The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Is Technology Making Us Poor?
June 19, 2013, 6:17 am
Filed under: Comment

Ages ago I wrote about an embarrassing episode I had with Jaron Lanier.

Sure, it wasn’t as embarrassing as dressing up as a pirate while a sailor recounted being kidnapped by Somali pirates, but it was close.

Anyway, ever since that day, I have felt compelled to follow the work and thoughts of Mr Lanier. It’s as if it’s my way of making up for the fact that instead of trying to discuss the future of technology with him, I asked if the Microsoft beefburgers were any good.

So recently he launched a new book, however instead of talking about the power of technology, he talked about its potential [and reality] for economic destruction.

The bit that grabbed my attention was this:


“At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.

Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”


I love that.

Well, obviously I don’t love the destruction of the middle class – I’m not a bastard – but I love that he has come out and highlighted the potential darkside of all this technological advancement.

Of course what he’s saying isn’t new, others have said similar things – including me, which I’m only highlighting because I want to try and associate my name with the brilliance of Mr Janier, even though I rightly don’t stand a fucking chance of that happening – however the example he uses gives us tangible food for thought as opposed to the insane ramblings of those people who try and claim Google is to blame for everything wrong in the World … from the loss of privacy to societies stupidity.

Of course what he says has flaws.

The reason Kodak died is as much due to their lack of innovation as the rise of technology … but while you can’t stop progress, the economy of the future could end up being a pretty bleak for people, society and Governments given there may not be the jobs – and the pay cheques – to fund the lives of the people technology has discarded.

That or maybe humanities survival instinct will kick in and we’ll create jobs that don’t yet exist to keep the food on the table.

Or we’ll all end up working in a call centre … talking to people who can’t actually afford to buy anything anymore.

Jesus, how fucking bleak.

While I’m being extreme, Michael Moore said a similar thing in his first documentary.

GM had just closed their car plant in Flint, Michigan.

Outside the plant were some of the ex-car builders. He was interviewing them when one of them said,

“If companies keep making us redundant to maximise their profit, who is going to be able to buy the products they make anymore?”

Good point, though in the case of Instagram – and now Tumblr – it appears the new economy is not about making products that create sustainable profit, it’s about coming up with something that some fool will pay ridiculous amounts of cash for, based on the ‘strategy’ that ‘if they have it, none of their competitors can have it and end up doing something useful with it’.

Anyway, it’s a great book with some real food for thought and you can buy it here.

19 Comments so far
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That’s what your bank manager asked.

Comment by John

As for Lanier, I’ve seen that example quoted a lot and it really annoys me. Instagram may only employ 13 people, but the phone and computer industries without which it could not operate employ a heck of a lot of people.

Comment by John

Good post Robert but I agree with John, the comparison of instagram with Kodak is flawed given one offered their product for free whole the other had to drive the entire category.
The point Lanier makes is a good one but the example he uses to demonstrate that could be much better.

Comment by George

Yes, that’s a good point … but given the amount of stuff that is available for free, I still think the instagram comparison is an interesting one, despite its inherent flaws.

Comment by Rob

You and instagram are the worst combination ever concocted. For that reason alone, I’m sorry for kodaks demise. At least when they were alive and well they never created a product that made you feel it was acceptable to photograph every pointless and embarrassing incident in your life or others lives.

Comment by DH

The way Campbell uses instagram makes the paparazzi look compassionate.

Comment by Billy Whizz

You’ll be happy to know some people at work insist I don’t bring my phone to meetings because they’re fed up of me taking candid instagram pics.

What a bunch of Princes and Princesses eh!

Comment by Rob

Are you hoping yahoo will overpay you for this blog? Is that why you keep doing it? I’d say you are wasting your time but you’re so jammy you might pull it off.

Comment by DH

Says the man with a robot mower, cleaner and projector.

And ball. A fucking robot ball.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Robert 0. Billy 15.
Robert to serve.

Comment by George

Don’t forget the dogs, rabbits and star wars robots.

Comment by DH

I know when I’m beaten …

Comment by Rob

Every time you’re called out.

Comment by Billy Whizz

It’s not his fault, he’s half italian.

Comment by DH

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ by Julian Assange –

Comment by Todd Thornbery

It has been interesting watching Mr Lanier try to do press for the book..he has real difficulty breaking the argument down into soundbytes, apparently all we can cope with these days, because the argument is nuanced and reasonably difficult to get hold of (I’m only halfway through and have that strange vertigo feeling where I’m sure I’m learning something profound but I’m not quite sure what). I think that’s where his wobbly example comes from – you can get it quickly, but in simplifying it perhaps becomes simplistic.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful book, the man’s a genius and writes beautifully, and he seems to say things other people don’t want to hear, which is always good.

Comment by tom

The bit you say about “preparing to hear something profound but never quite being sure when you’ve got there” is a pretty perfect summation of the book.

I really like it but as some people say in the comments, the context of some of his arguments don’t entirely hold true – or should I say, don’t give absolute clarity – but for food-for-thought, it’s definitely great … especially as so many people view the digital era as having nothing but upside, which is obviously ridiculous.

Thanks for commenting Tom.

Comment by Rob

That Lanier guy looks like a member of UB40 after 10 years eating pies.

Comment by DH

I’m reading it at the moment and I’d second tom’s comment that it’s quite a nuanced argument. Lanier’s flaw is perhaps his need to relate everything to a real life example. People then pick holes in his examples rather than his philosophical arguments.

And tom, like you, I’m still at that precipice point where I’m convinced I MIGHT be reading the digital generation’s Martin Luther, that this is the Theses on the Door at Wittenberg for the 21st century. Or it might just be a load of amusingly concocted anecdotes dressed up in the language of “public intellectualism” (a la Gladwell…)

Comment by Adam

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