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Ideology of Exponential Growth Devours, Corrupts: Growth as god in Silicon Valley (3)

By News Express on 31/07/2017

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But that’s hard. Of course, it’s hard. Not the least because this whole adventure is so heavily medicated with foosball tables, game rooms, and bean-bags of all colours. As many distractions as possible, from having to consider the true nature of what we’re doing. What’s that about the rising automatron class? Sorry, I’m late for a nerf battle on the star deck. Later!

Yeah, the automatron class. People treated as literal cogs in transportation and delivery machines. Complete with machine-like tolerance specifications for quality. Dip below a 4.7? You’re in trouble. No explanations. No room for a bad day or a bad week because the bills were mounting. No room for humanity, no room for frailty. Just put on your happy face, and have a great day.

I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone. When I first discovered Uber, I was ecstatic. So much less human friction. No yucky money changing hands. Just in and out. Headphones on and let’s go. The less I had to deal with the humanity of drivers, the better. Or so I thought.

But not all that is easy is better. Friction is interaction. Human psyches rubbing against each other. And in this friction-less society we wonder how on earth someone could vote Brexit or Trump. It wouldn’t be such a mystery if we didn’t do all we could to isolate ourselves from the world.

Yet, we go along with the euphemisms and fantasies. Oh no, no. These people aren’t cogs, they’re independent business owners! Able to set their own hours: Like whether they want to drive for 60 or 80 a week to make ends meet! Aren’t we liberating?

And I think that’s the truly insidious part of the tech lords solution to everything. This fantasy that they will be greeted as liberators. When the new boss is really a lot like the old boss, except the big stick is replaced with the big algorithm. Depersonalising all punishment, but doling it out just the same. Maybe the old cabbie boss was an asshole but, at least, that asshole had a face. Someone you could yell at. Have you tried yelling at an algorithm or a customer-rating average?

It’s just another mass-scale exploitation project. And by exploitation, I mean that less in a shackles and bone-soup sense — although there’s a good discussion to have around that too — but more in a pennies for you, billions for me kind of way. Enormous wealth being extracted from people living subsistence lives. But rather than being seen as modern sweatshops, we are all cheering this on as unadulterated progress. Anyone who’s in opposition to this exploitive process is a crank, as Michael Fouley would say. Any community that may have reservations about how this is happening is a shit-hole.

Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t all sorts of vested, crony interests in keeping innovation at bay. Surely, there are. But there’s more than that. There are a whole host of legitimate reasons why we have government regulations around housing and transportation. Inconveniences to the march of Instacart and Uber to turn everyone into a temporary gig worker.

This exploitation isn’t just for the workers of the Uber or the neighbours of Airbub. It’s also all of us through the algorthimisation of news at the House of Facebook’s behest. More engagement! More rage, more fake news, all resulting in more hours spent, more eyeballs fixated, more clicks and taps made.

And this new world order is being driven by a tiny cabal of monopolies. So, commercial dissent is near impossible. Do you want to be the weirdo without a Facebook account? The un-cool stooge for staying at a motel or taking an old-school cab? Of course, not. You’re hip, you’re with it. Everything worth doing is in an app.

So, it remains mostly our fault. Our choice, our dollars. Every purchase is a vote for an ever more dysfunctional future. We will spend our way into the abyss.

If nothing changes, we’ll continue to vest the tech titans and their lords with economic monopolies that grant them undue power. They’re too big to be conscientious. “Don’t be evil” is a slogan for an upstart, not a conglomerate. You simply can’t distribute such noble a moral codex across endless divisions, all with their own P&Ls.

And don’t fall for the soothing charity by the extractive victors, either. That charade is as old as time. It's the process by which ruthless tech lords seek to rebrand themselves into noble benefactors for the good of society. By giving back some of their spoils as they see fit. Kings of plenty doling out gifts and mercy. Don’t buy it. And I don’t mean that in the sense that, say, Bill Gates hasn’t done good with his fortune. But that society isn’t better off when we have to rely on magnanimous tech lords to solve its ills by decree.

Incumbent power centres will not go quietly into the night, though. Excuses will be aplenty, because unlike the robber barons of old, they’re not going to defend themselves with water canons and lock-outs. It’ll be cold war skirmishes, fighting for fake moral high grounds. Natural monopolies! Network effects!

Because competition is for the little people. Pitting one individual contractor against another in a race to the bottom. Hoarding all the bargaining power at the top. Disparaging any attempts against those at the bottom to organise with unions or otherwise. Ragging on that as “untapped energy.”

When you accept this entire picture, it’s not so hard to understand why some people are starting to freak out. I’m freaking out. This is worth freaking out about.

As Douglas Rouskoff would say, we need a new operating system for startups. The current one will keep producing the same extractive and monopolistic empires we’ve gotten so far. No, what we need is a new crop of companies that are institutionally comfortable with leaving money on the table. Leaving growth on the table. Leaving some conveniences and some progress on the board, in order to lead the world into a better direction.

The solution isn’t simple, but we’re in dire need of a strong counter-culture, some mass infusion of the 1960s’ spirit: to offer realistic, ethical alternatives to the exponential growth logic. Ones that’ll benefit not just a gilded few, but all of us. The future literally depends on it.

•Lawrence Nwaodu is a small business expert and enterprise consultant, trained in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with an MBA in Entrepreneurship from The Management School, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, and MSc in Finance and Financial Management Services from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Netherlands. Mr. Nwaodu is the Lead Consultant at IDEAS Exchange Consulting, Lagos. He can be reached via nwaodu.lawrence@hotmail.co.uk (07066375847).

Source News Express

Posted 31/07/2017 5:56:36 PM

 

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