Silicon Valley’s technophilic gurus and futurists have embarked on a quest to develop the ultimate patch to the nasty bugs of humanity…Facebook’s former marketing director, enthused about a trendy app to “crowdsource absolutely every decision in your life.” Called Seesaw, the app lets you run instant polls of your friends and ask for advice on anything…Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher who celebrated the anguish of decision as a hallmark of responsibility, has no place in Silicon Valley.
All these efforts to ease the torments of existence might sound like paradise to Silicon Valley. But for the rest of us, they will be hell. They are driven by a pervasive and dangerous ideology that I call “solutionism”: an intellectual pathology that recognizes problems as problems based on just one criterion: whether they are “solvable” with a nice and clean technological solution at our disposal. Thus, forgetting and inconsistency become “problems” simply because we have the tools to get rid of them — and not because we’ve weighed all the philosophical pros and cons…Given Silicon Valley’s digital hammers, all problems start looking like nails, and all solutions like apps…Whenever technology companies complain that our broken world must be fixed, our initial impulse should be to ask: how do we know our world is broken in exactly the same way that Silicon Valley claims it is? What if the engineers are wrong and frustration, inconsistency, forgetting, perhaps even partisanship, are the very features that allow us to morph into the complex social actors that we are?In the same apocalyptic spirit Edward Hoagland writes a lyrical elegy to the natural world we are losing:
Aesop, the fabulist and slave who, like Scheherazade, may have won his freedom by the magic of his tongue and who supposedly shared the Greek island of Samos with Pythagoras 2,500 years ago, nailed down our fellowship with other beasties of the animal kingdom. Yet we seem to have reached an apogee of separation since then. The problem is, we find ourselves quite ungovernable when operating solo, shredding our habitat, while hugging our dogs and cats as if for consolation and dieting on whole-food calories if we are affluent enough. Google Earth and genome games also lend us a fitful confidence that everything is under control.
It’s a steeplechase, hell-for-leather and exhilarating, for the highest stakes, but not knowing where we’re going. Call it progress or metastasizing, what we have done as a race, a species or a civilization is dumbfounding. Every inch of the planet is ours, we claim, and elements of clear improvement are intertwined with cancerous excess
…Aesopian metaphors were artesian if not prehistoric. The tortoise and the hare, the lion saved by the mouse, the monkey who would be king, the dog in the manger, the dog and his shadow, the country mouse and the city mouse, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the raven and the crow, the heron and the fish, the peacock and the crane. From where will we draw replacement similes and language? Pop culture somersaults “bad” to mean good, “cool” to mean warm, and bustles and bodices segue into tank tops and cargo pants, as in a robust society they should. But will a natural keel remain, as we face multiflex, multiplex change? “Hogging” the spotlight, playing possum, resembling a deer in the headlights, being buffaloed or played like a fish: will the clarity of what is said hold? A “tiger,” a “turtle,” a “toad.” After the oceans have been vacuumed of protein and people are eating farmed tilapia and caked algae, will Aesop’s platform of markers remain?