Wealthy Time Travelers
Karl Marx never thought about the manipulation of time itself
“Your early adopters are the geeks, the adventurous, the risk-takers. The Late Majority are reluctant. The Luddites only use it when they’re forced to.”
Before I dropped out of business school (to, you know, start a business), I took an archaic course with an ex-IBM executive called simply MOT — The Management of Technology. In-between stories of old-business chess moves and strategic back-stabbing, we learned that virtually all “technology” and new products will live and die as they get picked up by different types of people.
Before “startups” were a common phrase, big corporations tried to stop the bleeding when they saw a new product failing. With each new trend came hype — and failure to live up to it. This only got worse as startup pitch decks carried over into product marketing and behind-schedule development.
I started seeing factors outside of simply risk and being a Luddite. Access to new technology and new products required a certain baseline of wealth. You had to have your basic needs, your family’s necessities, your savings to survive an unknown future handled — all before you could even consider “should I buy the new X?”
There were emerging “Trickle Down” effects of new technology:
New software, gadgets are afforded exclusive use first by the elite wealthy, then released to the rest when a next frontier is found.
Corporations now test and harness AI — the artificial, automated equivalent of mass labor. Not long ago, things like mobile phones were only installed in Mercedes Benz convertibles — giving select corporate executives the ability to “take the office with them.”
Technology is iterated. It becomes commonly available as time marches to a point when the wealthy have new interests. The tech is then released to the market of the commons to continue funding the 21st-century tech lifecycle.
Consumer power (purchasing power) to create demand consolidates to those who control the majority of the money spent, rather than the number of people demanding it.
In the 3rd world, this looks like the basic clean water and electricity shortfalls we appease with short-term charity. In the 1st World, it looks like a bunch of relatively poor people chasing iPhones, saving little (having little to save), and spending huge proportions of their declining income on tech and things promoted as necessary for inclusion in society.
We follow and sacrifice to quiet our core fear of being left behind.
Wealthy “Early Adopters” continue to live in the future. When the rest have followed (been allowed access as the market dictates), the novelty and futurism of something like a smartphone is lost to late capitalism’s elites. Even bigger and better will not do. They must escape the masses by traveling ahead of the present and the common.
Time itself — where they live on on the time-space continuum — has become the differentiator.
The new bourgeois take residence in walled gardens of the future. The modern proletariat are in the past. They romanticize times when they saw and created the future alongside the titans of industry — even if they didn’t own the means of its production.
What falls, trickles down to us now seems to appear mysteriously.
“I noticed it last week — it automatically pulls in your [private data] when you…”
“Did you see what [Facebook/Google/Apple/Amazon] is doing now? Crazy.”
With all of the unexpected and weird events we so rapidly accept as fact and the present world — is it hard to imagine the wealthy living in the unknown, the secretive, the future?
In my eager American idealism growing up, I heard often (asked to hear) stories of American consumers in the 1950s. In particular, when they would gather around the showrooms of the local car dealer to see the latest models released. All across the US, salesmen pulled off the covers to incredible machines like the ’57 Chevy to audible “ooos” and “ahhs.”
General Motors had made sure complete secrecy was kept leading up to the unveiling. Each year had a new design, new features, new wonders for a post-World War America desperate for the next great thing to conquer. It was an annual event, and the car — like Ford’s Model T — was within reach of most Americans. Cadillacs and Lincolns and the rarer foreign luxury cars were still possible, one day, on a clear and dreamy path.
When an update comes to our phone’s apps every day or so now — we rarely notice or remember the changes after a few hours. The new logo or feature is lost in the wash of constant change. Even the engineers, the builders of the new things, no longer understand the complexity, the substance of what has been made.
We’re made to perform a new set of actions. The cost, the purpose, the effects are unclear as we accept the change and tap away to stay included.
Mitch Horowitz told of Wallace D. Wattles’ “get rich” technique of using New Thought in the early 1900s. Among the Carnegies and Rockefellers and Fords of the time, he saw their businesses and industries creating the means to lift up all: shared technology and tools that would be inherited by the masses in a kind of capitalism-first Socialism (Karl Marx would call this the natural actions and inevitability of Communism). Wattles’ mystical prosperity mindset was a means to carry up all classes of people.
But how can you ride the wave when your mind itself is captured? When you do not have access, or choice of access?
Big Tech and startup culture pitches a stunted, incomplete Marxism.
The marketing lines to “create [X] for all” never actually converts . Users (commoners) have become training data for their machines. I say this having used the same process to test and validate products my team (or sometimes just me) thought would change things for everyone.
I mean, how could a Data Directory (Read: glorified digital phonebook) not help everyone?
Often, the “problem” being solved is not common. We all like to beat up on ridiculous things like the Juicero as being the extreme excess of serving spoiled “Silicon Bubble” people. It’s harder to see how Uber might create divisions beyond the Uber Black option as a modern Cadillac upgrade. The reality of those driving being unable to afford an Uber themselves — in time or money — is hidden in the unconverted promise of an “on-demand cab service for all”.
I do use Lyft, and occasionally Uber. Lyft has a nicer feel, with its fist pounds, front-seat copilot status, and pink mustaches. At the end of the ride though, the effect and business model is basically the same.
Am I contributing to some greater inequality? Am I pretending to be rich?
There was a time when I helped fight for the disruption of the cab industry. Government councils and regulations seemed to be the real injustice, ripe for letters to the editor of local newspapers and to the officials themselves. They had been around for so long, it was easy to fight for the “rights” of the new and the untested.
Tech has had its pass on rookie mistakes. Google is now 20 years old and creating its own ethical dilemmas. Amazon is 24. I didn’t know what I was doing at that age, but a huge company with thousands of years’ experience should know enough to set intention, be transparent about outcomes, and set ethics as its first priority.
If there is a rising time-space inequality from the control and capture of AI, human attention, and the future itself — we should stick around after the next unveiling.
What does this mean?
Why did they really release this?
Who does it effect and how?