Cyber utopianism can be defined as the tendency to see the Internet as a space for defending freedom and combating authoritarianism. Evgeny Morozov is a Belarusian philosopher radically opposed to this idea. In fact, he aims to warn about the dark side of the Internet and its implications.
Morozov has studied in depth the political, social, economic, and cultural effects of technology. He made some harsh criticism in his books, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom and To Save Everything Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. As a matter of fact, today, he’s one of the most authoritative voices on this subject.
Indeed, for more than ten years, this philosopher has warned about the cost of the digital society. For instance, invasion of privacy, rigged elections, data leaks, fake news, and shocking propaganda. However, he’s convinced that this is only the beginning of a much greater kind of control.
“Big tech absorbs our data, builds products based on it, and sells it to the Pentagon or investment banks without us seeing a single euro. That’s the real deal: a parasitic economic model.”
Evgeny Morozov, the Internet heretic
Despite the fact that he’s a devout tweeter, Morozov is known as an Internet heretic due to his critical views of the network. He’s one of the philosophers who brought to the fore the concept of cyber utopianism or techno-utopianism. He warns that there’s a great deal of naivety among the public about the true scope of the virtual world.
Morozov points out that ‘ultra-connection’ has gradually colonized our lives. Moreover, he claims that the technological giants, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, don’t live from their advertising as many people believe. In his opinion, their business is to absorb data and, based on it, create products that they later offer to the same users. Ultimately, these users work for them.
Morozov states that technological triumphalism is a by-product of the end of the Cold War. He suggests that it makes us believe that it’s the only approach through which we can observe the world. In effect, it’s as if there were no valid alternative society or culture. However, this isn’t the case. That said, it seems that Silicon Valley is the driving force behind behavior in the Western world.
Cyber utopianism and dictatorships
Evgeny Morozov hasn’t always viewed the world of the Internet and new technologies in this way. In fact, he became interested in the subject through relentless cyberactivism, with the aim of changing the world. He was inspired by the Arab Spring and the political processes in Georgia and Ukraine. At that point, he saw in the networks a libertarian opportunity.
But, over time, he became disillusioned with the power of the virtual world for achieving more justice and freedom. He realized that, just as this space made it possible to promote new ideas and proposals, it was also a minefield in which authoritarian propaganda and lies were rife. Indeed, from being the ‘last bastion of free speech’, the Internet ended up becoming an effective tool for tyrannies, at least in many places.
Morozov suggests that the reason for this, to a large extent, is that people don’t understand how the virtual world works. They might use the Internet on a daily basis and participate on social media but they’re unaware of its consequences and implications. In effect, he believes that ordinary citizens unwittingly use these technologies, for the benefit of certain powers.
Things will get worse
Clearly, Evgeny Morozov isn’t an optimistic philosopher. Quite the opposite, in fact. In his opinion, in the future, there’ll be increasingly more control exerted by the Internet. Moreover, the world will end up divided between a minority cognitive elite, who know, create, and recreate the digital world, and a vast majority of digital outcasts. The latter are those who will pay the price.
To explain this idea, he gives a simple and everyday example. A smartwatch measures a person’s vital functions and accumulates a lot of data about their lifestyle. That information, when placed in the hands of an insurance company means that many people will be unable to even purchase one of these products. At the very least, they’ll make them extremely expensive.
This example is purely illustrative. However, it’s similar to what’s been happening and will continue to happen increasingly regularly in all areas of life.
Evgeny Morozov claims that shortly, many Internet services will no longer be free. Will people pay to use them? Of course. After all, many have already made them an essential part of their lives. New technologies are businesses. Like all businesses, their main interests lie in obtaining performance.