Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Construction of Disability

Everyone should all listen to this latest This American Life episode on what the reporter of the piece, Chana Joffe-Walt, calls the "disability industrial complex."  The simple factoid with which it begins?  The rise in the number of people all over America on disability.  Joffe-Walt starts with this and starts to burrow in deeper.  She finds that disability is a slippery concept: how does it get defined in practice?  When she meets the doctor in Hale County, Alabama where 1 out of every 4 people is on disability (and he's responsible for many of these diagnoses), he tells her some of the criteria he uses.  One among them is education level.  Why, she wonders, is education level a criterion for disability?  The answer is, of course, that he's trying to think about the kinds of jobs they will be working in, and if he estimates that they can't work those jobs successfully, well, then for all practical purposes, they are disabled. (See transcript.)

But Joffe-Walt doesn't stop there.  She wants to explore this whole ecosystem of disability.  So she looks at lawyers.  What role have lawyers played in getting people on disability?  (And lawyers here come off surprisingly well, I think--crass, yes, money-minded, definitely, but also fulfilling a deep need.)  The answer: a lot.  And what of the political economy?  Aside from the problem of inequality--that the number of good jobs that don't require college degrees is steadily decreasing--she also points to federal and state regulations.  States, she finds, have an active interest in moving off people from their welfare rolls onto the federally funded disability program.  This work, naturally, is done by consultants who charge a fee for every successful transfer. 

It's all deeply fascinating stuff that moves fluidly on a number of different levels.  Sometimes Joffe-Walt is down on the ground, talking to people, seeking their opinions, wondering what they think.  At other times, she is taking an eagle-eyed view of the scene, talking to economists, and regulators.  [The web-site has a number of interesting graphs that are worth checking out.]  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Problem with Critique: On Evgeny Morozov's new book

[Update: Okay, perhaps I should say this upfront.  This is not a review of Morozov's book; rather it's a set of reflections on what we do as STS scholars based on two really outstanding reviews of Morozov's book.  I've made some minor changes to reflect this.] 

Evgeny Morozov's new book, "To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism" is out.  There's a bunch of reviews out there and out of those I'd suggest two: Tom Slee's on his eponymous website, and Alexis Madrigal's at The Atlantic.  They're both very different in tone and content, yet I think they capture the essence of Morozov's argument (I haven't read the book yet!), both in terms of its strengths and its problems.**

Reflecting on what Slee and Madrigal say about the book, I found myself thinking about STS scholarship in general.  Morozov is particularly against Internet-centric solutionism which usually ends up using an approach that, as Slee rightly observes is often an application of "engi­neer­ing, neu­ro­science, [and] an under­stand­ing of incen­tives (in the nar­rowly util­i­tar­ian sense)."  But what ends up happening though in this criticism of solutionism is that, as both Slee and Madrigal point out, Morozov ends up using tropes that are usually used by conservatives--and worse, by reactionaries. 

And then there is the idea of critique itself.  It was illuminating to read that Morozov is actually inspired by what historians of science have done to their topic, that he wants to destroy "the Internet" the same way STS scholars have destroyed "science" as a natural category.  As Madrigal (using Paul Rabinow) rightly points out, this destruction of science is all but unnoticed outside the human sciences.  Actual working scientists are hardly aware of it, and if they were, they would just shrug and carry on with their work. It isn't that science studies hasn't been revolutionary--but it has been revolutionary within the humanities and social sciences.  It's almost as if freed from the cultural authority that science enjoyed, we, the human sciences--sociology, history, anthropology, literary studies--can now discover, analyze, and understand, on our own terms.  But their influence on science itself and even more importantly, on public life, has been minimal.

And I'm afraid something similar might happen with Morozov.  Some people will read Morozov's book, it might even change some people's minds but Silicon Valley solutionism will carry on as it did before.

The more I think about it, the more I real­ize that the late Richard Rorty had it right. He con­sis­tently upheld the poet, the nov­el­ist, and the politi­cian as roles that are higher than a philosopher–higher he said, because they are the ones who expand or change ideas about human­ness. The problem with Morozov (and with science studies) is that they are stuck at the level of philosophy or critique.  Critique is good, but critique is not the same as doing things.  Even Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, though dated as a science studies text, points out that a scientific paradigm is never discarded unless an option is available; old paradigms fall only because new ones appear and until a new one does appear, an old paradigm can carry on with infinite ad-hoc additions to itself.  Morozov doesn't provide that paradigm; even if he does, he provides it in the spirit of critique and that may not work because the people he is arguing with are not in the business of critique.  They are in the business of doing things and while it may be a Silicon-Valley-corporate-profit-driven thing, it still manages to shift people's ideas and experiences in the way that critique does not.  STS scholarship has the same problem. 

Can critique change things?   Again, it's useful to go back to Rorty who points out that certainly something came of the attack on the canon in the 60s and 70s.  Attuned to ideas about race, class and gender, literary theorists went back into the past and re-discovered books that had been neglected because they had not been written by dead white men.  Today, these books, like Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God are no longer just texts in graduate seminars; they are now on school syllabi and increasingly read by school-children.  In that sense, the critique of the canon has indeed borne fruit.  Will critiques like Morozov's and other STS-type critiques yield something similar in the future?  And what will that be?  Only time will tell.


**Slee is good at describing the intellectual moves Morozov makes in his effort to take down Internet Triumphalism.
Moro­zov under­takes two projects, one suc­cess­fully and one less so. The first is to pro­vide a frame­work in which to think about the new inven­tions that are being sold to us, and the pat­terns of thought behind them. [...] Moro­zov iden­ti­fies a twin-tracked ide­ol­ogy behind the inven­tions and inven­tive­ness of the dig­i­tal world. One track is “Internet-centrism” – the prac­tice of “tak­ing a model of how the Inter­net works and apply­ing it to other endeav­ours”. Writ­ers have imbued the Inter­net with “a way of work­ing”; it has a “grain” to which we must adapt; it has a cul­ture, a “way it is meant to be used”, and it comes with a mythol­ogy in which iTunes and Wikipedia become mod­els to think about the future of pol­i­tics, and Zynga is a model for civic engage­ment (15). The sec­ond track is “solu­tion­ism”: the recast­ing of social sit­u­a­tions as prob­lems with def­i­nite solu­tions; processes to be opti­mized (23).
Moro­zov does a fine job of artic­u­lat­ing Internet-centrism and solu­tion­ism as two facets of a sin­gle Sil­i­con Val­ley ide­ol­ogy, [...] The com­mon assump­tions, shared biases, and indi­vid­u­al­is­tic predil­ic­tions give a cohe­sive­ness and homo­gene­ity to the new ideas and inven­tions, actively con­struct­ing and shap­ing the dig­i­tal envi­ron­ment from which they claim to draw their inspi­ra­tion. The insis­tence on “dis­rupt­ing” our social and envi­ron­men­tal lives; the idea that the solu­tions inspired by and enabled by the Inter­net mark a clean break from his­tor­i­cal pat­terns, a never-before-seen oppor­tu­nity – these mean that the only lessons to learn from his­tory are those of pre­vi­ous tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tions. The view of soci­ety as an institution-free net­work of autonomous indi­vid­u­als prac­tic­ing free exchange makes the social sci­ences, with the excep­tion of eco­nom­ics, irrel­e­vant. What’s left is engi­neer­ing, neu­ro­science, an under­stand­ing of incen­tives (in the nar­rowly util­i­tar­ian sense): just right for those whose intel­lec­tual pre­dis­po­si­tions are to algo­rithms, design, and data struc­tures.
Slee thinks that Morozov's analysis of the "solutionism" that he sees coming from the Valley is less satisfying,.
Morozov’s approach to unpick­ing the hid­den assump­tions of solu­tion­ism, and the unpalat­able con­se­quences of its appli­ca­tion, is impres­sive but less suc­cess­ful. In order to avoid a blan­ket technopes­simism he makes two moves. The first is to adopt a broadly social con­struc­tion­ist approach to the world of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. The Inter­net does not shape us, it is shaped by the soci­ety in which it is grow­ing. He is with Ray­mond Williams, against Mar­shall McLuhan. His stance here is blunt: he refuses to see “the Inter­net” as an agent of change, for good or bad. “The Inter­net” is not a cause; it does not explain things, it is the thing that needs to be explained. Chap­ter 2 is titled The Inter­net Tells Us Noth­ing (Because It Doesn’t Actu­ally Exist).

The sec­ond, more sur­pris­ing move, is to adopt a cri­tique that was first described in a pejo­ra­tive sense by Albert Hirschmann. “In his influ­en­tial book The Rhetoric of Reac­tion, Hirschmann argued that all pro­gres­sive reforms usu­ally attract con­ser­v­a­tive crit­i­cisms that build on one of the fol­low­ing three themes: per­ver­sity (whereby the pro­posed inter­ven­tion only wors­ens the prob­lem at hand), futil­ity (whereby the inter­ven­tion yields no results what­so­ever), and jeop­ardy (whereby the inter­ven­tion threat­ens to under­mine some pre­vi­ous, hard-earned accom­plish­ment)” (6). Moro­zov does not see him­self as a con­ser­v­a­tive, but instead places him­self in the tra­di­tion of other thinkers who have stood against pro­grams of orga­nized effi­ciency; “Jane Jacobs... Michael Oakeshott [and] ... James Scott "
Madrigal in his Atlantic review does a great close-reading of passages of the book to show that Morozov arguments are often high-ideology.  Which means that he often counters the ideological set-pieces that Silicon Valley types routinely use--visions of a future where a certain technology seems to solve all our problems--with one of his own that paints a completely opposite picture.  And as Madrigal goes on to note, he's really good at it except that at some point, he loses sight of real people doing real things.  This analysis is worth quoting because it is an example of how one can write a fine, principled, rigorous piece of criticism while still basically agreeing with the author on the important things:
Morozov's book is an innovation- and product-centered account of the deployment of technology. It focuses on marketing rhetoric, on the stories Silicon Valley tells about itself. And it refutes these stories with all the withering contempt that a brilliant person can muster over the course of a few years of dedicated reading and writing. But it does not devote any time to the stories the bulk of technology users tell themselves. It relies on wild anecdotes from newspaper accounts as if they were an adequate representation of the user base of these technologies. In fact, the sample is obviously biased by reporters writing about the people who sound the most out there.

"Celebrating quantification in the abstract, away from the context of its use, is a pointless exercise," Morozov writes, and yet he ends up doing excoriating quantification in the abstract. When he does apply his thinking to the specific case of nutrition aids, it is with some serious handwaving. Calories are not an adequate measure of overall nutrition content, he writes, and thinking narrowly about nutritional content is a boon for food companies, and maybe calories aren't even really the problem. All fine and valid ideas, but knowing how many calories you eat is a good starting point for good health, no? This has been well-established by the medical and public-health literature. And, in any case, tracking one's caloric intake is not a search for a "core and stable self." And if your calorie counter doesn't share your data, it could be a private practice. What if you write it in a book as has been done for decades, or in the iPhone's notes, rather than an official app? Is that OK? What about non-tweeting scales, are those anathema as well? Should the ethical concerns Morozov presents really prevent actual human beings from trying to understand the basics of their food intake?

Or take the use of pedometers, gussied up into packages like the Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone Up, or Fitbit. There are literally hundreds of thousands of pedometers and other activity monitors out there in America, but Morozov does not try to investigate how such devices are used. Are the people buying FitBits and Nike Fuel Bands trying to reveal deep inner truths about themselves? Are they sharing every bit and bite with friends? Or are they trying to lose a few pounds in private?

Look at what Amazon can tell you about the market for these devices: people who bought FitBits recently also bought diet books, scales, and multivitamins. While Morozov locates self-tracking "against the modern narcissistic quest for uniqueness and exceptionalism," it strikes me that I've yet to meet someone wearing a fitness tracker who wasn't engaged in that least unique American activity: weight management.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Theory of Key Points: What tennis can tell us about technological change

Coming into the 2011 US Open with a track record of winning all but one of the Grand Slam matches that he played that year, Novak Djokovic was facing Roger Federer in the semi-finals, the very man who had beaten him in his only Grand Slam loss of 2011.  And ominously, he lost the first two sets, 6-7(7), 4-6 before rallying to take the next two 6-3, 6-2.  It was now the final set and Federer, having just broken Djokovic's serve in the final set to go up 5-3, was serving at 40-15, with two match-points on his own serve.  Upset at the crowd which was cheering Federer on wildly, Djokovic seemed out of sorts, angry at himself, perhaps, for being in this position despite playing a flawless third and fourth set.  

[See the video from the first minute.]  The interpretation of what happened next remains a matter of dispute, hotly debated in tennis forums, YouTube comments, and the blogosphere.  Serving from the ad-court, Federer served out wide to Djokovic's forehand.  It was not a bad serve, but Djokovic swung at it hard, and literally smashed it cross-court for a clean winner.  There was shocked silence for a second before cheering erupted.  Djokovic walked to the other side of the court, raised his hands and looked at the crowd.  Appreciate me, he seemed to be saying.  The crowd obliged even as a bemused Federer stood waiting to serve on the other side of the court. 

It was still match-point.  Federer threw a good serve straight at Djokovic's body, and a rally ensued, which ended, heartbreakingly for Federer, with his shot striking the net-chord and then dropping back on his own side.  Deuce.  Djokovic went on to win the game breaking Federer in the process.  He then won the next three games as well, winning the final set 7-5 to defeat Federer and reach the final. 

What was going on in Djokovic's mind when he hit that screaming forehand winner off Federer's serve?  Was it hit in anger or was it a calculated risk?  How much did Djokovic's gamesmanship – seeking the crowd’s approval – affect Federer on his next serve?  Tennis fans and analysts continue to debate this.  My own thought, as I was watching the match, was that Djokovic, who can often be peevish and irritable on court, was angry with himself and swung at the ball, more out of pique than anything else.  But the shot went in, and Djokovic used it to rally the crowd to his own side.  On the other side of the net, Federer suffered a dent in his own confidence, and this allowed Djokovic (who is undoubtedly the best and fittest player on the tour today) to put himself back into the match. 

Both players themselves offered contradictory interpretations of the return.  “It’s a risk you have to take,” Djokovic told Mary- Joe Fernandez in the on-court interview. “It’s in, you have a second chance. If it’s out, you are gone. So it’s a little bit of gambling.” Federer, on the other hand, was having none of it.  “Confidence, are you kidding me?” he scoffed in his post-match interview. “I never played that way. For me, this is very hard to understand how you can play a shot like that on match point.” Djokovic acknowledged that he needed to "get some energy from the crowd."  “Look, I was a little bit lucky in that moment because he was playing tremendously well with the inside-out forehand throughout the whole match. This is what happens at this level. You know, a couple of points can really decide the winner.” 

The Federer-Djokovic first match point is often what both tennis players and tennis analysts refer to as a "key point."  These key points, as Djokovic points out in his post-match interview, are often the ones that "decide the winner."  In the rest of this essay, I hope to show that this idea of "key points" as relevant to the outcome of a tennis match is possibly of interest to historians of technology. 

What is a "key point"?  A key point is a point (possibly among a set of points) which can be seen to have determined the outcome of the match, as seen by the players or the analysts (or both).  Players often sense that a point will be key during the match itself and go all out in their effort to win it, perhaps by hitting extra hard, taking a risk, or by running down a ball they would rather have left alone to conserve their energy.  Analysts too, as interested observers of a match, can sense whether a point will be key to the outcome, although they have no agency when compared to the players themselves. 

But while an upcoming key point can be sensed by the players and the spectators, key points can be definitively identified only after the match is over.  In other words, the identification of key points is contingent on the outcome.  In the Federer-Djokovic match we saw above, the courageous (or reckless) Djokovic return at 15-40 is a key point only because Djokovic won the next four games to win the match.  If Djokovic had lost the next match-point, this point would no longer be talked about as a key point but as a fluke.  Instead the game in which Federer broke Djokovic at 4-3 in the final set would have turned out to be the key to the outcome of the match.  To restate this point, the key to winning a match is to win the key points, but the points that are key to winning a match can only be determined after the match is won (or lost).

It is worth discussing an alternative explanation of match outcomes: that the more talented, or better, player wins the match.  I quoted a part of Djokovic's post-match interview above.  On actually watching the interview, it turned out that the quote left out a crucial part.  Djokovic actually said: "This is what happens at this level – when two top players meet.   You know, a couple of points can really decide the winner."  [Italics mine.]   The implication here is that it is only when players are evenly matched in terms of "talent" that the outcome hinges on a few key points.  When players have wildly different talents, the outcome hinges on, say, the "talent" they possess (which will not be the same) and not on the key points.

How might the key point analytic relate to what historians – especially historians of technology – do to understand the past?  As I see it, the topic of historians of technology is technological change.  Our aim is to understand the past and to answer the question: why do certain things change while others remain the same?  One might see this question as similar to those that tennis analysts pose to themselves: why did player X win against player Y?  Why has player X consistently beaten player Y in their previous 5 matches? 

Somewhat analogous to the two theories to explain the outcome of a tennis match – the "key point" theory vs. the "more talent" theory – one could oversimplify theories about technological change into two kinds.  One theory might be that technological change happens because a certain technology is better at producing certain desirable outcomes (more profits, more efficiency, better living conditions, progress and so on).  This theory would go under the name of "technological determinism" and would be similar to the "more talent" theory of tennis match outcomes.  The other theory would postulate that technological change happens because certain groups of people – I will call them “interest groups” – are able to defeat, or persuade, their opponents through the channels available to them at certain crucial junctures.   This theory would be similar to the "key point" theory.

How would the "key point" theory of technological change help avoid the pitfalls of technological determinism?  As I see it, the main dilemma of any social science is the issue of predictability.  Unlike the natural sciences which can predict the future behavior of their "actors" (the trajectory of a missile, the motion of the planets, the quantum states of atoms), the social sciences cannot (and with good reason) predict the changes of the future.  They cannot because assemblages of human actors are unpredictable.  They have agency.  Harry Collins has shown how even the behavior of natural scientists – who produce natural science, the most “rational” of all the disciplines – is still unpredictable, and is better understood as the application of certain tacit skills, than as the brute application of some rule-bound "scientific method." 

The social sciences thus face two different questions.  On the one hand, social scientists need to account for the sense of contingency and unpredictability that their actors often feel while thinking about the future.  They also need to account for why their actors feel that certain actions are the key to changing the future.  On the other hand, they (and here I speak of historians in particular) need to account for why the events of the past seem so inevitable, the way they seem to lead to the present so unproblematically.  Clearly actors in the past who experienced these "same" events did not know how things would turn out.  How can historians account for the inevitability of the past for us and its contingency for the actors experiencing the past?     

A theory of technological change that looked at "key points" as determining certain (technological/social) outcomes could be one solution to this.  Key points in history would need to have the following characteristics.  First, historical actors themselves should have some dim awareness that something important was happening and that different visions of the future are at stake.  Second, the outcomes of these key points should result in the victory of one set of interest group over others, thereby setting in motion a certain kind of future.  Third, these key points can only be determined retrospectively once the outcome is known (as historians always do).  Fourth, key points preserve the agency of historical actors.  Finally, key points in history can change as newer and newer outcomes arise.  For example, historians now agree that Barry Goldwater's defeat by Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election, and the subsequent rise of grass-rootsconservatism, is a key to understanding American politics today, even if no one seemed to be paying attention to it back then.  It was a key point for certain actors who were mobilizing to achieve their vision of the future, even if their ideological opponents were largely unaware of them.  

Tennis key points are heuristics, of course.  And they have their limitations, even in sports.  For instance, it is much more difficult to locate key points in soccer, for instance, where the notion of discrete points does not exist.  Soccer is, for lack of a better word, continuous, while tennis is more discrete, with precisely demarcated "points."     And even in tennis, determining key points is difficult.  Because one point seemingly leads to the next: if the Djokovic screaming forehand winner was a key point, what about the points before that one?   What about those that decided the first four sets?  Would it have mattered if Djokovic had won the first set--which he lost narrowly in a tie-breaker (9-7)?  

But I do think that determining the key points of a tennis match is like doing history.  The boiling down of a match outcome to a series of key points shows us how contingent events are.  And at the end of the day, match outcomes are predictable to some extent: a match between Federer and David Ferrer is far likely to lead to a Federer victory (although not always).  Those are the kinds of explanations/narratives of technological change that the key point theory would ask us to look for: highly contingent, built out of specific events, but with specific patterns that are by no means law-like. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Algorithms and Rape T-shirts

Startled by the title?  You should definitely go read this blog-post.

Long story short: there was a Twitter-storm over some offensive T-shirts sold by a vendor on that seemed to encourage rape ("Keep Calm and Rape A Lot" went one, etc.).  Well--it then turns out that the T-shirts don't exist. Or rather, these T-shirts are made on the fly when someone orders them.  So how did they come to be on Amazon?  This is the fun part--they were generated by algorithms.  An algorithm that probably looked at the most popular Google Searches online and then arranged the search words in a template, made an image out of them, and put them up on Amazon.  If someone buys it, the shirt gets made (literally printed out), and sent.

Exciting, isn't it? 

Henry Farrell on Crooked Timber compares the scenario to the singularity science fiction of Charlie Stross**.  And quotes this great line
Amazon isn’t a store, not really. Not in any sense that we can regularly think about stores. It’s a strange pulsing network of potential goods, global supply chains, and alien associative algorithms with the skin of a store stretched over it, so we don’t lose our minds.  
I think we're entering a brave new world of content farms and search engine optimization.  Exciting times, I think. 

**  Charlie Stross is one of those science fiction writers who gets raved over at Crooked Timber whose writing style just doesn't work for me.  I did get through three-and-a-half of his Merchant Princes books before giving up.  Even worse was Accelerando (ebook available for free), his singularity book, which I gave up on after a few pages--again, the writing was just not to my taste, which meant that all the rich ideas in there were inaccessible to me.  But I still hope to read him sometime. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Good Smart" and "bad Smart": What Smart Technologies Do and Don't

Everyone should read Evgeny Morozov's latest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (via Alan Jacobs). Morozov elaborates on the latest smart social technologies and gadgets; technologies that by virtue of the cheap price of hardware, AI or crowd-sourced pattern recognition,  and the possibility of making your activity visible to your friends and acquaintances, serves to change your behavior in some personally or socially optimal way.  Examples: going regularly to the gym, eating healthier foods, or even (which is his chosen example) recycling the waste generated by a household.

Morozov, of course, as one might expect, is not happy with this.  He suggests an analytic distinction: "good smart" and "bad smart" technologies, which I think is really useful in thinking about the recent spate of products that use ubiquitous computing paradigm for social ends.   
How can we avoid completely surrendering to the new technology? The key is learning to differentiate between "good smart" and "bad smart."

Devices that are "good smart" leave us in complete control of the situation and seek to enhance our decision-making by providing more information. For example: An Internet-jacked kettle that alerts us when the national power grid is overloaded (a prototype has been developed by U.K. engineer Chris Adams) doesn't prevent us from boiling yet another cup of tea, but it does add an extra ethical dimension to that choice. Likewise, a grocery cart that can scan the bar codes of products we put into it, informing us of their nutritional benefits and country of origin, enhances—rather than impoverishes—our autonomy (a prototype has been developed by a group of designers at the Open University, also in the U.K.).

Technologies that are "bad smart," by contrast, make certain choices and behaviors impossible. Smart gadgets in the latest generation of cars—breathalyzers that can check if we are sober, steering sensors that verify if we are drowsy, facial recognition technologies that confirm we are who we say we are—seek to limit, not to expand, what we can do. This may be an acceptable price to pay in situations where lives are at stake, such as driving, but we must resist any attempt to universalize this logic. The "smart bench"—an art project by designers JooYoun Paek and David Jimison that aims to illustrate the dangers of living in a city that is too smart—cleverly makes this point. Equipped with a timer and sensors, the bench starts tilting after a set time, creating an incline that eventually dumps its occupant. This might appeal to some American mayors, but it is the kind of smart technology that degrades the culture of urbanism—and our dignity.
Image taken from here.  It shows the wired trash bin with the camera attached to its lid. 

What about BinCam, the product he opens his essay with?  BinCam is a trash bin whose lid comes attached with a camera.  It takes a picture of the bin's contents when the lid is shut, uploads it to Amazon Mechanical Turk, where some Turker determines whether you've been putting recyclables into your trash, then publishes the photo along with the Turk assessment to the user's Facebook or Twitter profiles.  The idea is that peer pressure and perhaps some mild social censure will make you better behaved -- "better" in the sense of being socially and ecologically optimal.

You would think BinCam falls into the "good smart" category but no; Morozov says that it falls "somewhere between good smart and bad smart."  
The bin doesn't force us to recycle, but by appealing to our base instincts—Must earn gold bars and rewards! Must compete with other households! Must win and impress friends!—it fails to treat us as autonomous human beings, capable of weighing the options by ourselves. It allows the Mechanical Turk or Facebook to do our thinking for us.
I think Morozov's concerns about surveillance are really useful.  But he lost me with this paragraph.  Since when did it become a "base instinct" to win and impress friends?  If someone buys BinCam with the intention of helping him or her adhere to certain recycling conventions, how is it different from someone who uses her friends to police her diet?  I think the key to understanding the paragraph is the reference to Facebook and Mechanical Turk; those are the two technologies that make Morozov uncomfortable. And there is the fact that the behavior in question here is less useful individually, than collectively.  Whether I recycle my trash or not has less consequences for me than it does for the society I live in (unlike, say, dieting or exercise, although one might argue that even these two activities have a "social" dimension; they will help bring down the high cost of health care).  But recycling also has another aspect: more so, than dieting: it is a behavior whose template is created by experts.  And it is precisely this: aligning my behavior into a template decreed by experts, and monitored by my friends, is for Morozov, an unacceptable loss of autonomy.

I am not sure I buy this.  And it highlights, I think, one of the interesting points of similarity between critics like Morozov and Nicholas Carr: the normative use of the Cartesian subject.  For Carr, humans have a deep need for solitude; in fact, solitary reflection (exemplified by deep reading) is what makes us most deeply human.  And the Web, by its very constitution, forces us away from this; it forces us into multi-tasking, into skimming, and into a form of constant sociality though Facebook and Twitter.

Morozov's concerns are different, and I think far more politically salient, than Carr's.  But for him too, the most deeply human thing about us is our freedom and our autonomy--not just from state surveillance (a form of "negative liberty"), but also from certain forms of "base" socialities.  And so, while I find the "good smart" and "bad smart" distinction really really useful, I suspect the devil is in the details.