We should get back to inventing jetpacks

I don’t like using services like Uber, Twitch, or Favor. I want to like them, because the underlying ideas are pretty futuristic. But the reality of these services is that the new boss wants to squeeze their not-even-employess-anymore just as badly the old boss did. It feels manipulative, like buying a car. Except I’m abetting the manipulation too. :(

The New Yorker, THE GIG ECONOMY CELEBRATES WORKING YOURSELF TO DEATH:

The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear.

What happens when the gig economy tries to turn a profit? The race downwards will squeeze out all of their contractors until they can replace them all with automated drivers, commoditized personalities, and punitively-low ad revenue sharing rates. This sounds horribly dystopian but I’m pretty sure it’s already happening. See also: when Google kneecapped bloggers as a side-effect of end-of-lifing Reader and changing Pagerank.

The New York Times, Platform Companies Are Becoming More Powerful — but What Exactly Do They Want?

Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. And accordingly, platforms are the underlying trend that ties together popular narratives about technology and the economy in general. Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.”

After reading this, I started substituting “platform company” for “company building its own monopoly”. And then it all makes sense. Businesspeople say they love free markets, but give any rational-thinking business the chance and they will create so many “moats” and “barriers to entry” that they resemble tiny state enterprises more than a private business. See also: telecoms and airlines.

Anil Dash, Tech and the Fake Market tactic:

This has been the status quo for most of the last decade. But the next rising wave of tech innovators twist the definition of “market” even further, to a point where they aren’t actually markets at all.

Yes, my confirmation bias is burning. Yes, technologists are doomed to recreate the robber-baron past they didn’t study. Yes, we still have time to change this. Yes, our field needs an ethics refresher. Yes, we should get back to inventing jetpacks!

One thought on “We should get back to inventing jetpacks

  1. youll get farther more safely (and perhaps before youre 70) on a flying bicycle.

    passenger drones are more likely to be legal than jetpacks, because theyre safer. they also have powered hang-gliders and parasails, which are probably terrifying enough for anything you might use a jetpack for. and even though theyre impractical, theres a lot more to work with / start with than a jetpack would likely offer.

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