Note — Jun 13, 2021

Theses on Techno-Optimism

Seen in → No.177

Source →

This one, at LibrarianShipwreck, is one of those articles I’ll be coming back to for sure. Techno-optimism is something I’ve both suffered from and railed against, as well as sharing a number of articles addressing the issue. In this piece, it’s a deeper look into that vision of technological progress not only in it’s common portrayal having to do with big tech but in the much longer-term and stronger undercurrent that “is the basic stance of a society in which people enjoy the fruits of high-technology.”

The article does suffer (although it’s also a great trick to make these big ideas more parsable) from something I’ve mentioned often: presenting a decentralized alignement of incentives as if it’s an organized campaign, not arguing for, but certainly readable as a great conspiracy. Regardless of that aspect in form, everything else is strongly presented and should now take place in the back of your mind: when you encounter big-tech-optimism and techno-chauvinism, remember that they are a kind of smoke and mirrors, obscuring the underlying deep waters of techno-optimism.

When big tech-optimism takes a beating it is for failing to live up to the hopes of the techno-optimism that undergirds it. And when big tech companies are held up for scorn, it is done so that people’s ire can be directed at a specific manifestation of techno-optimism, as opposed to calling into question the underlying ideology. […]

By consistently presenting an exaggerated version of techno-optimism, the more egregious forms of adoration and fealty open up spaces of critique, but in doing so ensure that those critiques get directed at the exaggerations as opposed to at the baseline beliefs that make those exaggerations possible. […]

Techno-optimism serves to demobilize pushes for change by shifting the onus off of people organizing and by putting that power in the hands of technology. […]

[T]echno-optimism can claim a sort of rebellious almost countercultural sheen, even as it remains the viewpoint coursing through pretty much every major corporation, tech publication, elected official’s office, and most works of mass culture. […]

Faced with serious challenges that our politics seem incapable of addressing, and which technological change have so far been able to miraculously solve, techno-optimism keeps the focus centered on the idea of an eventual technological solution.