Digital technology is good at offering micro-solutions to macro-problems, ranging from obesity to global warming, says Evgeny Morozov, the Russian-born intellectual who studies the social consequences of technology. Encapsulated by the phrase “there’s an app for that”, we live in a time when “a problem like obesity can be tackled by giving everyone a smartphone and telling them that, from now on, the smartphone will track everything they eat and how much they exercise, so that they can optimize their behavior accordingly.” At the moment, governments are tackling problems like the financial crisis, so this individualized solution might be welcome.
What’s the Big Idea?
What is lost in our rush to personalize solutions to societal problems, says Morozov, is the fact that broad political solutions, such as regulation of industry, can prove very effective. “[The micro-solution] is naïve because it assumes (wrongly in my opinion) that complex problems can be addressed without getting citizens to develop more sophisticated models of the world around them; it’s the ultimate conceit of our technocratic policymakers, who believe that they can solve the crisis on their own, if only the citizens do not get in their way. It’s ugly because it abandons the idea of citizens as active players who are capable of learning and understanding.”
If you occasionally think your phone is vibrating when it’s actually not, you are among the 80 percent of people who make the same mistake. But this error in perception is not an impending sign of madness.