Machines of Laughter and Forgetting

The problem with attempts to “bury” technology is that they embody an amoral and unsustainable vision.

Comments: 59

  1. Well, you can have conversations without words but sometimes you can''t have food without electricity.

    A friend in NY recently faced this dilemma during Hurricane Sandy when his suddenly powerless home was well- stocked with lots of canned foods, but only an electric opener.

    What can transformational products do for you in a time like that?

    Devices as problem solvers indeed.

  2. Feedback of information to enable us to adjust our uses of technology and other actions makes us part of the cybernetic system. The key is not to bombard people with the information, but to provide it in compelling ways so people feel engaged and make choices that work for them, their organizations, their communities, and our planet.

  3. Mr. Morozov should consult the materials, installations, and catalog produced by USC for "Interactive Frictions" back in 2000 or so - many of his points here were narrativized, conceptualized, or otherwise exhibited in that show at the Fisher Gallery at USC.

  4. Having looked at the Cornell researchers' paper, I would insist that what they write about is an opt-in feature of any browser I'd consider using.

    Re their "creepy" information, there is value in it: If people knew that data mining and other relational techniques make it possible to do spectacular harm to them individually and to every group they may be part of, there would be a revolution in privacy rights.

  5. I'm reminded of one car I rented that flashed a dashboard warning about exceeding the speed limit - once or twice. That seemed useful. And some of them show the mileage you are getting, which can be useful, except with one, I kept glancing down and thinking wow, I'm not using any gas at all! Well, maybe at that very moment I wasn't, but I'm sure I was using a normal amount if you averaged it out over a few minutes - I think the display was designed to draw attention to the moments of very low gas-usage, and make you think you were doing better than maybe you actually were (the lighted line would expand and catch your eye as your mileage improved - if I was interpreting it right) - sort of the opposite of the effects mentioned in the article.

  6. Arthur Clarke observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. For most users of the internet today, especially those who conduct their business over smart phones, everything that happens is magical- that is, they can't describe what's happening or where it happens in any more detail than their grandparents could. They just push a button and it works. The Times ran a good series some months ago about the "cloud", pointing out that it is in fact made up of enormous energy-eating disk farms located near rivers which supply large amounts of cooling water. The farms have arrays of diesel backup generators that start automatically if the power supply fluctuates. This is not a cloud, this is a 19th-century factory established for 21st century purposes.

    The designers will have to make their systems visible in ways that cause the users to study those systems and begin to understand them. A 747 would be visible to a Cro-Magnon man, but it would still be a mystery.

  7. The older I get, the clearer it is that almost nothing in our world is random. Obvious examples in my sphere, Marketing, include the location of staples in the grocery. Ever notice that milk and bread are located in the middle of the store? That's to not so gently push you on a longer, more profitable path that will nearly always multiple the "ring" of the cash register as you impulsively 'remember' to buy additional items. Walmart actually puts beer near diapers because they figured out that guys picking up these essentials perceive they are doing good deeds and deserve to reward themselves with some adult suds. Random? HA!!

    This essay points to some overarching technological advances in our lives that are so clever and effective as to be ignored and/or forgotten. At what cost and to what level of threat are the real questions? Many might question 'how problematic can it be to surf a browser' when all it takes is the tap-tap-tap of a few fingers. This may ominously be compared to countless smokers who discounted health warnings tied to cigarettes as nothing that bad seemed to happen while partaking.

    This piece really helps open one's eyes to the potential for unintended consequences when consumers are seduced by fun and easy technological advances. If we are lulled to virtual sleep by our gadgets, entire and enormous topics could be ignored.

    "Multiply such ignorance by a few billion, and global warming no longer looks like a mystery."

  8. Note that Wilde and Whitehead were of a class and quality that made consideration of the common man at best a secondary issue. In their time they saw endless potential in automation (or the ability to think better). What we're discovering today, of course, is a somewhat different set of implications: the historically imminent demise of work, and with it gainful employment, literally for billions of human beings accustomed to repetitive, uninspired work that nevertheless puts food on the table and provides self-respect based on traditional assumptions. This prospect becomes more imminent with every advance in the automation that makes production more convenient and less costly -- and less dependent on the common man. This never formed a part of Wilde's or Whitehead's thinking when pondering the prospects of better aids to contemplation.

    You focus extensively on the ways by which "technology" may either help or hinder civilization. My concern is what civilization will look like when consumption engines no longer are driven by workers with sufficient commodity work that allows them to consume, which incentivizes the very few to innovate yet further, which allows software and hardware to produce.

    We're facing a deadly serious and new problem, and while Wilde (not machines) can help us laugh and, for a time, forget; and while Whitehead can help us plot disintegration points on a graph; we need to look elsewhere for the new social frameworks that will allow us to survive.

  9. The free market's solutions for too much of something are either to lower the price until the too much goes away or to find new uses for the something so there is no longer too much of it. We now are developing a surplus of people, both uneducated and educated, and the price is going down. When the price goes down to where medical maintenance becomes unaffordable, lifespans shorten and the excess population goes away.

    New uses for people include war and building monuments to rulers.

    The new social frameworks will undoubtedly involve free enterprise but cannot be run by free enterprise. Free enterprise runs by reducing costs lower than the competition, but every enterprise cannot do this (by definition) and if they all try the whole economy shrinks and becomes unstable.

    Any way out of this trap will involve developing an authority that can make free enterprise behave in ways that are unnatural for markets. An example of one sort of solution is professional sports, where the fierce competition within each sport is rigorously regulated and manipulated to keep the sport interesting and the fans from moving their loyalties to teams in other sports.

  10. In 2012 the columnist George Will wrote in his column:

    "Facebook users post 1.5 billion photos every month. That creates a reasonable suspicion that the country has a narcissism problem and not a terrorism problem, and it is not a problem for law enforcement."

    George Will, 2012 in his column

    (It crosses all political party lines and is not a good omen for the U.S.)

  11. A very profound idea, which I have read here first in explicit form: that machines can help us with our psychic as well as physical burdens.

  12. Is a breath enough?
    It will not keep us from the abyss.

    Kundera preferred to ran away from his societies problems, maybe like Havel we must take more direct action, for instance legislatively banning drones(to start in the US). While we will lose out the "gold rush" reported by the grey lady, we might retain more of our privacy.

    Humanity must make choices: we can avoid the dystopia whose reek already chokes us...
    it will take calm fortitude and humility to step back and choose another direction.

  13. By "ran away from his societies [sic] problems," do you mean emigrating to France? That's certainly a shallow take on his biography. Have you even read his books? He grappled with the problems and contradictions of his native country for his entire life.

  14. This is technobabble...I have heard of psychobabble before...but this report goes to new territories.

    Here is the money quote from Morozov..."Rather, we must distribute the thinking process equally. Instead of having the designer think through all the moral and political implications of technology use before it reaches users — an impossible task — we must find a way to get users to do some of that thinking themselves. "

    I am not a fan of Steve Jobs, but the best designs from Apple - probably the most influential hardware / software company - was made on the idea "users don't know what they want".

  15. Your point about algorithms...I'm at an age where I will get up and walk over to the kitchen, and forget for a moment why I came there. I came over to get a beer out of the fridge, I was motivating on an algorithm of an act I've done many times. The human brain is set up to elide those repeated actions from conscious thought. Maybe you have a point that we need reminding sometimes; but that could slide into nagging, or even scolding. No thanks.

  16. The modern user of technology is technophobe. Phobia is not so much the fear that something exists than the fear when seeing something (arachnophobia is the fear of seeing spider, not the fear of spider per se). Modern technology users don't look at their technology, they don't dare to. Modernity, as Morozov points here, needs much more technophilia, the fearlessness to see.

  17. I know exactly how much my refrigerator consumes in electricity, and exactly how much my microwave clock costs me, so I lower the temperatures of my refrigerator and freezer to exactly what I need and I turn off the microwave at the powerpoint when I'm done with it.

    Mr Morozov needs to construct his essay so the fallacy doesn't arrive so early in his argument. And using quotes from Oscar Wilde (!)--who I suspect would happily rise from his grave and disagree--is unfair. Mr Wilde never received an electricity bill.

  18. And if he had received the bill, he probably wouldn't have paid it. ;}

  19. Dear Mr.Morozov, I'll have to buy your book. In the meantime,it seems most advanced technologies either are shrouded in secrecy at D.A.R.P.A. or being doled out to the public in the form of games or ever-increasing gigabit hand held devices. I suggest you hang around a McDonald's and see just how many people are engaged in "thoughtful" conversation;you might be surprised as you learn all about Honey Boo Boo,Kim Kardashian,what sports team beat what other sports team,etc. I'm not a Luddite by any means but as the Malthusian population increases,these future people are probably going to be an extremely boring lot,glued to their phones or video games. But,Mother Nature, in the form of "Global Weirding",will most likely have the final say.

  20. This is brilliantly put--but there's another aspect to it. Being forced to solve problems is what fosters creativity--the more user friendly software becomes, the more there are 'templates' offered for common tasks, the less likely users are to create their own solutions. And to solve their own problems.

  21. I think it's called the dumbing down of the population. Give us a touch screen, allow us a limited number of operations with the emphasis on consuming apps, music and video content at a price, and we fit quite easily into the sellers' business plans, which of course, are antithetical to our own needs and goals. Can some one please explain the benefit of repeatedly watching a wide screen movie designed for a 50 foot screen with surround sound on a 4 inch handheld device with.005 watts of sound??
    On one hand, there's a small group of people using technology for knowledge, drilling down to get the most hands on in your face experience whether its making coffee from home roasted beans to prowling user forums looking for the best way to mod a guitar effect. On the other hand, we are the victims of the content and delivery systems that the combines-google, face book, yahoo, microsoft and apple etc, squeeze out to us for maximum profit. Next time you get your car worked on, question why the dealer won't release the computer diagnostic codes to your local mechanic.

  22. With regard to your query about watching a widescreen movie on a handheld device - basically, turning Lawrence of Arabia into an ant farm - the one and only reason to do it is because you can. 'Because you can' seems to be the dominant rationale these days for every such technological - I hesitate to say achievement or improvement; let's just say 'change'.

  23. "I think it's called the dumbing down of the population."

    Like it's been called (in not so many words) for hundreds of years.

    A hundred years ago, people had pianos, guitars, reed instruments in their homes, and they played music for themselves, their friends, and their families. Then they got radios and phonographs and were "dumbed down" because they had wider opportunitie.

    A hundred years before that, people had those instruments and they did the same thing, but they played folk songs and hymns they learned and modified or even composed. Then publishers began releasing sheet music and they preferred to play other peoples' songs and they got "dumbed down" because now they didn't have to improvide as much.

    For millennia, people were illiterate and they memorized or made up oral folk tales. Then people started printing books and folks could read other peoples' stories instead of making them up, and they got "dumbed down," and probably lazy, too.

    Darned content consumers, what is this world coming to?

  24. "Transformational products" are an interesting concept. But it is difficult to think about them when the internet is morphing into an enemy of civilization: the cyber warfare of hackers on the rest of us.

    Hackers are like terrorists: they don't care about collateral damage, as long as they make their point or make money off their cyber crimes.

    But the context of hacking is an internet designed to maximize profits for "legitimate" businesses. That is why it is essentially unregulated. The interests of greed (in this country, championed by the Republican Party) have long had the upper hand in internet design decisions; the privacy of individuals, and the security of individuals' data, has been the lowest priority.

    An easy prediction: the internet will not be truly regulated until it enables some form of mass destruction, such as the collapse of a country's financial system or, worse, the destruction of an electric grid or a water infrastructure.

  25. You suggest the technology consumer has some measure of control. That would be just don't use it. The problem with most of our technologies, is that it is tending to take away our privacy, and thus our civil rights. We are tracked, recorded and slotted. There are chips in our products we buy, and also in us I've read, without our knowledge. Is it worth it? It is no wonder so many fear the government and want to stockpile weapons! It is a creepy feeling to know one's information is stored in a "cloud" somewhere to be used possibly against one, if your head sticks up too far above the crowd. The owners of the largest banks are international. They care not for soveriegnty, especially American. They are undermining soveriegnty everywhere, whether in Detroit or Italy. We cannot trust our money in one of these banks, if they decide to collect money. Our democracy is being dismantled before our very eyes, with the Patriot Act and Homeland Security. Drones can attack American citizens without due process. We are not allowed to protest except in certain "zones". Techonology does not feel like a friend lately. It feels like a matter of time, when it would be safer to not even use a computer. We are at the tipping point. The public may be catching on. Meanwhile the two party system is playing it from both ends. They are just two more corporations, without the public's well being, their top priority.

  26. Beautiful.

  27. As a long-ago early adopter of computer technology, I've become increasingly concerned about some of the perils we are encountering as the web gets sticky.
    Evgeny Morozov's columns are very important. Keep 'em coming!

  28. "Our way to the abyss"? Hmmm... Not sure I can buy into that vision of the future. I agree with EM that technology can induce thoughtlessness about the consequences of our actions, and that technology designers have some obligation to reverse that trend. The writhing caterpillar extension cord is brilliant! But if your base assumption is that we're all headed to near-term extinction anyway, why bother? Let's not give in to despair!

  29. But we *are* all, as individuals, headed to extinction. The point is that we create purpose in our lives, and our lives are more satisfying when we are concerned about the lives of others, those around us and those to come later. Technology can affect awareness, but is not the root cause of thoughtless environmental waste and degradation. Lack of concern for life - all of it - is a problem.

  30. Ah yes, your points are all well taken.

    Wilde was contemplating 'The Soul of Man under (gasp) *Socialism*' which should immediately negate anything he said (even aside from his being one of *those*).

    It's worth re-reading the entire essay, Wilde also prophesied the abolition of all private property - not trying to reconcile that with his own vaunted collection of beautiful things - and condemned democracy - despite his courting public attention, whether fame or notoriety, as energetically as any Kardashian.. (Iif he conducted a lecture tour today, would he get the enthusiastic reception America gave him in the 1880s?)

    As is so often the case with Oscar, he didn't think through the implications of his own thoughts, so carried away was he by the flow of his words - any more than we think through the implications of our technological choices, so carried away are we by the ease of, well, of posting comments like this one.

  31. Think of the humble calculator, a veritable dinosaur in the world of modern technological innovations. There is evidence that high school students will read out the answer provided by the calculator without thinking for a nano second whether it is likely to be the answer. Machines are supposed to take the drudgery out of life, not thinking. That has still to be in humans' purview.

  32. Mr. Morozov's columns are excellent, but I'm sceptical on this one. Technologies conceal their social, environmental & personal costs because that makes them more marketable & profitable. To design them differently, so that the choices they entail are conscious, sounds great. But manufacturers and marketers will always be able to undercut competition by tricking you out of more of your personal information, by transferring more of their machine's destructive costs to society, as well as by using children to manufacture things and exploited workers to sell them. In a society with as much consumption and poverty as ours, people have to seek their own economic interests. Trying to build morality into the "consumer" choice is elitist and ultimately doomed, unless you legislate a level playing-field into the market--by mandating environment protection, privacy and labor laws etc. The problem isn't one of technology specifically, but of capitalism generally.

  33. Right, the caterpillar extension cord is still made in the factory belonging to the Foxconn of extension cords, so where is the"morality" in that?

  34. Many people are oblivious to the costs of technology, but not all. For instance, the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal's poem, "Cell Phone," starts out like this:

    You talk on your cell phone
    and talk and talk
    and laugh into your cell phone
    never knowing how it was made
    and much less how it works
    but what does that matter
    trouble is you don’t know
    just as I didn’t
    that many people die in the Congo
    thousands upon thousands
    for that cellphone
    they die in the Congo ...

    The poem goes on to discuss the mining of 'coltan', an essential metallic ore used in the manufacturing of modern electronic components. I recommend looking the poem up online and reading the whole thing.

    However, will such knowledge cause very many people to stop using cell phones until such issues are addressed? Probably not. Just as watching an extension cord 'writhe in pain' may amuse more people than it disturbs.

  35. "Whitehead, it seems, was either wrong or extremely selective: on many important issues, civilization only destroys itself by extending the number of important operations that we can perform without thinking about them."

    Why is binary think so popular today? Morozov fails to realize that not every statement is absolute. There are some operations you don't want to have to think about while there are others you should think about.

    I will be paralyzed if every time I want to add 2 to 3, I have to think what is "2". Is it the collection of all sets that are in one to one coressponce with the set whose members are the empty set an the set whose only member is the empty set? How do you "add"? And so on.

    If every time I want to toast a peice of bread, I have to think, which slot do I use? Do I have to plug it in? Can I afford the electricity? etc., etc., etc., I will be paralyzed.

    Rationality is thinking about the ideas that need to be thoughht about, and no others.

  36. If rationality is thinking about the ideas that need to be thought about and no other, then rationality is a sham until it has addressed the question of what ideas need to be thought about. We need criteria and we need to apply them.

    We do not need to think about arithmetic when we use a calculator, but we very definitely need to think about the fact that calculators are associated with the atrophy of ability to do arithmetic (if we acquired it in the first place, which is no longer automatic). Penmanship, remembering phone numbers, doing arithmetic in our heads, doing or recognizing correct spelling, and tolerating silence and solitude, are all fading fast.

  37. By "binary" thinking, do you mean assessing whether statements are true or false?

  38. sdavidc - We also cannot hunt in 20° weather only wearing a loin cloth.

    Obviously one of the ideas we SHOULD think about is which ideas to think about.

  39. What's wrong with personal responsibility in regard to electronic devices. Can't we just close tabs and log out of social interaction sites on our own? We have to control all other machines in our lives, i.e., our automobiles. It is easier to have built in devices to assist but anyone can learn to turn off a computer.

  40. Interesting article. I'd urge people to read philosopher of technology Albert Borgmann, whose works draw attention to how the proliferation of devices change our relationships with ourselves (we become less skilled), with others (we become less intimate), and with nature (we listen less sensitively to its eloquence). See, e.g.,

  41. Too many hours spent in a binary code world have left the author thinking in too much of a binary way. Surely, the issue is WHEN to think. Compare the iPod to the VHS recorder to show what good design does to help us to answer the question. Why not have a read-out on all devices as to electricity usage, if the author is so concerned to think about that?

  42. Unfortunately, increasing our sensitivity to the consequences of our technology-driven world will not be accomplished by "extra seconds of thought--nay, contemplation."

    Whether for good or ill, we are creatures who far prefer to EMOTE than to THINK. Evidence of that includes the fact that, notwithstanding the huge amount of information available on-line, most will gravitate toward websites where their fears, desires and biases are confirmed rather than challenged.

    But your example of the 'twisting ... in pain" extension cord actually belies your argument that what we need is more "contemplation." When viewing something that twists "in pain," it's the emotional core of who we are which is triggered.

    So may I suggest you modify your thesis to better fit not only your own example but what is more likely to work given the imperatives of human nature.

  43. You've manage to capture far more eloquently what I've been telling friends and acquaitances for several years now: protect your privacy and, occasionally, disconnect from the connected world. Some of the folks I knew when I started working with social technologies in 2005 were very aware of the needs to disconnect, to refresh one's body, mind and (to some) soul. While later comers find themselves immersed and dependent on the thrill of superiority in toutng the benefits of total connectivity...

    And I've seen the teeter-tottering between duelling philosophies that would have us believe that if everything is turned into a game (gamification)--from weight loss to, well, you name it--that we will be better off for it. Only for the gamifiers have their shiny new and invasive (into our privacy) apps disrupted by our basic human evolution. For example, why did Foursquare decide to change itself into another social network? Because, in the hunter-gatherer world, women gatherers do not like to give our locations nor do we care to win worthless "badges" for giving up our locations. Likewise, women enjoy Pinterest because we gather and share freely. Yet men find little "value" because there is no election of "mayor" or "king" for successful gathering., no real game to engage in (so far.)

    So, given evolution happens slower than some would lecture us about, eventually, there will be more and more pulling back and a re-discovering of interaction with the tactile world.

  44. Some thoughtful suggestions, that merit more thought: reflection and self awareness are central to thoughtfulness, but you can thoughtful about one thing and not want to reflect about another; so it would be disruptive to be searching for the answer to one problem and be confronted with irrelevant reminders of your profligacy or your unplugged cell phone in your path. How much better than a reminder to have it taken care of automatically: like transformers that cut out when there is no load, rather than twisting in the wind. Oscar Wilde still seems righter: we need information slaves to care for our elemental needs while we peruse higher goals. Now how do we get those enlightening pursuits? Ah, reflection is the key.

  45. I think it kind of funny that we'd probably end up caring more about a writhing electrical cord that mimics a living creature than we probably do about our next door neighbor.

    Even if I had that transformational product cord I'm not sure what is achieved if I still pass people on the street wary of making eye contact.

    Sometimes I feel technology is taking us all for a ride.

    And BTW: Do the annoying timed lights we have in many toilets and apartment building stair wells here in Paris count as transformational? Personally, I think of them as device- as- troublemaker.

  46. I spent a good many years as a neurologist caring for people with hand problems and came away with a deep respect for the personal fulfillment that comes with learning how to do something physically challenging, and the persistence of desire to keep working at getting better. You are just not going to find a musician -- even one who's mastered MIDI technology -- whose goal is to sit on stage and watch synthesizers do the whole job; anyone who's learned to ride a horse and liked the way it feels to be galloping isn't interested in watching a simulation of that experience. Heart surgeons who master non-invasive technology aren't all that happy to lose the chance to lay their hands on a beating heart. The human body rewards motivated physical desire and effort in ways that an iPad simply cannot.

    I agree that we don't need to know how everything works (how much cardiopulmonary physiology does a jockey need to know to win horse races?).

    I think the arguments about dependence on technologies are a lot more interesting when you're thinking about the experiences children have with their bodies and minds as they're growing up. More ideas, if you're interested, at

  47. This article gives much more food for thought than most of the op-ed pieces by regular op-ed columnists. It provides a larger context that other articles implicitly and without discussion (other than talking points and sound bites) disagree with or accept. These contexts need to be addressed.

    A similar article on economics would question whether continual growth in our economy is possible. It would perhaps explore what is economically possible besides economic growth on the one hand and large-scale unemployment and lack of opportunity on the other. Since Mother Nature may veto continual economic growth, the question is hardly just academic.

  48. As someone who has to do a lot of scientific research in my work, I can only say that technology has made me vastly more productive. More importantly, I enjoy my work more now than I did in my graduate school days, when I lived at the library. If someone poses a question, I can see if someone else has tried to answer it with a few clicks of the mouse. If a project requires outside expertise, I can find it and have it available within hours. Information and collaboration are critical to good research, and technology has made both available in abundance.

    That said, the most important operation to master with any technology is to find, and frequently use, the off switch. In many ways, technology becomes an extension of our own minds, but it lacks the sophisticated filters and input-prioritisation that the human brain provides rather invisibly and seamlessly. And like mental or physical capabilities, one must learn to effectively use technology in a disciplined way. This takes time and practice, not simple avoidance.

  49. Mr. Mozorov would have us use technology to remind us to think about technology. Is this an improvement? Does anyone else see a contradiction here?

  50. I like an essay that produces more thought than conclusion.

    "Technology must be transparent to be truly useful and dangerous."

  51. My wife recently purchased a used Prius with a dashboard designed to let the driver know how they're doing in terms of gas mileage. I suppose that the automobile is the one of the largest abusers causing global warming, but this trend towards reducing gas mileage and thus emissions is a positive one. Here in northern California it seems every third car is a Prius. I believe many of the things which technology does for us including my microwave, my refrigerator, my stove and my dishwasher, which are all dumb by this definition, probably save energy rather than use too much of it. I have had reason to find out how much energy they burn and it is significantly lower than it used to be; it's part of the sales tool these days to be power-use competitive about the appliances you're selling. If it has a sales angle it often gets included. The argument that we should all be riding bicycles for relatively short journeys doesn't seem to be reality based. I think the more important argument here is reducing and eliminating desertification which will have a positive effect on global warming. See Alan Savory's work on the subject.

  52. I also drive a Prius and I'd go one step further on the dashboard information: it actually makes driving efficiently a fun game! My wife and I compete for best gas mileage on trips. So far I hold the high record at 62 MPH from San Francisco to Palo Alto. (There was a tailwind!)

  53. Daniel Kahneman, in his new book, "Thinking Fast and Slow", partitions our brain into two Systems. System 1 is our knee-jerk, brain on speed dial. System 2 is our slow and lazy, analytical, critically thinking brain most of us engage only when absolutely necessary. Marketers and advertisers, including the squads competitively selling the next new new technology, go all out to avoid engaging System 2. The last thing they want potential consumers to do is think. They don't want their targets to chew on what's going on behind the scenes, the harm, say, of extracting the rare earth elements that go into making the smart phone screens. They want the magic behind the screens to stay magic, frictionless, invisible because that's what System 1 wants and that's what sells. While I wholly concur with "the danger of technologies that make life a little too easy" successfully and sustainably selling products that demand more effort than is absolutely necessary by engaging System 2 is a reality check issue Mr. Morozov's otherwise superb System 2 thinking needs to address.

  54. The only way to make the caterpillar extension cord marketable in the US is to make it save a lot of money, i.e., make the energy tax high enough. Without that impetus, the caterpillar in pain will remain nothing more than a toy for a thin slice of the populace that likes to believe itself environmentally responsible (while giving little thought to another not so critically necessary plane trip).

  55. I don't understand the thinking here, partly because the examples seem off to me. If one was to arbitrarily force visibility onto the user, wouldn't it be better to display the current density running in the wire, so that I don't overload it and set my house on fire, rather than the presence of some device in standby mode that may be waiting for me to activate it when I'm giving a demo in Asia.

    Choices have to be made on what to show, when to show it etc., it might seem optimal to give users choices on every detail that they want to see, but all the research I'm familiar with indicates that we quickly become overwhelmed by the complexity and mis configure our systems.

    I think there a certain blindness here that expects more transparency from our recent technical advances, but doesn't worry about how a (wooden) 2x4 works, what substances it's outgassing, or what kind of mold it might be offering itself up to as a substrate.

  56. I hear what you're saying on "invisible technology" -- if users could meet the folks that write their programs, they might not part with their authority quite so blithely.

    On the other hand, blaming global warming on deference to machines is a big fat red herring. You're ignoring America's history -- and the role of evangelical christianity in shaping our nation's culture. The "gifts" that evangelical christianity have brought to our culture include a deep distrust of rational or scientific thought in favor of mystical personal experience, the tendency to view the environment as something hostile to be controlled and dominated, and a lust for a future imaginary existence that makes this world seem flawed and disposable by comparison.

    Compared to the influence of these noxious doctrines, smart phones and browser privacy default settings are utterly insignificant.

  57. Deliberate or not, a key issue is that even conscious consumers don't have an easy means to understand and maintain their individual rights nor property. In the cases mentioned, how hard would it be to put a watt usage meter inside every microwave oven, or every device currently sporting a clock, just for looking it up when you wanted to? Better, how can you access your own electric smart meter, which your power company has installed for ease of access? What about circuit breaker panels with usage meters tied to your $? It's your money but you can't see how much you're spending easily.
    Likewise your "memories" as preserved in internet files, are not easily known to yourself. Your phone location records that are being shared and sold to other businesses are not easily available to you, the person who created them.
    It would be helpful if we could ask the slaves what we wanted them to tell us, but that is often at odds with their creators' motives, an inversion of property rights. Most of us are not the creators, rather only the purchasers, so you have to ask who has the power?

  58. I am quite sympathetic with the motivation behind this column. It does seem that technology today is very much driven forward by the following fallacious bit of reasoning: I can, therefore I want to, therefore I should, therefore I am entitled to. The first step, whether something is possible or not, is where we focus all our attention, as if that was the only question to be answered. It is not part of our culture at the moment to consider the rest as a series of separate questions (do I want to? should I? am I entitled to?), any one of which could be answered in the negative. Hence the aura of inevitability around technological change.

    However, this notion that there should be some sort of "aesthetic of friction" is a peculiar argument, and leads to a peculiar result. Making things that are well-suited to their use and don't call attention to themselves is a hallmark of good design because it shows the most respect for the end user. To artificially build in behavior that has nothing to do with function for pure didactic purposes just puts technologists in the position of advocating for some unstated agenda, which amounts to trying to counter the user's passivity with a overlay of manipulation.

    That does not sound like a way to cultivate the sort of independent frame of mind that the underlying questions require.

  59. By this logic, we should go back to hand crank car starters so that we can be more aware of our car usage. And perhaps query google by looking up and specifying the disk sectors of your information using hexadecimal.

    You really can't force people to think. Far better to empower them to answer questions if they're interested enough to ask.