The Internet Is the Solution to Everything

Ideas of the Year 2013
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Javier Jaén Benavides

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.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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