A note on uplift and technology

From “The Planning Machine,” an article by Evgeny Morozov in the 10/13/14 New Yorker, on an early-70s project in Salvador Allende’s Chile to computerize central planning:

For all its utopianism and scientism, its algedonic meters and hand-drawn graphs, Project Cybersyn got some aspects of its politics right: it started with the needs of the citizens and went from there. The problem with today’s digital utopianism is that it typically starts with a PowerPoint slide in a venture capitalist’s pitch deck. As citizens in an era of Datafeed, we still haven’t figured out how to manage our way to happiness. But there’s a lot of money to be made in selling us the dials.

Digital utopianism even makes money by selling us on itself. That’s part of the purpose of Walter Isaacson’s new book, The Innovators, to judge from an FT review, which said (among other things) that it “presents a deeply comforting, humanistic vision.” Steven Berlin Johnson also tends toward selling technology as uplift, although he spins that into a broader view of how improvement comes from people just working together. Where are we headed? In 2012, Johnson proposed an answer in Future Perfect, the very title of which suggests a sunny-day optimism that even mid-century American musicals didn’t ask us to swallow. Every day, in every possible way, things are getting better, and if you buy my book I’ll tell you how…

[Unrelated note: I’m unsure why my two links are being displayed in two different ways. Something about WordPress I haven’t figured out yet.]


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