I was thinking about my last post and wondering after the why of just how [some/most/all] companies that start out with such large social promises of providing benefits to humanity, only to then at some point get their values so totally twisted around as to become true menaces to society.

In fact just yesterday in a Guardian (British paper) article, Google’s chief executive Larry Page has admitted that the company has outgrown its mission statement to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

So I spent a couple of hours this morning searching through a big stack of personal journals for some relevant quotes to help frame my recent conclusion as to why so much of the social progress that should have happened, didn’t happen.

From Michael Lewis book, ‘Next: The Future Just Happened’ (2001) –

Relationships between the upstarts on the fringe and the incumbents in the center:

1) Rules are established to create order and maintain profits for incumbents. Examples of rules are: social mores, professional licenses, government regulations, locked up distribution channels.

2) Cheaper technology suddenly allows for the bypassing of the rules.

3) Incumbents are fat, dumb, and happy with current monopolistic profits and their general situation, so they bad mouth any new stuff which threatens their incumbency, or profits or both.

4) Fringe players emerge to use this ever cheaper technology to simply ignore the rules.

5) Fringe players attract venture capital since there are great profits to be made underselling he incumbents.

6) Incumbents are in denial until their profits are really threatened and/or market share begins to erode meaningfully.

7) Chaos ensues; fringe players are threatened with lawsuits, government regulations, public shaming, etc.

8) Growth at the fringe accelerates, as it is the right way to do business using new technology.

9) Incumbents co-opt the fringe, or fringe players become the new incumbents and seek to establish new rules.

10) Go to 1

T. E. Lawrence arrived at more or less the same conclusion much earlier on. In a passage from his ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ (1922) he said, ” The morning freshness intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves. Yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake it in the likeness of the former world that they knew.”

So in my humble opinion, true social progress remains stalled because those of us that have made their way to the top of the food chain – the incumbents – have neither the urgency nor the interest to push their lesser brothers along. In fact logic seems to dictate that the incumbents are pretty damned happy with the way things are.

So what is going to bring about true social change? With that I mean things like equality, a more equitable distribution of resources, as well  improved access to education and other necessities like clean water and nutritious food?

Technology? I’ll let you keep that myth all to yourselves. Back in the early ’90s while employed by Intel I gloomily predicted to a couple of colleagues that ‘we were creating a future that none of us would want to live in’.

Legislate it into being? Rule it so? Sorry. The government as a solution can only be posited rhetorically.

Militarily? As in continue to expend vast sums of the American taxpayers dollars to both destroy and then rebuild other countries infrastructure in the hopes that they’ll catch on to our cool way of life, move to the suburbs and buy our products? No.

Revolution? Probably not. Kafka, from a front row seat once bitterly observed then postulated that, “Every revolution evaporates to leave behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.”

So what’s my prediction? I don’t have one and besides with so many variables it’s impossible to guess.  But if the variables in this circumstance can be reckoned to be like a bunch of concurrently spinning dinner plates on sticks juggled by a clown then one might hazard to say that there will be some broken dishes before it’s all over.

 

 

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