5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, a decent critique of Internet as ideology March 8, 2013
By Peter Socolow
Snarky? Check. Contrarian? Check. Demanding? Check. That’s enough checks for me: most books don’t go that far. So, to be blunt: whatever its flaws, this book deserves to be widely read and argued about. Is it perfect? Hell no. Morozov doesn’t know when to stop and he is occasionally too full of himself to be enjoyable; at times, this book reads like “Imagine That: Some People Are Wrong on the Internet About the Internet.” (Morozov, of course, would say that this last sentence is pure nonsense, for “the Internet” doesn’t exist. Okay, Professor!) He’s lucky his relatives are no Internet theorists – or he would destroy them as well (that’s a Pavlik Morozov joke right there!)
The book somehow manages to stay extremely funny (Morozov has a great eye for the ridiculous and the surreal; his epigrams are hilarious – especially the Franny Armstrong quote comparing soccer and the Internet) and also very serious (too serious at times; there’s way too much theory in it – it could easily lose some Dewey and Giddens, not to mention of that other enfant terrible, Bruno Latour).
There’s a certain schizophrenic flavor to this text: after all, here’s an Internet pundit writing a biting manifesto against Internet punditry. Morozov’s critique is both of substance that underpins much Internet thinking – it overlooks deeply political and moral questions and only focuses on efficiency and innovation – and of its style – it presents the Internet as a coherent and revolutionary force, a theoretical move that we have taken for granted for far too long.
There is also a very weird structure to the book: a short first chapter on “solutionism” (which looks as if it were inserted at the last minute), followed by a very long treatise on “Internet centrism,” with a chapter dedicated to various mainifestations of both in action. What this book doesn’t have is the typical Gladwellian “Let me tell you a story about a counterintuitive thing that happened to this interesting man/company/academic…” that has come to define the genre of Internet punditry (look no further than Clay Shirky for a perfect example of such narration; luckily, Shirky is one figure who gets the worst drubbing in this book).
This is not to say that Morozov shies away from anecdotes and examples – they are plenty – but the bulk of the book is dedicated to what can only be called “ideology critique,” with lots of quotations and close readings of Internet thinkers. That someone can pull it off in a trade book is an interesting development all by itself.
Does Morozov repeat himself? Yes. Can the book be shorter? Easily. Is it way too angry? Perhaps. But none of this spoils the final product: it is highly idiosyncratic but it is also the best analysis of all the pitfalls that have stalled our thinking about the “digital.”
To sum up: Morozov is like Zizek, minus all the ticks and wrinkled t-shirts. Perhaps, it does take a very cynical Eastern European to point out just how facile, cheap and ridiculous most of our “thinking” is.