Blogger, internet pessimist, publicist and researcher Evgeny Morozov (Belarus, 1984) was in Utrecht on the 29th and 30th of October, 2015, at the invitation of Impakt Festival and Hacking Habitat. In his articles, Morozov examines the social and political impacts of new technologies. He used to believe in the liberalizing powers of the internet: that the freedom of every citizen would increase thanks to internet and the social media. Today he’s a cyber pessimist. The ways companies and governments operate increasingly threatens our freedom. Morozov gave a keynote-speech in the Grote Zaal of TivoliVredenburg and took public questions in Theater Kikker.
[wpanchor id=”keynote”]Keynote-speech TivoliVredenburg
Morozov gave a keynote speech on Thursday, October 29th in the Grote Zaal at TivoliVredenburg. After his lecture he went into debate with Arjen El Fassed (director of the Open State Foundation) and with Jons Janssens (founder of the free e-mail service Soverin). The entire evening was streamed and can be seen below.
At the beginning of his lecture Morozov clarified that he’s not an internet-pessimist as so many people believe. He believes in the good intentions of internet and the social media, but he is primarily critical of how large companies like Facebook and Google use the data we leave behind online. He also criticizes the license governments give technology companies to use and sell our data.
Morozov sees that the power and influence of these companies is growing, and he argues that Silicon Valley – that part of California where many of these companies are located – is becoming more and more a kind of social welfare state. At first Valley companies provided many free services in the areas of online communication and internet searching, but today the companies are also active in transportation, health care and government services. In this way, Morozov warns, Silicon Valley is becoming a dealer in social services, services that belong to the public domain and are fundamentally the responsibility of government. We are actually paying a high price for all the services we’ve enjoyed for free, says Morozov. In his lecture he questioned this development, paying particular attention to the moral, political and social consequences.
Photos: © Pieter Kers
Morozov made a number of provocative statements.
“Governments are more than happy to accept wellfare from Silicon Valley as they are incapable to provide it themselves” -Evgeny Morozov
— Impakt Festival 2015 (@ImpaktFestival) 29 oktober 2015
“Google is not a search company. It’s a data company”. -Morozov — Impakt Festival 2015 (@ImpaktFestival) 29 oktober 2015
“Google spends more on lobbying than Goldmann Sachs. Things don’t just happen”. Morozov on the politics of Silicon Valley. #impakt2015
— Impakt Festival 2015 (@ImpaktFestival) 29 oktober 2015
“Google is replacing the welfare state,” was the conclusion of Dutch tech blog De Ingenieur.
[wpanchor id=”qanda”]Q&A in Theater Kikker
Evgeny Morozov took questions from the audience in a CollegeTour-like setting in Theater Kikker on Friday, October 30th. In a less formal atmosphere, he answered questions that were sometimes very practical: “How can I book you for my own conference?” someone asked. But there was also plenty of time for more philosophical, political and ethical questions. There was so much input from the audience that the available time quickly ran out. The session then continued in the bar.
“Why are the hipsters working in cafes not rebelling? Because they think they have been empowered”. Evgeny Morzov is back at it. #impakt2015
— Impakt Festival 2015 (@ImpaktFestival) 30 oktober 2015
About Evgeny Morozov
Evgeny Morozov (Wit-Rusland/VS, 1984) once firmly believed in the problem-solving power of the internet. He began to have doubts after the campaigns and protests in Moldavia in 2009. While demonstrators used social media to mobilize more protesters, the government tried to block cell phone reception in the capitol city Chisinau. Morozov was one of the first to call this a Twitter revolution. He asked: “Will we remember the events that are now unfolding in Chisinau, not by the color of the flags, but by the social-networking technology used?” (source: Wired).
His vision of the internet and social media is two-fold: they can stimulate democratic movements, but they can also be used by authoritarian regimes to track down and repress citizens who are critical. In 2011 Morozov published the book, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, in which he criticizes the revolutionary power of the internet and the social media. In his second book, To Save Everything (2013), he posits as his most important proposition that the internet is not the solution to all of our problems as we tend to think. Due to his controversial opinions Morozov is often criticized, and sometimes called a whiner or groaner.
About the collaboration
Evgeny Morozov’s residency was a collaboration between Residencies in Utrecht, Impakt Festival 2015 and Hacking Habitat. Each of these parties had their own reasons for bringing Morozov to Utrecht.
Arjon Dunnewind, artistic director of Impakt, thinks of Morozov as a very timely writer who represents the skeptical wing of internet: “In today’s world of internet and social media, just about everything is registered, not just through ourselves but also by companies and government. Google, Apple and Facebook like to cultivate their image as charitable institutions. They act as if their aim is to make our lives as easy and satisfying as possible, but in the meantime they record every detail of our lives. Data are collected, stored and sold. What effect does this have on our behavior? How does it change our memory? And what does it mean for our sense of the past and future?”
Ine Gevers, artistic director of Hacking Habitat, says: “Morozov hits the nail on the head. Naïve trust in internet and short-term solutions to complex social problems don’t solve anything. By blindly following such systems we increase bureaucracy and turn people into data machines. How do we keep our smart phones from becoming a modern-day panopticum, with Google and Facebook as the prison guards?”
Friso Wiersum, curator of Life Hack Marathons, adds: “The time has come to time secure the rights of citizens in the digital domain in law. For us Morozov is also a very important thinker who asks critical questions about the ubiquitous presence of internet and social media. He fits well with the themes that we want to explore, namely, the power of technological systems and impersonal algorithms.”
About Impakt Festival 2015
Impakt Festival is organized annually by Impakt in the area of visual art, film and media culture. The festival poses questions about the role of media and technology in our society and gives artists and scholars space to critically and creatively reflect on this. This year’s festival theme was The Future of the Past: In a World Well-Documented. The festival explored notions of remembering, the idea of the present and of history. How will our experience of the past change now that digital technologies make it possible for us to keep a perfect record of the past? Nearly all of the lectures were filmed and are available on YouTube.
About Hacking Habitat
Hacking Habitat, the international art exhibition that will be take place in the spring of 2016 in the former Wolvenplein prison, was preceded this fall by four Life Hack Marathons, combinations of public lectures and closed working sessions on socially relevant themes. The Life Hack lecture, ‘How to beat Bureaucracy’, with Morozov was the fourth and final lecture of the series. Hacking Habitat concerns how we can reclaim our lives now that systems and algorithms are taking increasing control of our daily existence.