Data Sheet—Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s Dark Sides
My wife will disagree with the following statement, but I genuinely appreciate being told I’m full of it. Okay, that’s not even remotely true. But I do enjoy being challenged either on my assumptions or my arguments.
“I’ve noticed in a few recent posts that you’ve taken great umbrage at the adverse, even devastating effect that Facebook and other social media sites have had on the news industry,” writes Schacker. “While this is undoubtedly true, is it really any different from how tech has eviscerated so many other industries? For example, the entire retail sector looks like it’s going to be swallowed whole by Amazon. I know the Facebook stuff hits you where you live, but would someone working at Sears feel any different as they watch their 126-year-old company rendered irrelevant? Maybe news is a special case because of its critical role in our democracy, but where will our country be when Amazon has a monopoly on everything we buy? My point is that as a journalist, I think you should be consistent on this issue. If you are outraged for your industry, then be just as outraged—and sympathetic—for others.”
Seeing as Schacker cleverly played the democracy card, I can’t use that argument against him. And he’s right, I’m angry that Facebook and Google hollowed out my industry—just as Walmart hollowed out Main Street retail and Amazon is attempting to hollow out Walmart.
There’s a capitalist counterargument here, and I got it recently when I was whining to a fellow journalist, who responded that Facegoogle beat us fairly and squarely in the marketplace for ideas, just as disruptors, digital and otherwise, have done in other industries.
One quibble in my defense: The consumer has been well served by Amazon’s innovation. Shopping malls might no longer be the community commons they were, but no one would argue goods or services are less available or that prices generally have spiked. In the wake of revenue-sucking innovation by Google and Facebook we’re left with clickbait, aggregation drivel, headlines that don’t inform, and fake news—by which I mean misinformation attacks by hostile governments and crooks, not factual mistakes by hardworking journalists or articles the President of the United States doesn’t like.
So thanks for challenging me, Curt. I’ll think about your admonition to be consistent. And I’ll keep hoping quality journalism doesn’t go the way of the Sears catalog.
Have a good weekend. I’m off next week. I’ll be back in your inboxes Feb. 26th.
Packing my bags. Billionaire venture capitalist and contrarian ideologue Peter Thiel is decamping from Silicon Valley for Los Angeles, the Wall Street Journal reports. Thiel is reportedly sick of the groupthink and political monoculture that he experiences in the techie epicenter. He has even considered resigning from Facebook's board, according to reports, following confrontations with CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Revealing a villain. The U.S. and U.K. governments have officially blamed Russia for last year's costly, computer-crippling cyberattack dubbed "NotPetya." White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "It was part of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine." A spokesperson for the Kremlin denied the accusations.
Passing the blame. Some Bitcoin buyers have blown a gasket over repeat charges to their credit cards over recent cryptocurrency purchases. Coinbase, the popular Bitcoin vendor at the center of the controversy, is blaming payment processor Visa for the snafu. A Visa spokesperson, meanwhile, seemed to reject the notion that it's at fault.
Staking your claim. Retail behemoth Walmart is reportedly seeking more than a 40% stake in Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce startup, according to unnamed sources cited by Reuters. The maneuver appears designed to counter Amazon's encroaching dominance.
Gettin' out while the gettin's good. This week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg started accelerating his stock sales, per a plan he laid out in September, to fund his philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. If the social networker-in-chief sticks to the plan, he could dump as much as $13.3 billion worth of Facebook stock over the course of the next year.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
After Rocky Year, CEO Evan Spiegel Is Still Happy Snap Went Public By Jonathan Vanian
Jeffrey Tambor Is Leaving Amazon's 'Transparent' Over Sexual Harrassment Claims By Tom Huddleston Jr.
Here's How Much Apple Pays to Make Its HomePod Smart Speaker By Don Reisinger
Blockchain Hires Google Vet in Bid to Take on Coinbase By Jeff John Roberts
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Individuality is under siege. The washing machine, Quaker Quick Oats, Sony's Walkman, Facebook networking—all these supposedly time-saving technologies have, to varying degrees, sapped people's ability to exercise choice. Tim Wu, a Columbia Law School professor and book author, writes in an op-ed for the New York Times that we have less free will than we think we do. Humans are slaves to the path of least resistance, a fact that tech companies have mastered...to become our masters. In his essay, Wu bashes the "cult of convenience" and recommends that we "resist its stupefying power." From the piece:
In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value.
As Evan Williams, a co-founder of Twitter, recently put it, “Convenience decides everything.” Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.
Early last summer, just as my interests in the topics of civilisational collapse and Peter Thiel were beginning to converge into a single obsession, I received out of the blue an email from a New Zealand art critic named Anthony Byrt. If I wanted to understand the extreme ideology that underpinned Thiel’s attraction to New Zealand, he insisted, I needed to understand an obscure libertarian manifesto called The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. It was published in 1997, and in recent years something of a minor cult has grown up around it in the tech world, largely as a result of Thiel’s citing it as the book he is most influenced by. (Other prominent boosters include Netscape founder and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Balaji Srinivasan, the entrepreneur best known for advocating Silicon Valley’s complete secession from the US to form its own corporate city-state.)
By most public accounts, Madsen was a charismatic rebel. He had a weathered face with the prominent features of a toy troll. His habitual uniform was coveralls and hiking boots. Fox, the filmmaker, calls him a “modern-day Clumsy Hans,” for the seemingly dimwitted suitor in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale who wins the princess’s favor over his more intelligent brothers. Wall was in the early stages of her reporting, and she would not have known much more about Madsen than what had already been published. It was only later, after everything that happened, that the details of his private life would become important.
The Evolution of Marvel's 'Black Panther' (The Ringer)
A little more than three months after the debut of the Black Panther character, the Black Panther Party was officially founded in Oakland, in 1966. Which came first is kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing. In 1972, with Fantastic Four no. 119, Marvel unveiled a new name for the character. I reached out to writer Roy Thomas, who penned the comic in which T’Challa pulled on his costume and explained why he’d suddenly started calling himself "the Black Leopard."
The last decade has shown us that there is no linear-causal relationship between decentralization in technical systems and egalitarian or equitable practices socially, politically, or economically. This is not only because it is technologically determinist to assume so, or because networks involve layers that exhibit contradictory affordances, but also because there’s zero evidence that features such as decentralization or structurelessness continue to pose any kind of threat to capitalism. In fact, horizontality and decentralization—the very characteristics that peer production prizes so highly—have emerged as an ideal solution to many of the impasses of liberal economics.
BEFORE YOU GO
How to cook like a master chef. This fearless Gizmodo reporter took it upon himself to test the fancy food preparations employed by The Modernist Cuisine, a book on the science of cooking that has developed a cult following. In case you're looking for some new spins on your favorite meals try: blow-torching your steak, mixing sodium citrate into your cheese (to make it melt smoothly), or thickening creamy dishes with Xantham Gum. Mmm...yum.