You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A FaceBook Friend
OK, I shouldn’t have gone overboard in a previous post (on the Sleeper Curve) about the wonders of new technology and computer games – particularly at the expense of the book. There was a point to make, regarding popular misconceptions about computer games, but I did over-egg the pudding somewhat. Anyway, as a corrective, here is a rant about our new Internet age: a technological step forward that, like fate in a Carla Bruni song, promises all but delivers nothing.
So here’s the curious thing. High tech companies are the shittiest possible vehicles for creating wealth, yet people invest in them like there’s no tomorrow. Despite one dot com bubble, the plummeting stock price of crapola like MySpace and many other such salutary examples, people still believe. Microsoft paid $8.5 billion for Skype, Youku (China’s version of YouTube) had revenues of just $60 million in 2010 and a share price that at one point this year valued the company at a ridiculous $7 billion. None of these companies are worth the money. Here’s more: Twitter’s estimated market value is $8 billion and the alienation engine Facebook is $75 billion (according to Bill Bonner). And the money used to buy these Mickey Mouse companies is precious: it is the investment capital that could be used to invest in R&D to cure cancer, get us to Mars, develop electric cars or modernize industrial production. It could create so much, yet it will all be flushed down the world-wide-web toilet.
And that’s the real kicker: all this technology has an opportunity cost, it is making us poorer and destroying jobs. That’s right, all those nice phones, Internet; computers, machines, the silicon dream (as Hazel O’Connor would have it) are screwing up the economy good and proper. Evidence? The last decade has seen a transformation of the Internet from a University research tool to a mass-market entertainment industry. In America this is perhaps the most striking. With 69% of households having access to the internet today.
But for all their IT, the Americans are worse off. In the year 2000 the US of A had 113,899,000 full-time jobs. Ten years later it’s 112,618,000. And for this same decade real GDP growth has gone backwards too (Thanks again to Mr Bonner). And this is the land of Silicon Valley, Microsoft and Apple. If they’re not becoming richer thanks to this technology, who is? Chinese prison officers perhaps?
The only people who really benefit from the technology boom are (some of) the people employed in it and a number of entrepreneurs. Not trailblazing inventors like Kellogg who invented breakfast or Kalashnikov who made the machine gun cool, no. These are mediocre shitheads like Facebook’s Mark Zuckenberg and Peter Thiel the ‘inventor’ of PayPal who wants to live on an artificial island like a Bond villain because he thinks Ayn Rand had a semblance of an inkling of a grasp on the reality of human nature and society (which is wrong).
You see the big con is this: that traffic on the Internet is the same as economic activity. It isn’t. People use the internet to waste time (productive time that makes workers less efficient) and to get stuff for free. It is why the music industry, publishing, newspapers etc are shedding jobs like crazy. It also destroys specialist retailers who find they cannot compete with online warehouses. Let me repeat: The Internet does not improve the economy.
Soon the serpent will start to devour its own tail. The i-phone will kill off the Internet cafe, the tablet will see off the games console and the app store will deal the death-blow to the computer games shop. IT is a blind alley as far as economic activity is concerned. It provides short-term gains for the lucky few, it destroys jobs faster than it creates them and leeches investment monies that could be used for better purposes.
Well, that’s enough of that, I was even starting to even believe my own post there (and that’s never a good sign). If nothing else, I hope that did enough to counter the impression that I was a cheerleader for the frightful new media that plague our existence. Ho-hum, I wonder who’s on Twitter?