Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

Solutionism in action

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Solutionism in action

Evgeny Morozov has used the term ‘solutionism’ to describe the phenomenon of technologists framing problems in terms that the technology they’re promoting can ‘solve’. These solutions typically operate at the level of the individual, and while appearing to offer individual choice often serve to remove choice in the longer term. In a recent podcast of a talk at the RSA in London he gave the example of New York landlords advertising apartments via Craigslist. They insist on seeing potential tenants’ profiles on a well known social media site, presumably to satisfy themselves that they’re not about to let an apartment to a psychopath or a bankrupt. This has the effect of making it very difficult to exercise the ‘choice’ to remove oneself from the site while trying to find an apartment. There are plenty of other example (for example BT’s removal of payphones on the grounds that almost everyone now has a mobile, making it harder to choose not to have a self-tracking device).

This article by Bill Gates about the potential of ‘personal assistants’ in reducing the internationally high drop-out rates of US college students is a cracking example of solutionism. We can build an app that will nag students to attend lectures or tutorials, but this won’t address issues such as highly wealth-dependent variations in the quality of secondary education, the nature of HE funding or the structure of courses and pedagogy… Gates’ solutionism removes educational attainment from a social or political setting and makes it a technocratic, individualist problem and is a fine example of the style.

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Written by Steve

July 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm

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