Note — Nov 10, 2019

Utopian Overreach

Here the author is not (quite) talking about utopian fiction, he uses the word to represent the world imagined by various technologists and their critics, specifically the digital-wellness movement, including Tristan Harris, Cal Newport, et al. They are all painting / imagining worlds with no complexity, inventing futures (even if only by creating a product) with missing parts. They are using the same language, much of the same assumptions. Ibrahim also proposes that both “sides” are based on a separation of human and machine, where we could also be thinking about Mark Poster’s “humachine” or Haraway’s Cyborg, which also makes me think of the western separation of mind and body. I’m doing the TL;DR here but it’s a super interesting line of thought, I encourage you to read the whole thing.

“Who rules in your utopia, and how are they selected?” and “Does the society in your utopia hinge on equality, or is it something else?” A universalized mode of living and being almost always leaves someone out, always producing “losers.” […]

What these interventions all have in common is how they frame our problems with technology as a matter between the individual and a specific device or app rather than the social, moral, and infrastructural relations that ultimately bind them together. […]

Rather than addressing the complexity of our relations with each other, institutions, social conditions, or anything else that communication technology plays into, digital wellness offers self-help as self-reliance while leaving the broader, underlying conditions unaddressed. […]

The digital-wellness movement tends to presume that the usefulness of technology comes at the expense of human capability, as if these were inherently zero-sum rather than potentially complementary. So it responds to the question of human agency by decontextualizing technology use and depicting it as being a matter of the individual’s unilateral will. […]

The anxieties, fantasies, and possibilities technology evokes are contextual; they vary according to the power relations among individuals, groups, and institutions within a given circumstance, because of the multitude of power, privilege, race, and other sociocultural dynamics that exist in relation to these technologies. The digital wellness utopia flattens all that into a single concern, reflecting the anxieties of one particular group — the demographic that includes Silicon Valley technologists.