Don’t Squash Questions

If you said to a tech writer, “Name a huge critic of your industry,” the name Evgeny Morozov would no doubt be at the top of the list. He’s made a name for himself as a bullshit detector (his words) when it comes to how technology and information will save the world.

Yet if Morozov is going to be remembered as a real critic — and not just an obnoxious cynic — he’ll need to change the way he approaches his writings. The Net Delusion, Morozov’s book about how policy makers put too much faith in the power of “the Internet” (which came out juuuust before Arab Spring shot a lot of holes in the thesis), felt as if it were written from a dark corner of the library — not after months of travels, interviews and immersion (known as “reporting”).

But here’s the really aggravating part of the way this 28-year-old instapundit conducts his business: Questioning all-things-tech is really important! That’s why he gets so many nods from the tech media and academia. We should be pushing back on the idea that everything with a microprocessor is good for humanity. We should be taking a hard look at how connectivity and tiny gadgets will change our lives — much more than does the tech media (of which I am a part). Governments, businesses, the job market, communication, personal relationships — they’re all in for a big change and a lot of them won’t be good.

The aggravating part is that he just does it like a troll — not like someone trying to foster a new level of thought. (His Twitter bio: “There are idiots. Look around.” As if that were something new in history.) There are lots of types of comments trolls on the Internet, but the worst kind says, “This is stupid” and moves on. Morozov essentially does that while citing some nineteenth-century philosopher. If we’re going to have a conversation about tech changing our lives…let’s make it a conversation — not by dismissing everything with boogycabals of technophiles and cheap buzzwords like “solutionism.”

The cover of The Atlantic recently asked how mobile devices are going to change the way children learn. Perhaps the answer is “They won’t change a thing.” Yet Morozov took to Twitter calling The Atlantic “children” for even considering the idea.

Why? This is an important question. Why stifle the conversation before someone tries to start it? We’re not at a place where we can draw any real conclusions about how connectivity and high-powered computing have changed or will change our lives — especially our children. It’s still in process — a great, and perhaps disastrous, experiment. We should keep talking about it. Because, frankly, no one knows the answers yet. Technology’s rate of change is moving too fast.

And that gets to the heart of the issue with Morozov. He likes to paint himself as this intellectual heavyweight laying waste to all the self-congratulating bozos in the tech scene. But he takes aim at the wrong half of the debate. He doesn’t criticize conclusions as much as he criticizes questions. And then rarely offers any of his own.

That’s what makes me ask whether Morozov is important. Voltaire said judge a man not by his answers, but by his questions. What about someone who won’t let you ask them in the first place?