I am responding as a possibly somewhat representative user of technology. My background is earned a B.S.E., magna cum laude, in bioengineering (with emphasis in electrical engineering) from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982 and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering [with emphasis in materials science] from M.I.T. in 1990. Then did post doc doing computational fluid dynamics associated with designing crystal growth experiments for the Space Shuttle at the Center for Microgravity and Materials Research. Then career shift to environmental consulting doing air dispersion modeling and writing environmental impact documents for the last 20+ years.
With this background I have always had the attitude that a tool is not good or evil, it is what you do with it that matters. I have come to see companies / corporations as amoral because they are legal constructs. I believe societies, through their government (which is SUPPOSE to represent them, but as we all know, does so less and less these days) should have the goal of regulating corporations in the way that is “best” for the citizens.
Apart from that easier-said-than-done theory, I do not find myself “hating” or “loving” corporations, but being frustrated (and sometimes angered) by designs in their products that are meant to benefit them AT THE EXPENSE OF THE CONSUMER! And I appreciate designs that are meant to benefit the consumer. Seems pretty simple.
My father was a WWII vet and passed away only a few years ago. He had many tools, many of which he inherited from his father. Looking at those tools — some nearly 100 years old — I cannot help but make the comparison to today’s tools, the majority of which have a time-limited usefulness as a design feature. I have done a little online research into some of the tools I inherited. The history of these tools have technological advancements in them. And the early history of these tools all show the “better” tools “winning” over the other tools (with affordability typically creating a two tiers). But for every tool I research I find a point in the history where companies are acquired by those who put profit before all else. Before reputation, before quality, before consideration for their workers, before consideration of the users of their products. And an inevitable decline occurs, and frequently the company goes out of business after the “vulture capitalist” have bled the company of all its assets.
While today’s big tech firms are different in their pervasiveness into nearly every aspect of our lives (not just communication, but banking, our cars, our “smart” homes, etc.), with respect to being a consumer I see essentially the same issues as the ones I have found in researching the old tools that I have inherited. Namely, what are the concerns of those that design and build the tools. Do they take pride in their craftsmanship. Are they thinking about what is best for the user, or are they thinking how to make the most profit.
Because I, like most people I know, believe that all of today’s big tech companies ONLY care about profit, I have little to no brand loyalty and no trust of them. Everyone “knows” that Google, for example, will sell our search histories, etc. Same for FACEBOOK categorizing us. And we — maybe me more than others — have a very negative impression those that design obsolescence into their products. For example, I bought an iPad a few years ago. More and more I realized both its hardware and software are designed in such a way as to prevent the user from optimizing it and/or upgrading it.
Lastly, as I mentioned above, corporations are legal entities that are required to maximize profits for their shareholders. With current emphasis (requirement?) to do this on a short-term basis, I am skeptical that allows for them to deliberately act in ways that are socially beneficial. ALSO, all the business models I know about (admittedly, not that many) rely on an ever increasing market share and/or profits. In a world that we now know has limited resources, such models seem to me to be antithetical with sustainability. It is these last two points that I am most interested in seeing addressed.
Please excuse typos, etc. as I am obviously not going to have an editor review what I have written.