Silicon Valley’s got 99 problems and the same solution for every one. Take a system ailing for complex reasons—education, Congress, the media—and offer one simple fix: more Internet. Tuition is continuing to rise as states cut funding to higher education? Have students watch lectures on YouTube and get graded by computers!
In this year’s most controversial technology book, To Save Everything, Click Here, Evgeny Morozov argues that geeks have come down with a bad case of “solutionism,” which recasts all sorts of problems, from the merely irritating to the civilization-threatening, as issues a low-cost, high-growth company should solve. More damningly, Morozov writes, “what many solutionists presume to be ‘problems’ in need of solving are not problems at all.” Inefficiency, opacity, and slowness can be features, not bugs. See: the Supreme Court.
But what really gets to Morozov is that individualistic, free-marketeer rhetoric derails the possibility of greater public involvement in creating desirable futures—essentially, it lets citizens and institutions off the hook.
Which brings us to the appeal of solutionism in the first place. Silicon Valley may have a one-size-fits-all, morally blind set of solutions, but at least it’s tackling problems. At a time when Congress refuses to act, and universities refuse to cut tuition, and the status quo seems more entrenched than ever, tangible change is especially seductive.