Evgeny Morozov asserts that it’s not enough to break up Big Tech. We need to imagine a better alternative.
Today’s crisis-prone Brazil reveals yet another consequence of surrendering the space formerly occupied by politics to the savior-industrial complex of Big Tech. The long-term effect of their supposedly revolutionary activity is often to actually cement the status quo, even if they do it by means of extremely disruptive solutions.
Nowhere is this more evident than in how digital technologies are being used to deal with the most burning of social problems. Thus, as crime rates have skyrocketed, Brazil has become a hotbed of innovation in what we might call Survival Tech, with a panoply of digital tools being used to check on the safety of particular streets and neighborhoods and coordinate joint community-level responses.
Thus, Waze, a popular Alphabet-owned navigation app, already alerts users in large cities like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro that they are about to enter a risky part of town (the provenance of the data that is feeding such recommendations has been quite murky). Likewise, residents concerned with crime rates in their own neighborhoods increasingly use tools like Whatsapp to share tips about any suspicious activities in the area.
As things get worse – and not just in Brazil – such Survival Tech, allowing citizens to get by in the face of adversity without demanding any ambitious social transformation, stands to flourish. The last decade, with its celebration of austerity, has been good for business as well. In fact, the entire technology boom that followed the 2007-08 financial crisis can be effectively explained through this lens, with venture capitalists and, later, sovereign wealth funds, temporarily subsidizing the mass production of Survival Tech for the dispossessed and the disaffected.
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