NewCo Shift
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NewCo Shift

Memo to Tech’s Titans: Please Remember What It Was Like to Be Small

Plus gutting the DOE, and it’s time to take a stand

Every single company that dominates our digital life these days — oh hell, let’s just call it what it really is, shall we? Every company that dominates most of our life these days — Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple — these companies all were born as upstarts — challengers who fought against the status quo, founder-driven scrappers who discovered new paths, paths which led to their ultimate ascendance.

But now they’re dominant, they’re incumbents. And that means they care as much — perhaps more — about maintaining their power as they do about maintaining the level playing field which allowed them all to prosper in the first place.

Let’s face it. The internet — and therefore our society — is dominated by massive players whose interests may or may not align with our own. Because of their startup past and their laudable founding mythologies, we love to root for these winners — but winners they are, and winners often get to set the rules for the rest of the game. The question is: How are they defining victory these days?

Well, a defining issue is now before us, and it has a familiar and almost careworn name: Net neutrality. Admit it — you’re tired of the fight. More than a decade later, we’re still in trench warfare, and the obfuscation of all sides is starting to deaden our passion. Is AT&T for or against net neutrality? Yes!

But what about the Internet Big Five — the winners who at one point were simple HTML shingles dotting a nascent world wide web; crazy, single-threaded ideas that, despite their fragility, anyone could find, share, laud and leverage? What if, back in 1998, Yahoo had paid AT&T for preferred bandwidth, and Sergey and Larry, cash strapped and unheralded, could not afford to pay? Google was built on speed — speed of access, speed of search results, speed of rendering. What if, instead, all you saw was this?

And what if Jeff Bezos, who famously drove across the country emboldened by his vision of an “everything store,” what if he was boxed out by book publishers who could afford to purchase preferential treatment from Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon?

And Mark Zuckerberg? Come on! A kid with a judgy photo-comparison site? Myspace or AOL can afford to keep him at bay, simply by paying a bit more for bandwidth that insures customers will keep coming their way.

Do we want the next class of upstarts to continue to push our incumbents to new heights (or to obscurity)? Or do we want, forever after, to be enthralled to those who have power now?

I know my answer to that. And I think those that lead our Internet Big Five know as well. It’s time for them to do more than issue pablum-filled press releases. It’s time for their CEOs to travel to Washington, and reconnect with the passion that made them who they are. Fill the halls of Congress with conviction and brimstone, and tell those fuckers to keep our net goddamn neutral.

The Department of Energy Is Just As Serious As You Think It Should Be. So This Piece Should Terrify You.

Look. Trust me. Stop what you are doing and give this Michael Lewis piece on the Department of Energy twenty minutes of your life.

I know, that’s asking a lot. But if you want to understand what happens when unserious people unaware of the impact of their actions take over our government, this story will soon become a touchstone narrative.

The Department of Energy is not run by political operatives. It’s responsible for managing our nations’ nuclear arsenal. It’s responsible for our power grid. It’s responsible for finding and containing nuclear materials around the world. And it’s been utterly gutted, ignored, and debased by our current administration. As Frank Underwood said in this season’s House of Cards: This is the death of the Age of Reason. Honestly, it’s that bad.

I honestly don’t care if you voted for Trump. You certainly did not vote for this. Did you?

Oh, and As Long As I’m Ranting…

Last week I implored that business must lead against Trumpism (second item). And while he’s on the wrong side of net neutrality, truth is, he doesn’t have a clue what that phrase actually means. But he sure as hell knows what he was doing when he let loose yet another head faking, hate-spewing Twitter rant, this time against transgender personnel in the US military.

And it’s good to see titans of our industry quickly stepping forward to condemn Trump’s vicious chumming of the water. But come on, fellas. This is who Trump is, at his core. It’s time to stop opposing him on the easy issues, and just start OPPOSING HIM ON PRINCIPLE. You run the most powerful companies in the world. With great power comes great responsibility. Stop rejecting his words, his policies, his tweets — and start rejecting the man, full stop.

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John Battelle

John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business