As vaccines start to roll-out and combat this seemingly endless pandemic, a cure for the ballooning wealth inequality is nowhere in sight. Gradually developed during the third industrial revolution, the lopsided social hierarchy exacerbated by our growing reliance on technology will most likely be more deadly than the virus itself.
While wealth gaps are nothing new, the ascent and reliance on Big Tech for survival is unlike any other time in history when technology was just an accessory. While governments are busy figuring out the next stimulus check, Big Tech has gripped society by its balls. Technology not only controls the flow of information but is a productivity tool that empowers all facets of modern day life from communication, education, work, et al. Antitrust lawsuits filed by governments are only validation that Big Tech is getting too powerful and too intertwined in just about everything we do. There is no end in sight given that stimuli are only adding more fuel to the fire. Moreover, Big Tech is the only developing breed left to lead technology forward in this competitive winner take all environment.
Within the many areas of tech itself, a data divide is furthering the success from the failures. Companies that have troves of big data are winners and those that don’t are left in the dust. This is primarily attributed to the shift towards AI & machine learning where more data generates better functioning models and hence better products. Imagine a search engine that didn’t display the most relevant results. It probably would not be able to compete for users and thus ad revenue. Good luck creating a search engine from scratch. Or imagine a car that could not drive itself in the coming years? It probably would depreciate on the lot before being scrapped for metal, so good luck competing with Tesla, Detroit. Big Tech is only going to get bigger, stronger and more powerfully concentrated at the top while also favoring those financially at the top.
Even though most have Internet access and a base layer of information by default, namely Google, the tools and means in which we interact with them are crucial to one’s success in this digital era. Influencers on Instagram would not cultivate the same number of followers if they took photos with anything less than an iPhone Pro or a Youtuber wouldn’t have the same type of engagement if videos were not edited in 4k. Perhaps those with anything less than a year-old Apple powered device would not be able to drive for Uber. Or even kids growing up without access to the App Store would be at a learning disadvantage. While these seem trivial, it is not during a growing wealth divide and as technology products and services also diverge in price and attainability. Nothing is getting cheaper but the top will continue to have access to these tools while the rest have to scavenge past page one on Amazon search for discount alternatives or perhaps succumb to the many money-leeching financing options available further shackling one down. Many alternatives are less likely to deliver the same amount of productivity and un-productivity will amplify over time causing even more separation between the haves and have-nots.
By signing up as a user to Big Tech, one is now at the mercy of tech and on a one-way path. A social network can censor information, a seemingly eco-friendly company can change its charging cable, a marketplace can increase the price of any product, etc. All on demand and without notice or input by you or governments. Try to veer off and be left behind. Can’t afford to change and be left behind. There is no stopping the top from gaining even more advantage while tech has an all encompassing grip over our lives. The top also have a vested interest in Big Tech so as tech shares appreciate so does their wealth, and so does the gap. Looking back at 2020, those who struggled to save their business or lost their jobs most likely missed out on one of the greatest stock market surges in history, thanks to the frivolous money printing. Big Tech now sets the rules and controls the livelihood of just about everyone who relies on a digital device.
As governments impose authoritarian lockdowns and social distancing rules, our lives have become more reliant on technology to survive. While governments set rules to govern and try to ensure a smooth functioning society, technology provides tools that enable society to be productive and grow albeit unevenly favoring the top. Big Tech has superseded the governments in many ways and can steer society and its revenue figures however it wants. The world is at Big Tech’s mercy. The wealth and information divide will continue to accelerate with unknown but likely dire consequences. Antitrust rulings will only add more fuel to the fire and lead Big Tech to manipulate and tighten their strings even more. Perhaps being strangled is better than being FANGed.