodies. Or how technology should be an “extension of man” (a slave). The main question should be more like: how does it infect society, and who wants the consequences?

I’m thinking about how this relates to the lo-fi computing world. 10-20 years ago it was charged with a myriad of political values of anti-consumerism,  anti-hitech, libertarianism, socialism, recycling and sustainability, DIY/punk, retrofuturism, and so on. There’s not much of that left now, is there?

Retrocomputing to me seems more like a club for middle aged conservative white men who have beards because of Linux or because of “I’m not a hipster, but…”. We have enough money to pay for vintage hardware and ridiculous crowdfunding campaigns. Some of us even use it from time to time! But emulators are so much more convenient, of course…

Morozow says that technology criticism is “just an elaborate but affirmative footnote to the status quo”. And that pretty much describes much of the tongue-in-cheek, just for fun, “hacking intended uses” people of retrocomputing of the last 10 years. It has confirmed that high-tech progress is #1, baby.

Meanwhile, the tech industry “doesn’t really like democracy” and wants to techify the governance of cities. And in all honesty, doesn’t it seem likely that this will eventually happen? Capitalist realism + Californian ideology.

F**k yeah, loving the end of an era.

3 Responses to “Tech Criticism is Dead?”

  1. boomlinde Says:

    Very good points, especially the question about infectious technology resonates with me recently. A coworker showed me today how to use Linkedin. There, you can input things that you are good at as keywords, and your acquaintances can validate that those keywords apply to you by endorsing them by clicking through them. Recruiters can then look for candidates based on a different set of keywords, and candidates will be ranked in a high-score list based on the overlap of keywords.

    In the end, that means that you have to adjust your language a lot. It’s not only important to reduce your strengths the most applicable keywords, but you have to use the exact particular phrases that the recruiters use to rank highly in their high-score lists. A keyword can be a non-match on a very trivial basis such as different spelling, acronyms, etc. Also, just like Facebook, you have to adapt to the way its verbs are used. An “endorsement” implies a lot of different things. People will sometimes “endorse” the keywords I have added purely out of courtesy or maybe general respect, despite never having known them to apply to me.

    Just like Facebook, it seems like it tries to make its topic very simple, at the expense of losing out on aspects of it that are inherently complex, and the simplistic representation is leaking back into the world outside Linkedin. Weird terminology is invented seemingly only for the purpose of simple categorization to present yourself in novel ways. To get to the interview, it’s most of all important that you are at the cutting edge of terminology. In the end I think it makes hiring and finding jobs more simple, but there is a definite loss in precision and subtleties. Some good candidates and employers will remain invisible in the outbacks of terminology space and will lose out because their use of words is not as dictated by the platform.

    In the end, maybe it’s just more important to people to be visible than to be precise. That someone can just stumble upon your Linkedin profile without your active participation can be empowering. I can like or endorse your stuff and you will at least know that somewhere in that liking or endorsement is some sort of sentiment somewhat in that general direction; not even I have to know it. Facebook derives meaning from “likes” by contextualizing them with a huge database of other likes — maybe the users do too?

    On a positive note I think that there is room for technology criticism as long as there is someone that can apply it in a meaningful way to the way they use technology. Since the scope of the worrying ways we apply technology is ever increasing, at any moment protesting/resisting at least some aspects of it won’t be a lost cause. And if I pick my keywords carefully, aware and wary of the implications and connotations, maybe I’m not subject to the manipulations… Or maybe I’m just rebelling in a totally expected and compliant way.

  2. goto80 Says:

    Your comment has been liked, endorsed and reported to the relevant authorities. Please comment again at your peril.

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