Users In Charge

Users In Charge

Back in the day, Esther Dyson (and Daphne Kis) hosted an invitation-only conference called PC Forum, and anyone who was anyone in tech would mark it in stone on his/her calendar, (most of them) flying their private jets to Scottsdale, AZ for the annual hegira. At the relative dawn of social, the theme of the conference was Users in Charge. And in those nascent days, we actual took ‘users’ to mean ‘consumers.’

Such innocence. Such trust.

The era of so-called social was a turning point, not just for tech, but for the world at large.  The true creators  – the enabler of the tech world, and by this we mean the homebrews and Steve Wozniaks of the world: the people who really built things that allowed others to build and create and yes, move the human race forward – were a different lot than today’s tech oligarchs: they created jobs and enabled an industry. They created a tool that the world had never seen before, and they didn’t merely reinvent the telephone, or the telephone book, which is what Facebook really is, when you get down to brass tacks, only this time around, it’s bidirectional and not necessarily a wonderfully open platform (yes, we do realize that it’s a walled garden) connecting the world (Facebook Falsely Claims Colin Powell Cleared Hillary In Email Case Saturday morning the site ran a headline in the section declaring, “Colin Powell: Former Secretary of State Confirms He Recommended Using Personal Email to Hillary Clinton.” The only problem is Powell made no such declaration and he denied Clinton’s claim). It seems Facebook has gone from presenting a particular bias, to outright falsifying information.

That aside, the promise of tech was to improve the human condition, by making processes faster, better; improving communications (see above) and lives and generally making the world – and the workplace – a better place. Meet the new boss – same as the old boss:

Facebook employees reveal 22 awful things about working at Facebook

The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp What the future of low-wage work really looks like: “In the event of a medical emergency, contact Security. Do Not call 911! Tell Security the nature of the medical emergency and location. Security and/or Amcare will provide emergency response.”

Yes, even in our glorious, enlightened age, someone actually had to write An Open Letter to Managers of Women.

As the Daily Beast reports, and as we’ve said time and again, Today’s Tech Oligarchs Are Worse Than the Robber Barons. “A decade ago these guys—and they are mostly guys—were folk heroes, and for many people, they remain so. They represented everything traditional business, from Wall Street and Hollywood to the auto industry, in their pursuit of sure profits and golden parachutes, was not—hip, daring, risk-taking folk seeking to change the world for the better.

“Now from San Francisco to Washington and Brussels, the tech oligarchs are something less attractive: a fearsome threat whose ambitions to control our future politics, media, and commerce seem without limits…And as the tech boom has expanded, these individuals and companies have gathered economic resources to match their ambitions. And as their fortunes have ballooned, so has their hubris.”

The New York Times did an interesting piece not too long ago, asking Why the Economic Payoff From Technology Is So Elusive, and good question. “..for several years, economists have asked why all that technical wizardry seems to be having so little impact on the economy.” As the the Daily Beast piece notes: “Past economic revolutions—from the steam engine to the jet engine and the internet—created in their wake a productivity revolution. To be sure, as brute force or slower technologies lost out, so did some companies and classes of people. But generally the economy got stronger and more productive. People got places sooner, information flows quickened, and new jobs were created, many of them paying middle- and working-class people a living wage.” Not so now.

It’s because the new tech oligarchs are not creators. These so-called disintermediators are the new middlemen and the apotheosis of the very thing that they’re so-called disrupting. Namely, the middlemen.

Says the Daily Beast, …”over time grassroots Americans may lose their childish awe of the tech establishment. They could recognize that, without some restrictions, they are signing away control of their culture, politics, and economic prospects to the empowered “tools.” They might understand that technology itself is no panacea; it is either a tool to be used to benefit society, increase opportunity, and expand human freedom, or it is nothing more than a new means of oppression.”

In retrospect, in heralding in the age of social, Esther Dyson was dead on when she called it Users in Charge. A while back, Mark Zuckerberg proposed to stop calling Facebook users ‘users.’ Wondered if he was feeling just a bit self-conscious, because at the end of the day, when you get down to it, who’s zoomin’ who? Onward and forward.

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