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[liberationtech] Terry Winograd and Evgeny Morozov

Soenke Zehle s.zehle at
Tue Jul 2 13:14:58 PDT 2013

Probably no denying that polemical propositions may increase the reach
and rhetorical force of any one argument; and while pitting the tasks
of critique against those of creating (and maintaining) solidarity has
never been a very good idea, it does make a lot of sense to gauge the
costs of such polemics and take seriously the damage it may do among
actual and potential allies (even if in the end the intervention in
question may simply call for some dirty work in the journalism
trenches, Fox News style, just gotta accept that I guess).

But sure more voices are needed, especially because there's no such
thing as a single public or public discourse; the decline of the
destination web (to borrow a phrase from Dave Berry) we witness and
engage in as we shift to social media platforms and other walled fora
just mirrors 'our' (whatever that is) ongoing fragmentation into
parallel publics (as does the targeting of microelectorates in recent
campaigns) that has made it so difficult even for people interested in
the task to assume the role of 'public' intellectuals (or to badly
paraphrase Latour: tell me where to put the soapbox and I'll address
your public; a lot of media actors are still looking, it seems).

All the more important, imo, to retain a sense of shared collective
ambition and acknowledge the actually existing division of critical
and political labor (beyond the fetishization of individual voices,
that is). Especially because it's a division of labor that is
increasingly transnational (at least that's visible on this list),
calling on new ways of expression such as cultural translation to move
concepts, ideas, agendas across political milieus, pretty difficult
after all.

And who knows where exactly the truth of politics lies, should we ever
find the time to assess the impact of our labors (although I'm not
holding my breath regarding Obama's paintings).


2013/7/2 Yosem Companys <companys at>:
>> I think I really disagree with this.  I find Morozov's arguments
>> philosophically thin and part of what Stephen Pepper referred to as mindless
>> skepticism.  He is being treated as some type of folk hero simply for saying
>> we must see the Internet as limited capabilities.  It is in my opinion a
>> mindless skepticism that is in some ways dangerous.
> The problem is that, if Evgeny is the ONLY voice, then we get a distorted
> and simplified view of the entire academic debate on the role and
> consequences of the Internet.  My point was not that he's the best messenger
> but rather that he's a messenger.  (Some would say the same about Malcolm
> Gladwell.)  And, amid a journalistic debate about whether the humanities
> matter, Evgeny uses them in a way that makes them matter.
>> The fact that he is attempting to communicate to a more general public
>> makes this worse not better.  He feeds I believe in many ways to fit into
>> those with predilections to fear the Internet and its possibilities,
>> ridiculing ideas instead of just letting them fall on their own.
> Many attack the critical school for that very reason, and it is from the
> critical school that Evgeny says he draws his inspiration.  The critical
> school doesn't have a particularly optimistic view of human nature and
> behavior, Habermas notwithstanding.
>> [Evgeny] also runs directly against Pragmatic philosophy and the work of
>> some of the greatest American philosophers as John Dewey.  The whole point
>> of a progressive approach is the idea that humans are constantly searching
>> for solutions to problems.  Nobody though gets to determine what is a
>> problem.
> That is a value judgment on paradigms.  Evgeny is not using a pragmatic
> paradigm but a critical philosophical one.
> Moreover, this is consistent with my call below:  Silence is assent.  If
> Evgeny is the only voice, then people will be forced to debate the Internet
> on the terms Evgeny sets.  That's why I emphasized the importance of having
> more journalists and academics take on this task.
> Academics already do rigorous research but rarely do they invest in the
> traditional public relations channels that corporations routinely use for
> research translation and dissemination.  If academics did so, they would
> make journalists more aware of important insights that should be
> disseminated more broadly.  More important, they would do so by using the
> templates that journalists use to facilitate their daily tasks.
> In the meantime, especially in the Internet age, journalists have a vast
> repository of academic evidence they could be using either to build upon
> Evgeny's writings or to challenge him, whatever the case may be.  But, for
> the most part, they do not make use of these materials.  So we are left with
> a weak public discourse on the subject.
>> Let me take an example from the article.  Morozov ridicules a 24 year old
>> guy who is trying to develop an app to help with obesity.  Well, why?  There
>> is a good chance it won't work, just as there is a good chance the most well
>> thought out initiatives won't work (the one's Morozov approves of).  But it
>> just may work, or lead to something that does work, so why cut off this
>> person's desire and energy with misplaced skepticism and ridicule.  Maybe it
>> won't solve obesity for everybody.  Maybe it will help with ten people.
>> Maybe it will help me.  The point is I don't know, you don't know and
>> Morozov certainly does not know.  Allow the energy to flourish.  Have any of
>> you ever read the history of Douglas Engelbart's Augmentation Research
>> Center.  How Morozov would have been allowed to ridicule that of course.
>> And would there be less of a chance of me writing this message on the
>> Internet to a list of people if he had.
> Evgeny is dogmatic in this respect.  He can't possibly know what goes on
> inside people's heads, but he regularly impugns their stated motives.  And
> then he attacks them for lacking critical thought and originality and for
> taking assumptions for granted.  But he has no way of knowing whether they
> have indeed taken those assumptions for granted or have questioned them and
> thus are more sophisticated in their thinking than Evgeny assumes.
> Worse, as Lina and Lucas notes, many are pushed back by Evgeny's nasty
> discussions about and call-outs of individuals.  He calls us out and insults
> us all the time on Twitter, despite our being supportive of his larger
> objective.
> Being pugilistic does seem to get him coverage, and perhaps that's one of
> his goals.  As the old adage goes, "I don't care if they speak ill or good
> about me, what matters is that they speak about me."  In this sense, he is
> like the Ann Coulter of the Internet.  Evgeny's comparing people to Nazis
> and then using academic research to justify it is but one example of many.
>> I agree that there can be healthy critiques of the Internet.  I think
>> Manuel Castells offers one.  There are I'm certain others.  But mindless
>> skepticism, no that as I said is dangerous.
>> Michael
>> ________________________________
>> From: liberationtech-bounces at
>> [liberationtech-bounces at] on behalf of Yosem Companys
>> [companys at]
>> Sent: Tuesday, July 02, 2013 2:08 PM
>> To: liberationtech
>> Subject: Re: [liberationtech] Terry Winograd and Evgeny Morozov
>> Evgeny's critique of Silicon Valley intellectual fads is indeed
>> worthwhile.  What's surprising is that he is one of the only journalists to
>> make this critique, considering the large number of people who have said
>> similar things before him, which makes Evgeny's voice even more important.
>> What is new in Evgeny's work is his desire to communicate these arguments to
>> the larger public and to advance the public interest.
>> Sociologists and historians of science and technology -- along with the
>> field known as science, technology and society studies -- have critiqued the
>> Internet since at least the 1980's, with a larger critique about science and
>> technology since at least the 1950's and 1960's.
>> Meanwhile, most journalists from the 1980's until recently have seemed
>> more interested in promulgating the claims of Silicon Valley, which had a
>> financial interest in their promulgation, than in communicating the problems
>> associated with the Internet, which social scholars spent so much time
>> documenting among themselves.  This is not an indictment of journalism.
>> There were, among other reasons, institutional pressures during this period
>> for journalists to use press-release templates. Moreover, finding out what
>> academics do as a non-academic is a long, arduous process.
>> For academics, the problem here, of course, is that their incentive is
>> focused on publishing articles to get tenure, rather than engaging the
>> public at large.  This means that academics spend the bulk of their time
>> talking to one another rather than to journalists or even fellow academics
>> outside of their disciplines.
>> In fact, interdisciplinary contact in academia remained so limited that
>> legal scholars, political scientists, economists, computer scientists and
>> engineers were mostly in the dark about the wonderful research that
>> sociologists and historians of science and technology had done to dissect
>> the taken-for-granted assumptions of science and technology.  This is
>> changing but slowly.
>> Even when aware of such research, as in the case of many American
>> economists, they may choose to ignore the arguments of sociologists or
>> pretend they don't exist because they come from what they deem as the
>> lower-status field of sociology.  Meanwhile, American sociologists routinely
>> engage the work of economists, so the relationship is asymmetric.  (I say
>> American economists because, interestingly, this problem doesn't seem to
>> happen in Europe.)
>> Journalists, on the other hand, are in the business of writing interesting
>> news stories, which means that they will (often inadvertently) cherry pick
>> academic evidence, mostly ignoring the nuances of the larger academic
>> literature.
>> We see this, for example, with the meme of "robots are taking your jobs."
>> Most of the evidence in the social sciences shows that technological change
>> was faster during the industrial revolution that it is today and that
>> whether a particular technology replaces your job or not depends on the
>> social conditions in which the technology was created and the social
>> conditions to which the technology is introduced.  Routine jobs are more
>> replaceable than non-routine jobs, for instance.  But technologies generally
>> don't replace professional jobs, and they often create non-routine jobs as
>> well.  Yet you rarely hear journalists discuss any of these issues.
>> Instead, you hear that the singu
>> As a result, both academics and journalists seem to be ignoring their
>> responsibility to advance the public interest in the Internet domain.  For
>> the sake of humanity, this should and must change, and this is one of the
>> reasons why we at Stanford Liberationtech conduct interdisciplinary research
>> and engage the world at large through our various activities, online and
>> off.  And it is also why we are supportive of the efforts of people like
>> Evgeny Morozov and others in journalism who seek to improve public
>> discourse.
>> On Tue, Jul 2, 2013 at 9:34 AM, Lucas Gonze <lucas.gonze at> wrote:
>>> I find Morozov's critique of silicon valley intellectual fads
>>> worthwhile. The thinking coming from famous bloggers and tech industry
>>> conferences is for the most part hype for the sake of commerce.
>>> Morozov's writing is to puncture that hype bubble. This is a valuable
>>> goal and he does it well.
>>> On Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 11:51 PM, Soenke Zehle <s.zehle at> wrote:
>>> > maybe EM's style is more like a 'firstism' (make it sound like you're
>>> > the first to make a particular point, obscuring other more or less
>>> > readily available forms of critique)
>>> >
>>> > EM: "Let's get the Nazis out of the way first. There's a considerable
>>> > body of serious scholarship looking at the technological thought of
>>> > the Nazis. They had plenty of engineers and scientists and some had
>>> > rather ambitious theoretical ambitions. (Not to mention that Carl
>>> > Schmidt and Heidegger, whatever their relationship to Nazism, wrote
>>> > about technology)."
>>> >
>>> > Yes Heidegger wrote about technology. But that's one of the places
>>> > where firstism just won't do - to read Heidegger and his philosophy of
>>> > technology in 'solutionist' terms ends up discrediting the
>>> > anti-solutionist project imo. Funny Foucault quote: 'For me, Heidegger
>>> > has always been the essential philosopher. My whole philosophical
>>> > development was determined by my reading of Heidegger.'
>>> >
>>> > Soenke
>>> >
>>> > 2013/7/2 Andrés Leopoldo Pacheco Sanfuentes <alps6085 at>:
>>> >> On Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 6:26 PM, x z <xhzhang at> wrote:
>>> >>> Morozov
>>> >>
>>> >> Well, to Morozov's credit, that's why philosophers prefer German,
>>> >> French, Spanish, etcetera, to English! :D
>>> >>
>>> >> Best Regards | Cordiales Saludos | Grato,
>>> >>
>>> >> Andrés L. Pacheco Sanfuentes
>>> >> <alps at>
>>> >> +1 (817) 271-9619
>>> >> --
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