Can Technology replace social Engineering?
In his article (1966), Can Technology Replace Social Engineering?, Alvin Weinberg introduced the term technological fix to the lexicon of technology (and HCI). Weinberg remarked that although social problems are much more complex than technological problems, however, technological fixes can be applied to tackle or at least reduce social problems. To illustrate this, he discussed two examples of social problems, poverty and war and added later in the essay health and environmental issues. However, These examples are not merely social problems as they entail dealing with the physical world. Therefore, this notion, which is referred to as solutionism today, has been criticized by various technologists. Despite being a “solutionist”, Weinberg proclaimed the limitation of technology to fix some complex social problems. However, he has been widely criticized for his article by anti-solutionist authors, especially Evgeny Morozov.
Does the internet make us smarter?
In his article “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?“, Clay Shirky argues that the presence of the internet revolutionized our interaction with technology from being passive and consuming with televisions to being participating and productive with the internet. As a result, according to Shirky, this revolution led to expanding and amplifying our ‘cognitive surplus’ and how we use it. Although it is hard to disagree with Shirky’s point, however, we can argue that the excessive reliance on the internet sometimes increase people’s passivity rather than increasing their ‘cognitive surplus’. The second point is that the question should not be whether the internet makes us smarter but rather whether it makes behave in a different way to make use of our ‘cognitive surplus’.
Solutionism is the belief that technology can solve all humanity’s problems. Evgeny Morozov, the author of “The Net Delusion“(2012) and “To Save Everything Click Here“(2013), is one of the most inveterate anti-solutionist authors. Morozov has argued in ‘The Net Delusion’ that first,the complex of the social and political context is rarely addressed by technological fixes and rarely understood by technological experts. Secondly, he argued that tackling social problems as a series of technological problems and codes, makes it more difficult for policymakers to solve these problems. Third, Morozov argued that some of these technological solutions might actually have “side effects” and introduce new social problems.
In the other book, To Save Everything Click Here, Morozov remarked that, in addition to the previous three arguments, many solutionists tend to address what they presume is a problem while it might not be so. In the second chapter of the book, ‘The nonsense of the internet‘, Morozov discusses the limitations of what he calls “the internet centrism” which is the “fascination with the Internet as a wholly novel sociotechnical phenomenon”. He proclaimed that the internet is the “chief enabler” of solutionism. Then he concluded that the internet has become something like a religion which we need to ‘secularize’.
Limitations of technocratic approach to social problems
Lisa Rosner once observed that technological fixes “attack the symptoms but do not root out causes”.
To solve or not to solve ?
Morozov’s argument about solutionism explains how wrong it is to be a solutionist but never mention the negative consequences of solutionism. Neither he suggests an alternative approach to balance solutionism.
However, generally. Morozov is revolving in the same circle he is criticizing which is the problem-solution pattern. I believe this pattern is the “chief enabler” for solutionism. Just like in the field of psychology, where ‘positive psychology’ has evolved to balance the problem-solution pattern, we need ‘positive technology’ or ‘positive HCI’ for the same reason.
internet-centrism, technological optimism, technological determinism, digital utopianism, internet optimists vs skeptics, techno postivist