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An Army of Fakers

Evgeny Morozov is someone who will most likely be uninvited to future TED conferences. And why might that happen, you ask? Well, let’s call it truth-telling: his review of Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization by Parag Khanna and Ayesha Khanna, released as a TED eBook that Morozov says is more akin to a pamphlet than a ‘book,’ tells the plain truth.

Here’s a taste:

Khanna’s contempt for democracy and human rights aside, he is simply an intellectual impostor, emitting such lethal doses of banalities, inanities, and generalizations that his books ought to carry advisory notices. Take this precious piece of advice from his previous book—the modestly titled How to Run the World—which is quite representative of his work: “The world needs very few if any new global organizations. What it needs is far more fresh combinations of existing actors who coordinate better with one another.” How this A-list networking would stop climate change, cyber-crime, or trade in exotic animals is never specified. Khanna does not really care about the details of policy. He is a manufacturer of abstract, meaningless slogans. He is, indeed, the most talented bullshit artist of his generation. And this confers upon him a certain anthropological interest.

The “technological” turn in Khanna’s “thought” is hardly surprising. As he and others have discovered by now, one can continue fooling the public with slick ahistorical jeremiads on geopolitics by serving them with the coarse but tasty sauce that is the Cyber-Whig theory of history. The recipe is simple. Find some peculiar global trend—the more arcane, the better. Draw a straight line connecting it to the world of apps, electric cars, and Bay Area venture capital. Mention robots, Japan, and cyberwar. Use shiny slides that contain incomprehensible but impressive maps and visualizations. Stir well. Serve on multiple platforms. With their never-ending talk of Twitter revolutions and the like, techno-globalists such as Khanna have a bright future ahead of them.
Read the whole review here.

I say plain truth above which may be hyperbolic, but in his review Morozov at least gets to a kernel of truth in a world of suspect seers and sages who boggle unwitting minds with techno-babble. Which of course leads me to social media “experts.” I know, I know, I sound like the proverbial broken record, but here we are more than halfway through 2012 and it still has to be said.

In an era where Mary Meeker rightly points to what she calls the Mega-trend of the 21st Century is Empowerment of People via Connected Mobile Devices, I’m continually amazed that social media “experts” blather on about how technology “transforms” us as people and from there they take the leap and profess that brands must act like people in social media. If we are really honest and ask ourselves what we are doing when we use mobile devices and social networks, we will quickly understand that we don’t expect brands to act like people. The phrase ‘social media’ has become as stale as a week old loaf. Bandied around in corporate offices it really became a term for Facebook and Twitter; and in 2012 in a mobile era, those who hang on to the phrase are becoming increasingly myopic – if there’s really a need to keep trumpeting social media attributes then someone’s looking down the wrong end of the telescope. (Today in those corporate offices the new phrase bouncing off the walls is “we need an App.)

If we take what danah boyd has said – “when the information being shared is social in nature, advertising is fundamentally a disruption” – and really understand that simple concept, I believe we then have to carefully reconsider the conjunction of social and media, where ‘media’ is a metaphor for advertising. When I find myself going back to Meeker’s presentation from only two months ago to remind myself of the staggering data points she shared re mobile (especially in a global, non-USA context) it’s a fairly simple step for me to get to the point that all media, in a mobile/mobility context if sharable, is therefore social by default. It’s clearly implicit in the action of a user on Instagram for instance; why else would you even use Instagram if not to share your photos with your friends and followers? And here’s something else – we are technological beings and that has nothing to do with the advent of the Internet.

I believe it’s a sign of intellectual failure to write books or blog posts that profess to provide solutions around “social media” without underpinning them with a prior understanding that humans are technological beings. Morozov mentions in his review the Dutch philosopher of technology Peter-Paul Verbeek and his fine book Moralizing Technology, where he writes “We are as autonomous with regard to technology as we are with regard to language, oxygen, or gravity.” He also mentions Daniel Callahan who he calls — a respected bioethicist who can hardly be accused of PoMo transgressions — writing back in 1971: “We have to do away with a false and misleading dualism, one which abstracts man on the one hand and technology on the other, as if the two were quite separate kinds of realities…. Man is by nature a technological animal; to be human is to be technological…. When we speak of technology, this is another way of speaking about man himself in one of his manifestations.

We are hard wired to be social, to network, to discover and share, we were social before the Internet arrived; we never needed Facebook or Twitter to encourage us to stay in touch with each other – recent technologies simply shortened the distance between us – think about the golden era of global jet travel, the introduction of cell phones and pagers etc, etc… As John Gray has written “we are technological devices, invented by ancient bacterial communities as a means of genetic survival.” [Link]

So, reader beware. If you see a rash of books foretelling ‘The end of social’ and ‘Doing business in a post-social world,’ or ‘How to Run the World in a Post-social Era’ you’ll know that the “experts” have jumped the shark.

Recent third party social articles:

Got a Social Media Team? Sorry You Hired the Wrong People
Forget Social Media Olympics – These are the Mobile Games

For Many of Us Social Media = Facebook

Paul Ryan’s Fairy-Tale Budget Plan

Jean-Luc Godard: Contempt