— Meantime, in Bookforum, Evgeny Morozov just destroys former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s new book Citizenville, in which he shows he has drunk too much Silicon Valley Kool-aid (emphasis mine):

Margaret Thatcher would surely approve of Newsom’s message. So would David Cameron. In fact, many of Newsom’s proposals simply rehash Cameron’s idea of “the Big Society,” whereby instead of relying on the government to fix potholes in their neighborhoods, citizens are expected to do everything themselves, for the government has been starved to death and can’t do those things anyway. But since Newsom serves all these ideas under the spicy sauce of social media and technological progress, the underlying libertarianism of his program is far less visible. Citizens, rejoice: Thanks to your smartphones, you can earn points—“innobucks”—for fixing those potholes (“Innobucks is like Angry Birds, but for democracy”). And, if Progress permits, soon you’ll be able to manufacture the tools for road repairs right inside your bedroom—just leave your 3-D printer on.

Fake Jeff Jarvis himself couldn’t make that up.

This vulgar and myopic utilitarianism—concerned only with short-term efficiency—is most visible in Newsom’s exhortation to enliven the political process by making it resemble computer games. Newsom is impressed with online games such as FarmVille, in which players manage virtual farms and earn digital cash. For him, it’s the right model for getting people to care about local politics. “Instead of taking care of a fictional farm, why can’t we create a game in which you take care of your actual neighborhood or your town?” he wonders…

“Gamification”—as this ugly trend is known—simply extends the logic of the market into realms that were previously the prerogative of ethics and morality. In this scheme, good behavior is no longer framed through the language of citizen duty; it’s framed through the language of monetary incentives.

As I said on Twitter the other day, why can’t all books be reviewed by Evgeny Morozov? He’s got a new book out, by the way.


Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.