Adam Thierer takes a long critical look at author and activist Corey Doctorow’s definition of techno-optimism. Like most who favor strong controls and firm limits, Corey roots “optimism” in a deep and abiding pessimism:
In order to be an activist, you have to be… pessimistic enough to believe that things will get worse if left unchecked, optimistic enough to believe that if you take action, the worst can be prevented. [...] Techno-optimism is an ideology that embodies the pessimism and the optimism above: the concern that technology could be used to make the world worse, the hope that it can be steered to make the world better.
I tend to agree with Doctorow on several issues, like liberalizing copyright, and pursuing open solutions to tech and social problems. BUT (I like big ones, and must be truthful), as Adam points out:
The irony of Doctorow’s definition of “techno-optimism” is that, as he notes, it’s actually rooted in the fairly pessimistic belief that unless we do something to affect the balance between “open vs. closed” technology then “technology could be used to make the world worse,” he says. I think that view is myopic and misguided for several reasons.
First, I think it’s a mistake to tether “techno-optimism” to overly binary conceptions of “good vs. bad” / “open vs. closed” technology. I spent a great deal of time in the second of my two “Case for Internet Optimism” chapters addressing the group of thinkers that I refer to as “Openness Evangelicals,” or those who believe that “Openness” is almost always The Good; anything “closed” (restricted or proprietary) in nature is The Bad. In a sense, it’s tantamount to picking (or at least favoring) technological winners and losers regardless of what others prefer and voluntarily choose to use because it gives them greater satisfaction.
The net has made the world a more connected, more open, and diverse place. Of course it is merely a tool, to but put to whatever end the user wants. And while there are people who use tools for terrible purposes, the thing that makes me optimistic is that every day people use tools for overwhelmingly good reasons. Bad actions are, relatively, and anomaly. Goodness is banal. Consider Dan Savage’s fantastic It Gets Better campaign. Like the end of this ad says, “the web is what you make of it”. I’m optimistic because people are generally, genuinely good, and technology is far more likely to amplify, rather than pervert, our power to do good.