Big Tech Became What It Most Feared
And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’
The commercial which deposited Apple on the map in the 80s was a nod to a dystopian sci-fi novel, foreshadowing the perils of a totalitarian government that heavily relies on technology for widespread monitoring and manipulation of its citizens. That hits close to home for a company responsible for “empty grandstanding about privacy,” staggering tax avoidance, and human rights issues in their factories several decades later.
Monopoly is no longer just a board game
Big tech created monopolies by minimizing competition, buying politicians and sending fleets of lobbyists to rewrite the rules of engagement. That doesn’t sound like the definition of capitalism to me.
Zuckerberg, a self-proclaimed capitalist, spent a record amount of money (along with Apple) on lobbyists this year. This adds to an existing legacy of icky political donations quite similar to Enron’s infamous support of the Bush administration as one of its largest political donors. It’s hypocritical for big tech to claim to love free market capitalism while actively subverting it with buckets of (untaxed) money. This duplicity throttles innovation and reduces entrepreneurship — and by extension, the American Dream — to rubble.
Where did all the good ideas go?
The early, wild west days of the burgeoning internet promised a space where entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas had equal opportunity to reach their intended audience and find success in their market. However, the rise of monopolistic tech behemoths and online ads sapped this promise. New products and ideas struggle to rank on invisible search engine algorithms, insatiable ad spend commands scarce marketing dollars, and consumers are left facing a zero sum game.
Zuckerberg began wanting to “connect the world” via Facebook. Now, he seems to essentially just sell ads using stolen data and is on target to have booked $80B in 2020 because FB functions as a monopoly. It’s not a coincidence that only a few big ideas have emerged from Silicon Valley as the walls of big tech closed in. It’s easy to win when you’re the only one allowed to compete.
Somebody’s watching me
Dystopian science fiction pop culture enjoys using Big Brother to stoke our fear of government surveillance, but they have a point. The mere mention of a product provokes intrusive social media ads, and high profile data breaches like Cambridge Analytica and Palantir leave no doubt that reams of our personal data exists in cyberspace. Social media is dangerous, but founders still shun responsibility for what they’ve unleashed upon the world.
Mark Zuckerberg is Victor Frankenstein. He conceived Facebook but absconded with no responsibility to manage his creation or protect its user base. Instead, he thwarts legislative regulation and actively facilitates the pillage of his users’ data, privacy and money. The digital spaces in which we exist aren’t regulated, transparent, or even structured to protect us. Not only are they ill-equipped to safeguard us, but big tech is actively harming us. It’s projected to get even worse in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Dance for me
For years, we’ve had front row seats to witness the immense power of social media when used as a tool to amplify and spread misinformation and psychologically manipulate its users. Big tech companies control the platforms we use, ergo they control what we see. Our reality is shaped by powerful, invisible algorithms that curate content without transparent oversight or user protection. And we have behaved accordingly, with deadly consequences.
Facebook is so out of control that the US government is *finally* seeking to break it up and regulate it. Not only might it be too late, but realistically, it isn’t likely to happen for several years, if at all. Meanwhile, our data continues to be harvested, misinformation continues to spread and the insatiable tech giants are using the pandemic to get their tentacles around even more of our lives.
You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain
The past 30-odd years has produced a compelling case for why we need regulation, fresh voices, and new perspectives in big tech. Insular thinking has brought us to a place where a website originally created to rate women’s appearances has, in less than two decades: taken a sledgehammer to democracy, bilked millions of fraudulent dollars from users in online scams, stolen reams of personal data, facilitated deadly political violence across the globe and has become too big to get out of its own way. Yikes! Capitalism and innovation are predicated upon a free market, not one with tech monopolies who own and install politicians on Capitol Hill. Concentrated corporate power is anti-competitive and at odds with the American Dream and entrepreneurship. Did we not learn from Microsoft’s antitrust debacle?
Big tech received limitless chances to prove itself, yet repeatedly confirmed that in the absence of regulation, they can’t resist harvesting our data, spying on us, scamming our money, allowing the radicalizing of people or the incitement of global violence and insurrections and of course, avoiding paying their fair share of taxes.
Big tech may have given humanity the extraordinary ability to construct a new virtual ecosystem, but the cost is that it watches and remembers everything. That makes Apple’s nod to Orwell’s novel even more ironic when we consider censorship, surveillance, and state omniscience were prevalent themes and fears in the novel 1984, yet have become abject reality.
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