Comprehensive coverage

False prophets: how Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are misleading the digital economy

A study revealed that solutionism - the belief that technological solutions can address social problems while achieving profit is dominant among the leaders of technology companies and is spreading in the digital economy. The authors of the study criticize this ideology, and claim that it ignores democratic processes

To what extent are the ideas of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk shaping the digital economy today? A study by an economic sociologist from the University of Basel in Switzerland analyzed speeches, books and articles from Silicon Valley, showing the emergence of the new spirit of digital capitalism.

What is the justification for making a lot of money? 19th century Calvinists interpreted economic prosperity as a sign that a person was among God's elect. This way of thinking, centered in Geneva, influenced liberal capitalism.

Today's justifications for economic activity sound different. They focus on issues of flexibility or efficiency. In particular, digital capitalists claim to improve the world. Their motto: every social problem, from climate change to inequality, has a technical solution that also offers an opportunity to make a lot of money. This approach is known as solutionism (from the word Solution).

Oliver Nachtavi, an economic sociologist from the University of Basel in Switzerland, together with his colleague Timo Seidel from the University of Vienna in Austria, wanted to find out how influential this idea is today. For their research, they drew on a variety of texts from Silicon Valley, the global technology center on the West Coast of the United States. Their results appear in the journal Theory, Culture & Society.

from the west coast to the east coast

Using a machine learning algorithm, the researchers examined the speeches and books of people such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla CEO Elon Musk—that is, the West Coast tech elite. They also looked at articles from Wired, the popular magazine among tech developers and programmers. The third source Nachtavi and Seidel examined were articles from the East Coast Harvard Business Review magazine, which is more likely to be read by American executives rather than those in Silicon Valley.

Nachtavi explains the choice of text sources as follows: "We assumed that technology entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg would use solutionist arguments. But we wanted to know if the ideology expands beyond the closed circle of Silicon Valley elites."

For the study, different people first independently classified selected text passages, focusing on the justifications detailed in the various paragraphs for economic activity: improving the world, flexibility, efficiency, etc. An algorithm then calculated the relative share of the different justifications for more than 1.7 million segments.

הCommon solutionism in Silicon Valley

For the technological elites on the West Coast of the USA, solutionism indeed emerged as the most significant entrepreneurial point of reference. The idea also became more common on Wired, which roughly represents the broader tech mentality in Silicon Valley. In contrast, only sparse traces of the ideology were found in the Harvard Business Review. The field of "doing good" has not yet reached all corners of the American economy. But, with the increase of digitization, it will continue to spread to other areas and areas of economic activity, according to Nachtavi.

He summarizes the research as follows: "We were the first to show on a broad basis of data that a new breed of thinking has emerged in today's digital capitalism that provides a central justification for entrepreneurial activity. This strain is largely influenced by solutionism."

Not real do-gooders

Nachtavi sees this new spirit of capitalism as problematic because it devalues ​​democratic processes. The great "man of action" Musk, for example, has no appreciation for worker protection or any other democratic regulation. The result is that Tesla factories in Germany have far more work accidents than Audi factories.

Nachtavi also criticizes Meta, formerly Facebook: it claims to unite the world, but allows fake news to spread. “Solutionism does not fight real problems at all; It's just an empty ideological shell", he concludes. Nachtavi sees in his research a criticism of the self-descriptions of the American technology giants, "which we must cast a lot of doubt on".

Source: "The Solutionist Ethic and the Spirit of Digital Capitalism” by Oliver Nachtavi and Timo Seidel, 23 Oct. 2023, Theory, Culture & Society.

More of the topic in Hayadan:

One response

  1. There is such a sticking of things into a particularly incoherent plaster of paris. So some odd points:

    * Why were Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk bound together? It seems as if Mark Zuckerberg is masking the criticism of Elon Musk - the new villain of the American left.
    * What is the connection between "workers' rights" and "democracy"? And if anything, the term "democratic regulation" is really strange. Either the writers use "democracy" to plug logical and verbal holes (which are not lacking in their thinking), or they simply mean the "Democratic Party" in the USA, which has long been a racist and fascist party, which is really, really not interested in workers' rights.
    * And in general, why was Elon Musk chosen to head the new technological villains? What in all this man's thought is so tainted with "Solutionism" that it made the writers jump and made it so worthy to appear in the title?


    In the bottom line, the cornerstone of the USA is freedom of expression, and this has been fatally damaged with the establishment of social networks and the establishment of the non-transparent "algorithm" through which it is possible to suppress unpopular political positions among the technological elite, to reduce exposure to events that harm the narrative and to silence people in a completely effective and hidden manner Who doesn't want to know. Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter undermines this ability and raises the ire of this technological elite. The result can also be seen here.

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.