By Jim Towey
This week’s news reported that Apple’s market capitalization topped $3 trillion. Microsoft may soon reach that level, with Google (Alphabet) approaching $2 trillion and Amazon right on its heels, while Facebook hovers at the $1 trillion level (Toyota, by comparison, is about a third of Facebook’s size, and Exxon/Mobil is even smaller). All told, these five companies are valued at around $10 trillion, give or take a few tens of billions.
Ho hum. Not much news there.
And that’s the problem. We have grown so accustomed to the ever-increasing size and influence of these companies in our lives that we have lost awareness as to its implication. My main beef with the big tech companies and the artificial intelligence “advances” that have fueled their growth and profits isn’t about the monopolies they have formed, the adverse effects on small businesses along the way, or the stranglehold on commerce they now exercise. And it isn’t with what they have done to erode personal privacy and free speech protections.
Assault on Human Dignity
My chief concern with what these huge, unaccountable companies have done is their assault on human dignity and the social connections that bind us together in community and are necessary for our flourishment. Scripture says that we have been made “little less than the angels” and yet, more and more, we have been reduced to slavish subjugation to the tyranny of technology and the requirements that these mega-meta masters impose.
Our minds, bodies and spirits are paying the price for this domination. I recently came across an article about the “cognitive degradation” that comes with all the social media and technology bombardment. It made me ask myself: Have I fallen victim to the “theft of attention” perpetrated in large part by these companies and what they foster? Child psychologists have plenty of data about the skyrocketing rates of attention deficit disorder diagnoses, as well as spikes in levels of anxiety. The social media giants can’t wash their hands of responsibility for the mess they have made of many young people’s lives.
Facing the Music
Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed how Facebook manipulated its algorithms and users. The year previously, the docudrama, The Social Dilemma, viewed in over 38 million homes in the first month it aired, gave an insider’s account of how the engagement of its users was “extracted,” to their detriment. Americans seem to be waking up to the toxic effect of pervasive pornography on human relationships, and the damage being done to users of all ages. The emotional bond it creates with an artificial world is of the same cloth as what Mark Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” and other video gaming offers. These addictions, like all addictions, degrade human dignity.
Why did we think the tech titans would reform themselves? Did we think they would voluntarily reform their ethics and business practices knowing full well that it would shrink their profitability and shareholder wealth?
Fortunately, this year the tide will turn on the big tech and social media monopolies. The European Union is set to crack down on the American tech companies with new regulations on competition, content, and consumer protections. The U.S. Congress, too, seems prepared to act, after being asleep at the switch the entire time these companies grew to monstrous size and power. Reform cannot come soon enough. Human beings deserve better than a life under the invisible lash of tech and AI masters.