Tightening the Tether on Tasteless Tech

*As economies have moved forward, more and more complex arrangements, instruments, and machines have come into existence. For example, the reason we can make music earbuds so small now is because of rare earth magnets, made of praseodymium, which is mined in the U.S., China, Russia, Australia, and India. Many of the resources needed to produce the inventions of our modern society are linked around the world. As I have stated on numerous occasions, we have been in a global economy since the East India Company of 1600.

Big Tech - Global Economy
Image Credit: The Economist

There have been several game-changers in economics, mostly two Industrial Revolutions, the revolution of the late 19th century when machines became essential to make other machines, and the more recent tech boom. Let’s review some of the industries that tech has affected.

Consider newspapers and magazines in the Digital Age. Contrary to popular belief, newspapers were on decline starting in the early 20th century. Many papers had disappeared or merged with other papers and the number of newspapers had been declining steadily for most of the 20th century; the tech boom just speeded up a process already set in motion. The money the print business once made is going to Big Tech.

In broadcast news, where there were three major networks, specialized networks emerged and catered to very specific audiences. Production of entertainment became much more diverse, with production companies emerging and producing content in both television and movies in much greater numbers than ever before.

The money the entertainment and television businesses once made is going to Big Tech.

The original cable companies concentrated on the big cities, where one cable could serve hundreds of clients, and, along the way, make the cable owners filthy rich. The cable companies didn’t like the way, way out rural clients, where they had to run miles and miles of cable just to service a dozen clients. This meant that until the satellite television systems went online, the folks in the outskirts were left with the analog channels of whatever they could reach. The cable companies, with a nod, a wink, and substantial campaign contributions, rarely ever bothered to provide cable service to all, just the real profitable cities. Many argued that denying the rural populations the same cable service was unfair, but money talks and the politicians balked. The satellites finally offered internet and cable television. The cable and internet problem was the same as rural electricity and telephones of decades earlier.

The money the cable companies once made is now going to Big Tech.

Repetitive jobs such as entry accounting and price quotes for things like shipping became computerized, ending many number-crunching jobs. Data entry and documenting once addressed by clerks has gone away.

The money the entry clerks once made is now going to Big Tech.

Retail jobs and brick and mortar stores were replaced by eBay, and the local classifieds were assumed by Craigslist, which took even more revenue from local newspapers. Robots replaced many workers, but not before some jumped too far ahead and lost millions with robots too specialized to adapt to changing work requirements.

The money and commissions that the retail workers once made is now going to Big Tech.

Political campaigns are now dominated by the internet, where social media, fake news and campaigning have assumed a pivotal role in politics.

The money once generated the political campaign consultants is now going to Big Tech.

Tech expanded the medical field, making more treatments available, thus making more and more specialized positions in medicine. Tech expanded medicine and material science, just to name two. The money is still going to health workers, but a substantial portion of medical revenue is now diverted to Big Tech.

The Yellow Cabs in the big cities have lost out to Uber and Lyft. In cities like New York, independent cab owners paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a cab license, which is now about as valuable as a roll of Charmin.

The money that the cab companies and drivers once made is now going to Big Tech.

Tech killed the market for musicians, and killed the traditional music business model. Musicians have lost the album and its revenue to digital downloads of individual songs. Where record sales used to make musicians wealthy, song selection and downloads have crushed the traditional music business leaving artists the only option left of touring to make money. Digital downloads offer far less revenue for musicians than records, CDs or cassettes ever did, and even when the potential buyers are well into the millions, the revenues are nowhere near what the previous mediums generated. By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, your digital downloads have a “shelf life” after which you cannot play them anymore, and you have to purchase the music piece all over again, much like Microsoft insisting that you pay a monthly fee for software for which you already paid.

The money the music business once made is going to Big Tech.

Tech killed the market for musicians, and killed the traditional music business model…. The money the music business once made is going to Big Tech.”

An industry that is finally losing its grip on the American economy is the advertising industry. The advertising industry, once a stalwart of American creativity, marketing and persuasion, is on a race to the bottom. Like the music industry, the business model for the advertising, excuse me marketing industry, is undergoing a major restructuring. Like so many industries that tech has decimated, the advertising agencies that once commanded huge fees are now trying to figure out how they will survive in the Digital Age, and if the recent past is any indication, not well. Slashing budgets and bonuses, and losing talent like rats off a burning ship, the once-great agencies are facing competition of a nature they never would have considered before the Digital Age.

The money once earned by the advertising agencies is now going to Big Tech.

Once controlled by only a few major players, the advertising industry has seen, just like the music industry, its profits running away from them and into the bank accounts of the high tech companies. Where marketing programs were once directed only by the geniuses of Madison Avenue, now marketing campaigns are targeted to very specific potential customers whose information was gleaned by Google, Facebook, and others. Products are specifically marketed to potential customers who meet the required demographics, as well as their economic profile and purchasing history.

The money made from the demographics and information is going to Big Tech.

Alphabet & Facebook Revenues

What was once a diverse economy is becoming more concentrated, as sectors fold (or collapse) in to the Digital Age. Technology has taken the leadership role in media, music along with entertainment, marketing, and other industries. We now have corporate behemoths, generating billions of dollars, but dollars are just the beginning; they’re pulling in revenues in Euros, Yen, Francs, and currencies you have to ask your Swiss banker to convert, which they will happily do. If left up to Big Tech, the issue of who owns your data will never rise into the arena of public debate, much less the U.S. House of Representatives. Even if you supplied your data without a proper understanding of its value, Big Tech isn’t interested in you having any control of your information, because you’re hitting them in the bread basket when you control your data. The promises of privacy are nothing more than an illusion; every shred of information is vacuumed up and placed in an algorithm. You volunteered it, whether you understood the consequences or not. The vast majority of the public is like an ignorant suspect taken into custody who doesn’t understand the gravity of telling things that they think will exonerate them, when in fact, it only digs them further into the hole.

If you are on Facebook, you signed an agreement that you more than likely didn’t read, which, by the way, has been changed several times, each time to (gasp, I know you won’t believe this) make Facebook more money. The tech folks are convinced that they alone own your files, and it will take (literally) and act of Congress to get them to change their minds.

The money your personal information would generate is now going to Big Tech.

You gave the information to them, and you keep giving them information, and they keep making revenue from your information. While your information is intangible, it is still valuable. By Facebooking and Twittering, you are offering the tech giants resources that they are using to make a great deal of money. They are, of course, offering you services for which you do not pay, you simply provide information, and the money that information generates goes to Big Tech.

If you haven’t discovered by now, information is power.”

Big Tech

If you haven’t discovered by now, information is power. Imagine that you knew how to construct an atomic bomb in 1943. If you know how to write code, how to set up financial instruments, how to treat cancer, how to repair cars, how to refine petroleum, and millions of other things, people will pay you for that knowledge. If you know how to take information from millions of people and construct algorithms to market products to those people, you can make lots and lots of money, but you need the information first; the best way is to offer a service for the information. Even better is that the free service that you offer is infused with revenue-generating advertisements. This is like me being paid to drive you around, while you’re being driven around for free.

The Europeans have decided that Google, Twitter and Facebook must allow citizens access to their digital files, and have instituted a law that gives rights to European citizens concerning their digital information. I especially liked when interviewed by CBS on Sixty-Minutes, the main U.S. lobbyist for the tech giants tried first to ignore the question of who owns their clients’ information that Google, Twitter and Facebook use to generate money. It is clear that the tech giants think they own your information. Big Tech wants the money your personal information will generate; how do you think they’ve become so wealthy?

From Wired Magazine, March 19, 2018:

On May 25, however, the power balance will shift towards consumers, thanks to a European privacy law that restricts how personal data is collected and handled. The rule, called General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, focuses on ensuring that users know, understand, and consent to the data collected about them. Under GDPR, pages of fine print won’t suffice. Neither will forcing users to click yes in order to sign up.

Instead, companies must be clear and concise about their collection and use of personal data like full name, home address, location data, IP address, or the identifier that tracks web and app use on smartphones. Companies have to spell out why the data is being collected and whether it will be used to create profiles of people’s actions and habits. Moreover, consumers will gain the right to access data companies store about them, the right to correct inaccurate information, and the right to limit the use of decisions made by algorithms, among others.

The law protects individuals in the 28 member countries of the European Union, even if the data is processed elsewhere. That means GDPR will apply to publishers like WIRED; banks; universities; much of the Fortune 500; the alphabet soup of ad-tech companies that track you across the web, devices, and apps; and Silicon Valley tech giants.


Jeffrey Neil Jackson

Jeffrey Neil Jackson is an
Educator & Literary Mercenary


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