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22 March 2015

Morozov’s discussion of technical solutionism in politics in To Save Everything Click Here is unfair. It is difficult to disagree with his position about the dangerous naiveté of the interaction between technology and society in authors like Clay Shirky or businessmen like Jeff Bezos. But he tries to make his arguments pass for an overaching discussion of solutionism when in fact he is limiting himself to a very distinctive kind of political theory for which technology is supposed to provide the golden bullet to transition to a very particular utopia. In this view, the difference between old and new political systems is the role of technology as a paradigm for social organization and as a tool to empower the citizen against the elites. What concerns them is the tension between representation and free, unrestricted individual choice in the political realm, a tension that must be resolved, according to those whom Morozov dubs as “solutionists,” in favor of the latter. For them, representative democracy was a second-best solution relative direct democracy, the gold standard that was unfeasible so far because we did not have the tools to make it happen —until we got the Internet.

When Morozov criticizes solutionists for not allowing politicians to be detached from the preferences of their constituencies in order attain compromises, or when he discusses the role of secrecy and close-gates discussion, what he is really targeting is this false notion of representation as a stage in the way to direct democracy. It may seem that the discussion is about technology, but it is not. What Morozov is discussing is the limits of direct democracy, but not the limits of technology as a tool to improve representation. And that makes his case much easier, but also weaker.