As I studied the finer detail of Google’s ‘future of search’ presentation, I reflected on what has been a remarkable 20 years for the internet and its ecosystem. Not just in respect of the rise of careers in ‘digital’ and ‘digital companies’, which is astounding in itself, but the speed at which the digital evolution has consumed us all like the pious at a post-fasting luncheon.
Not everyone’s a winner mind you, many established incumbents have fallen on the digital swords, short of the requisite marching pace required to survive. After all, you can’t bring a knife to a gun fight and expect to leave champion of the world. Few have prospered and continued as juggernauts, onwards, to greater and greater conquest and market share.
It feels indulgently nostalgic and risqué to talk of those businesses who flirted with and feigned early successes, but ultimately failed to maintain the critical momentum required to succeed in this latest version of the online landscape.
The late 90s dominance of Yahoo (remember them?) springs to mind. I remember smuggling into a game of ‘Hearts’, the card game where you seek to dispose of your suited hearts and that pesky queen of spades ♠️, the height of high society and fun endeavours in 1998. You win by dropping a hapless other with those cards. I’m increasingly of the view that whilst GAAF (Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook) have played a good game, the rest of us are left holding all those bleeding hearts.
What type of future is created when the GAAF have indomitable strangleholds on device, behaviour and experiences, where it matters, where everyone always is without interruption, online.
The historians may draw comparisons to other great revolutions, what the Guevara and Bolivar types would, I imagine, paint as the perfect state. As revolutions that came before the digital one, it’s sought to erase the past and create a new future and one would have to be an uncharitable type to argue it hasn’t done that.
It’s often forgotten that revolution leaves many behind, if they’ve been fortunate to survive with their heads intact in the first place. Revolutions tend to start with a popular manifesto, only to devolve in actuality to something far removed from that with an added spoonful of suffering.
I would offer these challenges to the revolutionists ideals of ‘do no evil’ types and their kin:
Is it truly freedom of information when Google provides all of your knowledge?
Is it truly freedom of life when addicted technocrats spend all their time on their electronic devices?
Is it truly freedom of choice when businesses are swallowed whole and fed to the retail Goliath that is Amazon; offering you the only remaining selection of 35 Black slogan T-shirt’s in the world?
Is it truly freedom of speech when the social platforms are used to influence elections and shout down more moderate viewpoints? I’d describe my most recent experiences of social threads as streams of overblown consciousness, laced with irrational outrage and a dollop of fake news to create the ultimate construct of garbage propagation these channels now are.
As a society we embrace a suicide, loneliness, mental health and obesity epidemic, endemic data misuse, isolationism and nationalism, some may argue totalitarianism and at some point a glance must be cast towards these controllers of the world for the parts they’ve played as entities more powerful than nation states. It’s not me Guv fails to cut it for me. Don’t even get me started on tax arrangements. Power concentrated in so few hands rarely leads to something positive. The history of war teaches you that.
It’s hard to understand how we functioned before it. People can’t REALLY remember what it was like before internet services took over their life….and what do you mean this Cafe doesn’t have free WiFi?! It’s a god damn human right now Leonardo! Take your frappa-wappa-crappa-Cino back.
Those trying to impart ‘analog’ experiences of how life used to function pre-GAAF are given the odd looks and derision in other times reserved to those condemned to the mad house.
Those ignorant to the new reality come across quaint and rudimentary in the setting of modern life. I overheard a conversation of a dad with his son on the train, as he explained how he spent his weekends letting off firecrackers and doing up his car, in an earnest, if not alarming effort at father-child bonding. A dazed look, a grunt and a shake of the head later, and young Timothy was once more engrossed in his phone with a puzzled dad looking to the carriage for none forthcoming validation. Right? Right? …
Was it even imaginable, the reality we experience now my friend?
Had you been heard crowing the demise of Toys R Us, high street music shops and BHS, you’d have been given the wide berth and short shrift more familiar to peddlers and doomsday preachers. How can this have come to be, and with such little fanfare, as long standing institutions topple like a domino rally. If a heritage business collapses on a high street does it make a noise? Or does the betting shop replace the fixtures and fittings in silent and solemn remembrance?
I took a stroll around the Lincoln warehouse that once was the towers of Toys R Us before it closed. What a sorry experience it had become. Toys laid strewn across half the shelves there once was.
I recalled how thrilling it used to be if my brother and I had convinced my mother to sanction a trip to the toy shop of dreams it once was. You’d be forgiven for thinking those businesses outside the realms of the top 4 are restricted only to profit warnings, administration and an acrimonious breakdown to rapid closure in recent years…
20 years ago as a child you couldn’t envision a better experience than filing through the shelves at Toys R Us. With retrospect you wonder how it lasted so long, and why you would need such a large space to display stock in a retail outlet.
How can you run a successful functioning business without these platforms? It’s become practically impossible without using the influence they’ve consolidated, and the price to play continues to rise into perpetuity.
Of course the GAAF have also brought many, many great things with them… but as those Monopoly players will know, the game loses fun when there’s hotels on everything, and you’re left with old Kent road and a few closely guarded 1’s in an increasingly difficult struggle to reach Go.
I’m going to stop looking down at my Apple phone, whilst googling directions, checking reviews on Facebook and buying that slogan tee on Amazon now.
Who knows, I might even see something.
Chris Barnard is Managing Director of FeedbackFans.com. Feedback Fans is part of a collective of global technology companies working towards a common goal of improving experiences that include: retail, leisure, finance, education, gaming and business services. By developing unique state of the art solutions and environments, and combining this with strategic execution, we ensure our clients and users prosper in the digital age.