Friday, January 23, 2015

A New Book Claims the Internet Has Bred a Different Type of Capitalism

From Motherboard:
On a former industrial patch five floors of glass and steel luxury rise skyward. Bebo founders Michael and Xochi Birch recently launched the Battery, a new hangout for the Silicon Valley elite which, in the owners’ words, will “build community and understanding in San Francisco.” There’s no dress code and they want a diverse clientele.

“So I asked if I could join,” said Andrew Keen. “And they start mumbling and looking at their feet. They say you have to be invited.”

In his new book The Internet is not t​he Answer, Keen rubs up against the “Silicon one percent” to document what he sees as a profound hypocrisy—an elite made wealthy by the internet, co-opting the language of “community” while privatizing public life in every direction.

“You’ve got wealthy Oakland residents crowd-funding thei​r own militias,” he told me in a phone interview. “Google have superimposed Google Bus on San Francisco’s public transit system. These companies are eating away at the idea of public society.” The so-called Google bus is the private shuttle service that recently​ sparked protests as a symbol of gentrification and over the way it used public stops.

A British-born writer and a prominent critic of the web since his 2008 best-seller The​ Cult of the Amateur, Keen occupies an unusual position in the Valley. He is an entrepreneur who’s worked on startups like Audiocafe but is now most famous as Silicon Valley’s rebel critic, a businessman-turned-pundit emphasising social responsibility. His new book fights the current tendency to recommend the internet’s model of networked capitalism as the solution to the world’s social, political, and economic problems.

“There’s this belief that the internet’s the answer to everything,” he explained, citing venture capitalist Shervin ​Pishevar’s call to “Uberize the government.” (Pishevar later tweeted that he was joking).

With the disintermediating tools of the digital sharing economy, traditional mediators like agencies/small-ads/labor exchanges are replaced by networks. Such networks have a phenomenal edge in matching supply and demand (hence the massive success of something like ​Airbnb) but in Keen’s view would make a disastrous choice for managing government and economies....MORE