How Technology Stakeholders Lose

An excerpt from a work in progress, a book called The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants, a set of essays that looks into what we can expect from this strange brave new world.

Our addictions to technology, especially of the digital sort and especially among the young, are manifest, but they aren’t entirely technology’s fault. Nor are they just the result of falling unto temptation, although practicing a bit more mindfulness and self-discipline wouldn’t hurt. Few of us ever asked for this stuff. We got it whether we wanted it or not, dreamed up by inventors and shoveled at us by the marketplace, packaged to titillate. And even what we think of as the good stuff often has a seamy underside that tries to hook us and then takes what it wants from us while we’re mesmerized. Technology won’t be denied, but the particular shapes it takes are fabricated by other forces that may not have our best interests at heart. Here are two stories of how our economy shapes the tech scene that in turn shapes us.

The Water Cooler Has Ears

For starters, you might not know that online social media is older than the personal computer. Forty years back, you only needed a computer terminal, a modem, and a telephone to participate in collaborative messaging apps called electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). They ran on minicomputers, were noncommercial, and staffed by volunteers (called SysOps). Some relics of that era still exist, but as the Net unfolded, BBS’s begat Usenet, then Reddit, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. piled on, demonstrating that computer users crave real-time online contact—the core social media value proposition. But sooner or later, almost all proprietary social media platforms succumb to Wall Street discipline to monetize our personal data, relentlessly upgrade, piling on features we never wanted or needed, and stalk us wherever we roam.

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Will Drive for Food and Sex

Q: How did the “sharing economy” become a predatory landscape?

A: It’s simple; Capitalism is a predatory beast. Corporations will appropriate idealism, deceive customers, cheat workers, and squander good will in a New York Minute if doing so accrues value to shareholders and executives.

As Dean Baker wrote in CounterPunch several years ago, “… in their exuberance over the next big thing, many boosters [of the sharing economy] have overlooked the reality that this new business model is largely based on evading regulations and breaking the law.” He’s right about the criminality but his piece paints sharing with too broad a brush.

There’s an old Russian proverb that Trump and his minions should take to heart: “A fish rots from the head.” It’s redolent of the kind of moral decay that sets in when CEOs mistake market share, earnings and valuation for virtue. The stench that now pervades the entire economy is overpowering to everyone who doesn’t have a financial bubble to wall it out. Continue reading “Will Drive for Food and Sex”

What Would Henry Do?

[Dug out this 2006 essay from my archives because it seems to apply as much now as a decade ago. Only the technology has moved on, not the human species.]

Dedicated to Peter Balen

If life has you feeling more overwhelmed and less able to cope all the time, it might not just be encroaching senility, the accumulation of bad chemicals in your body, or even 9-11. Consider what might connect such random areas of interest as

  • Prescription drug programs
  • Retirement planning
  • Airline deregulation
  • The blogosphere
  • School vouchers
  • Globalization

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