Book Review: The Web’s skeptic goes back to school

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEAugust 18, 2013 

  • ‘TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE’ by Evgeny Morozov; PublicAffairs ($26)

For every revolution, there is a counterrevolutionary. And so the digital one has brought us Evgeny Morozov. A 29-year-old emigre from Belarus, Morozov has quickly become the most prominent, most multiplatformed critic of the utopian promises coming from Silicon Valley, Calif. His first book, “The Net Delusion,” looked skeptically at the belief that social networks were responsible for fomenting political change across the globe, and in the new “To Save Everything, Click Here” he has expanded that critique to question whether the Internet has improved anything.

With the recent revelations about National Security Agency surveillance, Morozov is taking a victory lap of sorts. In an essay last month, he finds vindication for his pessimistic views about the Internet, as the world turns on the United States over its spying on overseas digital communications and as oppressive governments are emboldened to crack down: “This is the real tragedy of America’s ‘Internet freedom agenda’: It’s going to be the dissidents in China and Iran who will pay for the hypocrisy that drove it from the very beginning.”

Morozov has written for a long list of publications, including London Review of Books, The New York Times and The New Republic. His style is aggressive and frequently accusatory, with a litany of digital idealists and organizations that he uses as punching bags. These include Facebook, Google, the publisher and writer Tim O’Reilly and the City University of New York professor and new-media guru Jeff Jarvis, whose book “Public Parts” Morozov savaged in a 6,000-word review in The New Republic, which included the memorable line, “This is a book that should’ve stayed a tweet.”

The aggressive, barroom quality of his writing has earned him plenty of admirers, as well as detractors who consider him a childish contrarian. But after becoming such a public, public intellectual by his mid-20s, Morozov has made a curious decision: to further his education. During the semester you could find him finishing his coffee upstairs at a Starbucks before making the walk across Harvard Yard for his seat at a seminar on the history of psychoanalysis as a first-year doctoral candidate in the history of science.

“I have more influence than I ought to have,” he said in the train to New York City from Boston, adding that he had a nagging feeling that his criticisms were too shallow.

His new thinking is evident in “To Save Everything,” released in March. In the book Morozov puts quotation marks around every reference to “the Internet,” and with that tic he makes a larger point: readers should stop and question everything they have been taught about technology, including that the Internet exists.

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