The Siren Song of Technological Remedies for Social Problems: Defining, Demarcating, and Evaluating Techno-Fixes and Techno-Solutionism

18 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2023

See all articles by Henrik Skaug Sætra

Henrik Skaug Sætra

University of Oslo - Department of Informatics

Evan Selinger

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: September 19, 2023

Abstract

Can technology resolve social problems by reducing them to engineering challenges? In the 1960s, Alvin Weinberg answered yes, popularizing the term “techno-fix” in the process. The concept was immediately criticized, and over time, it evolved into a disparaging term—a fallacy used to denigrate unrealistic technological proposals and their advocates. As the debate progressed, skepticism grew to include condemnation of a related word: “techno-solutionism.” While there are many legitimate reasons to oppose techno-fixes and techno-solutionism, the fault-finding has been too imprecise. Vitriolic denunciations of techno-fixes and techno-solutionism are riddled with conceptual confusion; analysts even mistakenly use the terms interchangeably. The lack of precision is linked to a failure to respect pluralism, and it has resulted in two unfortunate outcomes: misrepresenting technology’s potential and limitations and unfairly maligning technological optimists. This article aims to advance the discussion by providing more precise definitions and a synthetic evaluative framework.

Keywords: Techno-fix; techno-solutionism; social problems; pluralism; socio-technical systems

Suggested Citation

Sætra, Henrik Skaug and Selinger, Evan, The Siren Song of Technological Remedies for Social Problems: Defining, Demarcating, and Evaluating Techno-Fixes and Techno-Solutionism (September 19, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4576687 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4576687

Henrik Skaug Sætra (Contact Author)

University of Oslo - Department of Informatics ( email )

Norway

Evan Selinger

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy ( email )

92 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623-5670
United States
(585) 475-2531 (Phone)

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