Solutionists err by assuming, rather than investigating, the problems they set out to tackle. Given Silicon Valley’s digital hammers, all problems start looking like nails, and all solutions like apps.
Such predisposition makes it harder to notice that not all problems are problems, and that those problems that do prove genuine might require long and protracted institutional responses, not just quick technological fixes produced at “hackathons” or viral videos to belatedly shame Ugandan warlords into submission.
Silicon Valley, oddly, likes to wear its “solutionism” on its sleeve. Its most successful companies fashion themselves as digital equivalents of Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch, not Wal-Mart or Exxon Mobil. “In the future,” says Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, “people will spend less time trying to get technology to work … If we get this right, I believe we can fix all the world’s problems.”
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg concurs: “There are a lot of really big issues for the world that need to be solved and, as a company, what we are trying to do is to build an infrastructure on top of which to solve some of these problems.” As he noted in Facebook’s original letter to potential investors, “We don’t wake up in the morning with the primary goal of making money.”
Such digital humanitarianism aims to generate good will on the outside and boost morale on the inside. After all, saving the world might be a price worth paying for destroying everyone’s privacy, while a larger-than-life mission might convince young and idealistic employees that they are not wasting their lives tricking gullible consumers to click on ads for pointless products. Silicon Valley and Wall Street are competing for the same talent pool, and by claiming to solve the world’s problems, technology companies can offer what Wall Street cannot: a sense of social mission.
Brilliant as usual, Mr Morozov.