There is something about ‘disruptive’ tech startup culture that feels off. Wrong. Icky. It’s hard to define what that is. Companies like Airbnb and Uber provide services that the public genuinely want. And they do it by creating a peer to peer network, letting people sell directly to other people without the hassle of setting themselves up as an entire company. And yet … something’s not quite right. There’s no ‘there’ there.
Theorists talk about how Uber and Airbnb use technology to enable. To remove ‘big business’ from the capitalist equation. But they don’t. They insert themselves in the middle of every transaction. They are the big business. And they do so whilst being just different enough from traditional industries to neatly bypass all existing legal and moral safeguards that protect sellers and buyers.
Yes, there’s empowerment of workers. And there’s improvement of service for customers. These are good things. But there’s a disconnect between the clean-cut image of social enterprise and the reality that these are the new middlemen and they are creaming a fat profit off from each microtransaction whilst avoiding responsibility for awkward details like actual service provision.
Person to person networks with a giant fucking thing in the middle.
People are getting used to the idea that with social media, the users are the valuable commodity. You are the product being sold. The next cognitive step is to realise that the same is true of Uber, Airbnb, eBay, and so on. They’re all applying the same profit model. The modern business dream is to invent new methods of extracting value from your time and attention. And the social pressure to join in, to make these companies more money, is huge.
Person to person networks with a giant fucking profit-making thing in the middle.
The middle class disintermediated then reconstituted entirely through their participation in value extraction platforms.
It’s not quite the future I was promised.Tweet This