Move Fast and Break Things

This was a very good book by Jonathan Taplin, who also voices the audio book. It is part history, part memoir, part broadside against modern technology monopolies (Google, Amazon, Facebook), and he weaves it together nicely. His biggest point is that our modern infrastructure offers most financial reward to platforms rather than content creators, and that this is bad for society at large. I generally agreed with his point of view, as the examples he offers and data from the past 10–40 years are pretty terrible for creators. The imperative for art is that it drives progress; bureaucracies can maintain rights, but art is what drives improvements — through music, paintings, murals, and other ways of reflecting society back for people to see from a different perspective.

Along with the above, he offers a pretty specific takedown of Ayn Rand and her acolytes in Silicon Valley — most prominently Peter Thiel, but also of Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. What they promote is fierce individuality, believing this to be the greatest structure for independent action. They believe that the internet will be led by a handful of monopolists, and that technology is in direct competition with democracy. Those of us who value our democratic and republican governance structure should take offense to this, as they very clearly do everything they can to alter how our governance model operates; Google has one of the highest lobbying budgets in America, and Facebook recently claimed that title. If they truly believed in pure competition, as they suggest, would they really spend so much money shaping the laws that govern their competition? Our government is no better; they have changed the anti-trust philosophy from ensuring corporations do not get too big to evaluating the impact on individual buyers — a much more difficult thing to measure, and thus a much easier argument for large corporations to escape anti-trust laws.

What I think these and other Silicon Valley leaders believe is that they are operating in a new paradigm of technology. What it seems is that they are operating in an old paradigm of power. For example, Peter Thiel was happy and fine breaking the law through Napster, and for Paypal to usurp trust from banks, and for Facebook to harvest user data, but he was aghast and sued when Gawker published undesired articles about him and others. He says he believes in radical transparency, and yet he anonymously funded a campaign to have Gawker shut down because he didn’t like some of their content. He’s exceptionally hypocritical, which returns me to the idea that while he’s using a new medium of technology, it is better understood as a traditional power grab.

My big takeaway is that we should individually seek out methods of paying for content over paying for the platform — buy an album or song, rather than playing off YouTube (which is apparently horrendous for musicians). Try to avoid buying things via Amazon whenever possible. Tighten privacy settings on Facebook so they can sell you less. Seek out ways to encourage the up-and-coming talent, rather than depending on the corporate titans. It is a great book that offered interesting insights and perspective, and may well change how I live my daily life going forward. I would say that’s a measure of the quality of a book, and this one ranks high in that measure.