Hitting the back button

Evgeny Morozov's new book, "To Save Everything, Click Here," is of a similar mind as his last one, "The Net Delusion."

Both ridicule the facile utopianism of marketers and apologists for the internet. The internet is great and worth attention, Morozov says, but it ain't all that.

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The two books are of a similar mind, but each tours a different landscape.

You might say "The Net Delusion" critiques internet-centrism in international affairs, and is more serious. Its upshot is nothing less than life and death: tyrants use the same information tools to identify and suppress revolution as Facebook insurgents do to foment it.

The landscape of the new book Is domestic, less urgent, but more insidious: technologies are being put into the service of avoiding the very contradictions and inefficiencies that are the warp and weave of a meaningful life.

Thus, lifeloggers quantify calories consumed and BTUs expended, but are steered away from questions that require answers in the form of narratives rather than numbers. Cities set up systems to predict crime and even prevent lawbreaking, but the citizenry barely assesses the impact on civic-mindedness that must surely follow once neighbors are deprived of the need to confront moral questions.

Facebook, Google and other advertising-based businesses ask us, without any trace of irony let alone chagrin, to bring our authentic selves online. But identity is a work in progress, not a graph of pre-determined relationships and consumer habits. By surrendering privacy to corporate services spinning internet platitudes, Morozov suggests, we deprive ourselves of the spaces in which authentic selves are continually being remade, reconsidered.

"The internet" may not even be an it, an identifiable thing, at least not when we use the term to mean something more than physical infrastructure and protocols. One thing of which Morozov convinces you, especially in the new book, is that "the internet" has become a smokescreen for political correctness, a way to shut down debate, bypass political consensus, even bully individuals from engaging in self-reflection.

Both books are must reads, the new one especially so for those of us on the west coast of the United States, where corporate apologists for the internet are in ascendence. Read through it and see what rings true.


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