Big Tech (Google, Facebook, AirBnB, Uber and above all Amazon) erodes our middle classes. In Europe, it needs no explaining that doing so they undermine the foundations of our democratic society (the thirties of the previous century and all that followed are an indelible part of our collective memory).
Their irresistible proposition lets consumers use great software for free (Google, Facebook); or use excellent services for a small fee (Uber, AirBnB); or even buy products for less than its cost price (Amazon). But it is no charity: while giving with one hand, they take with the other our valuable data; use our infrastructure (roads, airfields, education) without contributing through taxes; and single-handedly create a new economic class of exploited workers with their gig economy.
Amazon probably is now too big be defeated in its own area. Jeff Bezos has set himself the goal of becoming the store on earth. And he won’t be satisfied with books, electronics and groceries. The American health market is huge in financial terms and is in a deplorable state. Amazon can do better. All government services that fall into disrepair because the government neglects them are new markets to Bezos cum suis. Take your pick.
Is Europe immune? We don’t think so. Our situation is markedly better, but the attraction of the Silicon Valley lures is huge.
So what to do? For now, we can find space to manoeuvre in all areas of human activity that fall outside the narrow world view of these super capitalists. And that is quite a lot. Just consult Kate Raworth (The Doughnut Economy). Society consists of families, unions, clubs, public offices, schools, public transport, sports, art, culture – and yes, businesses. This society of people is embedded in an incredibly productive biosphere, a biochemical supernetwork that eats the sun and carries and nourishes us. Raworth categorises society in four sectors:
- the households
- the commons
- the state
- the market.
People perform and produce in households and the commons in all sorts of ways that are not visible through the glasses of homo economicus. People co-operate everywhere. They communicate, co-ordinate their actions and achieve more then anyone could on his own. More and more we support and improve that co-operation with an IT-infrastructure. Now, this infrastructure can be constructed in more than one way. Since the nineties the client-server model dominates on the internet. Think a web with fat spiders, drawing everything towards them and devour it. No subtle image, but very appropriate.
There is another way. With Perspectives we show how. A lot of concepts have to be thrown out of the window or should be redefined. “Information”, for example, and “program” or “app”. It’s not about those things: it’s about people and their actions. Perspectives puts people right in the centre. Interestingly, this aligns beautifully with a very European school of thought about organisation, the Rhineland Model. We wrote a blogpost about it.
We can throw the idea that co-operation should be supported centrally out of the window. As a matter of fact, co-operation is at odds with centralisation. People interact with each other, not via Big Brother.
We can put society on a co-operative footing. Obviously that is a decision that needs to be taken collectively to make it come true! But if we don’t, Bezos cs will eventually claim the commons and households, too. Alexas in every household. Not a pretty future. Not even Orwell had nightmares like that.
Are we punching above our weight? Yes we are! But we do so on purpose. If you throw your weight behind it, too, surely we cannot lose. We, the people, can and must make the difference.