A Handful of Recognized “Critics”

Searching results in LexisNexis and Factiva for technology critics brings up a select group: Walt Mossberg, David Pogue, Neil Postman, Walter Isaacson, Sherry Turkle, Andrew Keen, Nicholas Carr, Jaron Lanier, Jeremy Rifkin, and Evgeny Morozov. On Amazon there appears a more historical and theoretical group with Neil Postman, Leo Marx, Ursula Franklin, and Martin Heidegger. When I asked my interviewees to name those they associate as technology critics, many of the same names came to mind.

Beyond the short list of identifiable Critics in the field, technology criticism has become enough of a genre to merit its own self-reflexive critique. Political scientist Henry Farrell’s 2013 Democracy Journal essay caused a stir by addressing the political economy of those he dubbed the “tech intellectuals” and “tech critics.” For Farrell, tech intellectuals, including Clay Shirky, Stephen Johnson, and Nicholas Carr, operate in a Silicon Valley vacuum, offering marketable insights and garnering consulting fees. Farrell laments that even the Critics “work within the same economy of attention as the people they want to argue against, and labor under many of the same intellectual burdens. Their obligation to gather attention undermines their purported goals.”60

Even Morozovi has reflected on “what it means to be a technology critic in today’s America,” by way of his review of Carr’s book.61 In a Columbia Journalism Review profile on Morozov, Michael Meyer aptly sums him up: “Depending on whom you ask, Evgeny Morozov is either the most astute, feared, loathed, or useless writer about digital technology working today.”62 Morozov recognizes his own shortcomings and laments the impossibility of a more radical and politically informed technology criticism that would address the neoliberal ideology underlying the industry. He concludes:

Why, then, aspire to practice any kind of technology criticism at all? I am afraid I do not have a convincing answer. If history has, in fact, ended in America—with venture capital (represented by Silicon Valley) and the neoliberal militaristic state (represented by the NSA) guarding the sole entrance to its crypt—then the only real task facing the radical technology critic should be to resuscitate that history. But this surely can’t be done within the discourse of technology, and given the steep price of admission, the technology critic might begin most logically by acknowledging defeat. Changing public attitudes toward technology—at a time when radical political projects that technology could abet are missing—is pointless. While radical thought about technology is certainly possible, the true radicals are better off theorizing—and spearheading—other, more consequential struggles, and jotting down some reflections on technology along the way.63

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