In the early days of the most recent technological revolution, let’s say up until the mid-90s, tech companies were far smaller and either apolitical or quasi-libertarian with an attitude of "just leave us alone; we don’t need your help. "But that all seems long ago. As tech companies have grown in wealth and power, they’ve also taken a hard left turn politically, and this political turn is affecting many aspects of American life, especially media. Because tech companies are so big and so involved in your everyday life, it’s virtually impossible to escape this influence. Facebook determines the kind of content you’re allowed to share with your friends; Amazon determines what kinds of books become popular; Google determines what you see when you search for information about, well, anything.
Long, long ago – say, in the year 2000 – if you thought of media companies you thought of companies like NBC for news, Fox for sports on TV, Disney for movies. But change has been fast and dramatic; now tech companies control how Americans consume media. You buy your books on Amazon, you check your Facebook updates and your Twitter feeds for news, and you use Google search to fact check or find information. You likely do all this from your iPhone. And you are not alone; this is the way media is now consumed. Every day more and more media is produced by companies we think of as being "tech", not "media". Even traditional media is being taken over by the titans of tech; Google, Apple, and Netflix are now spending billions producing original movies and TV shows.
So much has changed in such a short time. The very definition of "media" has changed. It used to be that news and entertainment was produced by professionals; now young Americans and the global community consume content that their peers produce. A snapchat message, a Facebook update, a Twitter feed, a YouTube video; most media consumed by young Americans is produced in a format that did not even exist when their parents were growing up.
Twenty years ago, the current tech titans were either struggling start-ups or did not yet exist. But now, five tech companies–Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook – comprise the top five of the world’s biggest market caps, all located on America’s West Coast. Between these five companies exists a total combined cash reserve of 607 billion dollars. How big and disruptive are these companies? On November 16, 2017, billionaire investor John Malone said, "Amazon is a 'Death Star' moving in 'striking range of every industry on the planet'. On the same day this headline was published by CNBC: "Apple could be a $1 trillion company within the next year, top analysts say". His predictions were accurate, however he underestimated another big tech company. In September of 2018 Amazon and Apple became the first companies in history to be valued at over $1 Trillion.
The growing influence of tech companies effects every aspect of our lives. It effects how we perceive the world: we get our news from Google, we buy our books on Amazon, we get our movies from Netflix, we listen to music from Spotify, the returns on big tech stocks drive our investment portfolios, the cars we drive are made by Tesla or we just Uber, our children are educated with web based tools, our attention spans shrink as a result of social media, politicians use social media to sway our opinions, we try to get a job via Linkedin, we meet lovers on match.com and communicate with friends on Facebook. We talk to Alexa and use wired devices to monitor our homes. The list is endless. It’s not an exaggeration to say the influences of big American tech companies are changing our lives in just about every way. Some of these changes are superficial; some are quite profound.
Are these changes for better, or for worse? In some ways, certainly for better. Part of the reason that these companies have grown so large is simply because they produce excellent and useful products. Smart phones are ubiquitous; not just in the U.S., but around the world. The ability to search for any fact on Google or Bing and get an answer almost instantly is hugely beneficial in so many ways. Facebook and Twitter have brought many people together, both long lost friends and strangers with shared values seeking to change the world. Microsoft is a generally unloved company, but we all use Word, and most of us run Microsoft’s operating systems in our computers. Anyone who can’t see the great good brought about by technology has their eyes closed shut.
But we also have to open our eyes to the great negative changes that have been wrought by these companies. As part of the normal entrepreneurial process of "creative destruction", entire industries have been wiped out. Amazon provides an unparalleled selection of books, and great prices – they’ve also wiped out physical bookstores. Social media provides endless entertainment – as well as endless assortment of meaningless distractions at the expense of real social interaction. Having just about every type of media online is great; and also a great threat to privacy.
Overall, the US economy does not seem to have benefited much from the great tech boom in any real sense beyond the stock market. While in 2018 the rise in value of the big tech companies was behind most of the rise in the stock market, those values have not been reflected in the broader economy. U.S productivity grew 2.5% per year from 1948-2010, but only 0.7% per year since then. So while tech companies have become ever more important to investors and the stock market, that importance has not translated into actual gains in productivity. If anything, the reverse is true, which reminds us of the famous 1987 quip by Robert Solowm "You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics." This is not a recent development: The productivity paradox refers to the slowdown in productivity growth in the United States in the 1970s and 80s despite rapid development in the field of information technology.
One would think that young men would be the primary beneficiary of the rise of Big Tech. But while a few young men have become phenomenally rich through tech IPOs, and quite a few make very good salaries as computer programmers, the average American 30 year old man now makes less than he did 30 years ago, in inflation adjusted terms. ($821/week now as compared to $420 a week 30 years ago; or $868 when adjusted for inflation.)
The movement to online shopping has also decimated physical retail and malls across the country. But, these and many other impacts of the rise of technology have been much discussed and debated elsewhere. Our focus is on how the rise of Big Tech has impacted media and thus politics and culture.
The biggest growth stocks are multinational tech companies that have ruthlessly exploited international tax dodges....Alphabet, the parent company of Google, set aside just 18% of pretax income to pay taxes so far this year... Google espouses every sort of politically correct liberal cause on its homepage with Google Doodles, but in reality, they do everything possible to avoid paying taxes. They name conference rooms at their offices after leading female computer scientists, but their own employees have walked out recently after a massive sexual harassment scandal. Google, and in particular Google Doodles, remind us of an old joke from Ralph Waldo Emerson, " The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."
|Gay Pride/Equality||"Android is marching for Pride. Join the celebration."|
|Race and Culture||"Explore African American culture and goods."|
|Google Doodles to the Left|
Big Tech isn’t trying very hard to hide any of this bias. The heads of these companies are phenomenally rich, and they’re acting like big bullies, making sure their agenda is your agenda. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the world’s richest men, purchased the venerable Washington Post in order to push his agenda, and has purchased a big estate in Washington D. C. so he can have personal access to Washington insiders. The gay CEO of Apple, the world’s most valuable company, produces a version of the iPhone to help fund AIDS charities using shareholder money.
Bezos manipulated the entire country with his search for a second headquarters for Amazon, sending local politicians into a fit of groveling, with the New York Governor promising to change his last name to Amazon Cuomo. But in the end, after cities and states poured billions into pursuing HQ2, and after extracting promises of billions in subsidies from the "winning" locations, Amazon didn't deliver; there will be no HQ2 at all, just large satellite offices in Virginia and New York.
Now Amazon’s Alexa is in our homes, teaching our children biased and incorrect information that suits Big Tech’s liberal social agenda. Have you tried asking Alexa about socialism, how about Jesus Christ?
Check out this shocking YouTube video posted by Steven Crowder exposing Alexa’s most biased and liberal responses. While the content in this video is 100% not a hoax, many have claimed that it is fake. Alexa most likely changed her biased responses after the backlash to avoid the negative attention, you can get the raw unedited video of Crowder's experiment at the Daily Wire.
Mark Zuckerburg has produced a manifesto about how he can use Facebook to change the world, and his right-hand woman, Sheryl Sandberg, has hosted fundraising dinners for Barack Obama and published her own best-selling book espousing her agenda as well. Google routinely promotes in-your-face messages espousing liberal causes on its homepage.
These companies have also affected how capitalism functions in America. Big Tech companies are certainly not capitalists in any traditional sense of the word. Many of the companies lose huge amounts of money even well into their maturity. Amazon has made Jeff Bezos phenomenally rich, but only because public investors have been willing to continually bid up the shares of a company that reports losses more often than it reports profits. Elon Musk, founder of electric car maker Tesla and other companies, is wholly reliant on billions in public subsidies and markets that tolerate huge ongoing losses. Netflix has been around a long time and continues to regularly report huge losses. Traditional capitalism is about the ability to produce regular and predictable profits; some of the Big Tech companies, like Apple, produce huge profits and accumulate mountains of cash. But many others, like Amazon or Netflix, spend the money from increased revenues as soon as it’s earned. Others, like Tesla, seem to drive stock prices higher with no economic justification at all – outside of the ability to sell a distant dream.
Big Tech CEOs have become successful in an age when growth is fueled by debt. Investors seem endlessly tolerant of continuing losses even when companies are well past the start-up stage, and the CEOs of these companies are often paid monstrous sums even when they fail. In some cases, the corporate structure is specifically set up so that the company is not legally required to maximize profits, unlike a traditional corporation.
Companies like Snap have what is called a dual-class share structure, where the CEO and a small group of insiders have all the decision making power, even after the company has sold shares in the public markets.
MANY YEARS AGO I attended a media luncheon in New York. I was a junior magazine editor; the other editors in attendance were much more senior and included the editor-in-chief of a travel magazine. "Where were you born?" asked the editor-in-chief. "Indiana," I said. "Did you grow up in a trailer park?" he continued, clearly implying that he considered Midwesterners to be a bunch of badly housed rubes. These companies have not simply gotten big, they’ve become de facto monopolies. It’s hard not to deal with them in one manner or another, as they dominate within their respective industries. Samsung’s smartphone profits are tiny compared to what Apple makes on iPhones; Bing can’t catch Google, and Amazon has no effective online competitor at all. These companies are dominant, they know it, and they act like it.
Big Tech is insanely rich; Apple’s cash hoard of over $243.7 billion would be enough to purchase most of America’s biggest companies. When Jeff Bezos paid $250 million for the Washington Post, it was a pittance for him; at the moment he is the world’s richest man with a personal net worth of between $100-200 billion depending on Amazon's stock price.
It’s important to note, in terms of personal consumption, these people are so rich that changes in stock prices or investment returns are irrelevant, except on paper and as a means of keeping score. They don’t really care about making more money. What they care about is doing things that interest them and promoting their personal political agendas.
The vast majority of Alphabet’s projects don’t make money and never will, but with a huge cash cow from the online search business, the founders are able to use corporate money to fund their hobbies and personal interests which include the pursuit of their political and media agendas. Netflix has a business purpose when it creates original TV shows; for Google, putting shareholder money into making movies is just a way to fund a very expensive hobby.
If I have a mea culpa for journalists and journalism, it’s that we’ve got to do a much better job of being on the road, out in the country, talking to different kinds of people than the people we talk to — especially if you happen to be a New York-based news organization — and remind ourselves that New York is not the real world. As noted above, location matters. The five biggest tech companies are either located near Seattle (i.e., Microsoft, Amazon) or Northern California (i.e., Alphabet, Apple, Facebook). Traditional media is also geographically concentrated: mainly in L.A. for movies, TV, and music; and New York City for print media like books, magazine publishing, and newspapers. It’s a noteworthy observation that two of the three largest newspapers in America – the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal – are both produced in New York City and are New York-centric. The Washington Post, a paper that publishes strong political coverage, is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
New York and California are both liberal strongholds. The Senators for both states are 100% liberal democrats. Also, of New York’s 27 House Representatives, 18 are Democrats; of California’s 53 Representatives, 39 are Democrats. However, this does not reflect the country as a whole; the rest of the United States has a strong Republican majority, with a total number of 51 Republicans, 2 Independents and 47 Democrats in the Senate, and 236 Republicans compared to just 195 Democrats in the House of Representatives(there are currently 4 vacancies in the House). Nationally, Republicans hold 33 of the nation’s 50 governorships.
Culturally, the divide is even wider. New York City and San Francisco are both notorious for a sort of cultural liberalism at odds with the rest of the not so united states. To a great extent, this lack of reflection was demonstrated in the 2016 presidential election. New York City voted 79% to 19% for Clinton over Trump; in San Francisco, the margin was 85.5 to 9.4%. Yet Trump won 30 states.
The liberal biases of the media made them blind to what the rest of the country was thinking, and hence Trump’s victory was a complete surprise to the great majority of media professionals in New York and California. But most Americans don’t want what New York and San Francisco want. Most Americans support the death penalty and oppose gun control. Moreover, Google seems ashamed of U.S. veterans; a feeling not shared in Alabama. For Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg, Obama was the man; for those in Wyoming, he was the man who added $9 trillion to U.S. debt. Google makes tools to root out gender bias in movies; in Utah, people like movies where men and women assume traditional roles.