The tech oligarchs gathered in Sun Valley for most of the past week, and besides a few arrival photo opportunities, there was pretty much a media blackout. Or, at least the media was allowed only in certain places at certain times.
They arrived primarily in private jets, despite the fact that they’re the ones who most often sound the alarm when it comes to global warming.
Despite the tight security, most of them also arrived with personal armed guards, if not veritable private armies, despite the fact that they’re supposedly anti-guns.
Then again, these are the people who fight for immigrants’ rights and organize rallies and protests, but when women are sexually harassed and assaulted in the hallowed halls of Silicon Valley, the best they’re able to muster is a hashtag, it seems (‘#Decency Pledge’ The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs).
These are the titans of industry who value their privacy and security uber alles and meet behind closed doors, yet who suck up all of your private and personal information. Then again, these are the (primarily) men who’ve given us free search (Google), the ability to connect for free with two billion people on the planet (Facebook). The list of their bountiful offering goes on, but it’s not what they give: it’s what they take in return.
News organizations turned to Facebook for ad revenue, but it was Facebook who kept the bulk of that revenue, even though they produced no content and paid no reporters. Here’s why newspapers are banding together to fight Google and Facebook, according to Fast Company. “Even as audiences consume more news content, the publishers that undergo the expensive process of producing it are not reaping the monetary rewards. Digital news distribution has become more reliant on the whims of Google and Facebook, and that means those companies set the terms of the turf…When it comes to the digital advertising market, the word “duopoly” has become the dominant descriptor for Google and Facebook, something neither company seems to dispute. Though estimates differ, the two online platforms receive the lion’s share of money spent on digital advertising—and that share keeps getting bigger. According to eMarketer, the Silicon Valley behemoths are expected to control nearly 60% of the booming market this year, while others say that percentage is even higher.”
Google skewed search results so that they products always topped the search, which of course is what led to the EU’s levying a record fine on the behemoth.
As we know, he who controls the pipes/eyeballs, not only rules the world, but can order it to their liking, or whatever profits them the most. And lest we forget, Jeff Bezos owns the once-venerated Washington Post, which, while it does trade on its past reputation, is far from being your dad’s Washington Post. In fact, it was at the Sun Valley conference that Bezos forged the deal that led to his acquiring the Post. And where Time Warner forged their ill-fated merger with AOL.
The richest guys in the room aren’t always necessarily the most visionary.
The Sunset of the Gods?
We hail the tech oligarchs as disruptors and innovators, which may have been where they started, but they’ve since morphed into something far more insidious (Beware the Tech Oligarchs). They’re monopolists, devouring companies and sectors at record speeds, and killing both jobs and innovation in one fell swoop.
We’re also assuming that it was no coincidence that it was during the Sun Valley summit that Elon Musk once again raised the alarm about the dangers of AI and its need to be regulated. Given d) all of the above, we’re at a dangerous precipice in human history and attention must be paid. Since their expansion has gone relatively unchecked to date, they are growing somewhat fat and complacent, but their ‘nothing to see here’ attitude can’t go unchecked forever and is, in fact, giving rise to a new breed of rebels: luckily, the same industry that bred these disruptors is now fomenting a new breed of innovators, operating and developing outside of their domains. Enter the blockchain and take note: the world – and the playing field – are about to change.
All empires fall eventually and we may be at a crossroads, even as we speak, witnessing the sunset of the current gods. As we said last week, pay attention to the blockchain, and it seems that Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson agrees (Easy Come, Easy Go). Despite the ups and down of the digital currencies and the many stories focusing these days on ICOs, “crypto is about a lot more than making money,” says Wilson. “And the people who are into crypto because of the mission, a global decentralized platform for innovation, are going to be around after this bubble bursts, and the next one bursts, and the next one bursts…I’m not going anywhere either.”
Enter the Blockchain
Tony Peccatiello (Social Starts) wrote an excellent blog piece on the blockchain, ICOs, et al. On innovation, the internet and all that, he notes, “Early radio hosts just read the newspaper out loud, and early movie stars performed as if they were still on a stage. The problem with a new technology is that typically, the first move is to push old models on top hoping to make it better, but true innovation comes when we can see the technology for what it is and what it will make possible that before was impossible.”
Which is where we are at this juncture in tech, with the Googles, Facebooks and Amazons merely basically digitizing real world functions. Nor is the blockchain merely about digital currency, or assets. As Peccatiello notes, “There are so many things that this will change- the way games are built, the way media is stored, the way personal data is monetized are just a few initial targets, with many more left to be discovered. My hope is that by expanding the perspective of this technology, we start developing truly revolutionary ideas that will change the world for good.” We’re overdue for the change and we suspect that the blockchain innovators were not necessarily in Sun Valley this past week. Only the titans who believe that they have it all locked up and we can’t think of a more appropriate place for them to gather at this turning point in tech history than in Sun Valley. No one stays on the top of the mountain forever, and as the next wave of tech starts to manifest itself – its underlying platform being antithetical to the way the current oligarchs operate and suck the world up into their orbit. Will be interesting to see whether or not, like so many demigods before them, down the slippery slope they go. Onward and forward.