Soylent Tastes Better Without the Utopian Rhetoric


Navneet Alang in TNR:

Soylent—a pale, powdery drink that is meant to satisfy all of a person’s nutritional needs—is perhaps the perfect symbol of the Silicon Valley mentality: efficient, soulless, and naïve. Of late, it’s been a lightning rod for criticizing “solutionism,” that term coined by tech critic Evgeny Mozorov to connote the tech industry’s habit of finding a technological answer to every question, even the unasked ones. Soylent seems to starkly reject the recent, almost religious fervor around food and gourmet culture—particularly its turn to the artisanal and the organic. If you have the slightest feeling that solutionism robs us of our sensual connection to the world, Soylent and its robotic creator, Rob Rhinehart1, are the perfect symbols to prove the sentiment true.

It is easy to gently mock Rhinehart’s idealistic, odd proselytizing, and, in turn, Valley culture itself. Soylent and other solutionist ideas are hyper-efficient in ethos, but also joyless and self-righteous in their asceticism. Yet the scorn laid upon both Soylent and Silicon Valley in particular might better be aimed at those creating the products, rather than the actual products themselves.

It is important to keep in mind that there is a disparity between the rhetoric of certain, powerful actors—Rhinehart included—and how their ideas are eventually implemented. Consider: Soylent isn’t actually that bad. When you divorce the product from the ideology of its creator, what you end up with is actually something rather useful and benign—a relatively cheap, durable, and increasingly sustainable source of nutrition for those times that a leisurely al fresco meal with a crisp Riesling just isn’t feasible.

If it were Rhinehart alone hawking an odd product, a crackpot technological voice crying out in the wilderness, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, he isn’t alone in speaking and acting in a manner that reveals a fundamental shakiness in his grasp of ethical and existential concerns: such obliviousness is endemic to the tech industry.

More here.