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  • Raghav Sand

Has the Internet Failed Us?

Internet has made the world flat. No other technology has been able to make the kind of impact internet has been able to in the past two decades. As internet speed and internet-enabled devices improved, an ever-larger number of people got the opportunity to connect with customers, friends and information. The internet was envisaged as the enabler for cross continental exchange of data. Every big tech company used it as a platform to provide services or develop their hardware products.

Digital technology is powerful and has the potential to solve majority of our problems. Sadly, the most sophisticated and efficient technology is in the hands of people who solely want to make money. It is a very dangerous form of digital capitalism. Now, with 4 billion internet users globally, and over 2.3 billion smartphones out there, the internet has a big impact on all our lives.

A lot of the positive change has happened on the margins of society, where it may be more difficult to find representative stories and quantitative data. Anybody who doesn’t feel represented in the mainstream can now to reach out to like-minded people (anonymously and safely, too).

Rather than promoting economic fairness, it is the central reason for the growing gulf between rich and poor and the hollowing out of the middle class. Rather than making us wealthier, the so-called sharing economy is making us poorer. Rather than creating more jobs, automation is destroying jobs. And rather than increasing competition, it has created immensely powerful new global monopolies like Google and Facebook.

Nothing Good Ever Came Free

The concept of free services is the internet’s original flaw. In reality, we, the consumers are doing the manual labour. We are the ones putting up our photographs; we’re sharing our stories and our personal data. In Silicon Valley, venture capitalists refer to ordinary citizens as “data factories.” So, to put it bluntly, in the Internet economy, we’re the product. We’re on the verge of an increasingly global data economy. And the business model of collecting all that data and essentially giving us stuff for free, that business model depends on surveillance. That’s the vicious circle. The service is free, but corporations will be observing your every move: what you do, what you say, even what you think. Free is never really free.

The sharing economy is systematically destroying the hard-won protections built up since the Industrial Revolution — such as, pensions, the minimum wage, laws about child labour. As a result, the working poor have to work harder and harder just to survive. It’s just more work, more struggle, less security.

Less is the New More

Technology has created some new jobs, but it’s destroying far more. In the not-too-distant future, machines will be able to diagnose our diseases, figure out complicated law cases. So, even doctors and lawyers will be unemployed. The reality is that we have an increasing inequality of power and wealth in this world. Every industry is being radically transformed, undermined, restructured by the digital revolution — education, health care, taxicabs, hospitality.

Game On!

The original product is no longer the main product of the company. Now the main product of the company is the stock. How are we going to sell this stock to the series A people? And then the series B people? And finally, to IPO when it no longer matters what this company does. It’s about the win. So, business itself becomes gamified. And Bezos is a winner, though he hasn’t won yet. It’s him versus Tim Cook, versus Mark Zuckerberg etc.

Who is the customer on the internet? Is Facebook’s customer the person who is using it to make friends? No, it’s the company that is buying the person’s social graph. And once you understand that then you understand who the platform is for. Who is Uber’s customer? It’s not the driver certainly, which it should be. It’s not the passenger, which it could be. It’s the shareholder, the investor. Uber doesn’t care about creating a decent, sustainable taxi industry.

People look at corporate capitalism and technology, as if they were given by god and not invented by people. It’s this automatic acceptance of how things are that leads to a sense of helplessness about changing any of them.

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