Technology And The Concentration Of Power

microchipVia the Webstock Conference lecture Our Comrade The Electron, Maciej Cegłowski on the internet as a force for centralizing, rather than dispersing, power:

Technology concentrates power. In the 90’s, it looked like the Internet might be an exception, that it could be a decentralizing, democratizing force. No one controlled it, no one designed it, it was just kind of assembling itself in an appealing, anarchic way. The companies that first tried to centralize the Internet, like AOL and Microsoft, failed risibly. And open source looked ready to slay any dragon.

But those days are gone. We’ve centralized the bejesus out of the Internet now. There’s one search engine (plus the one no one uses), one social network (plus the one no one uses), one Twitter. We use one ad network, one analytics suite. Anywhere you look online, one or two giant American companies utterly dominate the field.

And there’s the cloud. What a brilliant name! The cloud is the future of online computing, a friendly, fluffy abstraction that we will all ascend into, swaddled in light. But really the cloud is just a large mess of servers somewhere, the property of one American company (plus the clouds no one uses).

4 Comments on "Technology And The Concentration Of Power"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Apr 10, 2014 at 10:27 am |

    Very thoughtful. But what of the idea that there is a threshold of complexity beyond which effective control is impossible? We just found out yesterday that there has never been a secure transaction conducted on the interwebs. Ever.

    • herzmeister | Apr 10, 2014 at 10:39 am |


      • Liam_McGonagle | Apr 10, 2014 at 11:07 am |

        I half suspect that Bitcoin was done in by government agents. A bit more gunpowder than your run-of-the-mill credit card thieves. So that may be sort of a sui generis thing.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Apr 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm |

    around 1800
    electricity began to harness humans into its service
    mainly as reproductive organs & caregivers

    the effects of electric technologies on humans
    have rarely been subject to serious study
    and the average Joe has no clue it’s happening
    as he & his grubrrment gaze at his smartphone incessently

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