Quasi-Government Entities: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon…

I suspect more people today would consider the following plausible…that is, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, etc., have become so large, so culturally embedded, and so globally influential, they are coming to be regarded – characterized as quasi-government entities!  At minimum, each seems to already possess or moving toward the requisite hallmarks.

What’s more, the quasi-government characterizations bandied about…may oblige shifts to new modes of corporate governance, i.e., stewardship, oversight, and management as implied by Senate Judiciary Committee hearings that were held in late 2017.

This characterization, i.e., concept – model of quasi-government entities for the 21st century arising from specialized technology…could conceivably, press these and other comparable technology firms possessing comparable global sway to, at some point, in the not-to-distant future, to commence treating their customers, consumers, and ‘friends’ in citizen like fashion! This is a position put forth by Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, along with numerous others. https://www.brightidea.com/resources.

Conversations are being – have been initiated…regarding how these social media – shopping – search engine platforms, have purposefully transitioned from being…

  • relatively innocent ‘show, tell, and buy’ platforms to…
  • representations of billions of people’s (personal, professional) identity, and
  • politically, economically, and socially influential,…
  • but, wholly under private sector ownership and control.  https://kpstrat.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=6571

Of course, the above refers to the dominance and intensity…which these platforms ala Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, etc., are influencing people’s – user’s behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs both positively and adversely.

Kevin Kelly asserts https://www.brightidea.com/resources there is a moral obligation to increase the amount of technology in the world, which he (Kelly) translates as creating possibilities and opportunities. And that’s sort of what technology is, Kelly claims ala creating possibilities and opportunities.

In other words, technologies role is to increase the variety, the diversity, the options, and the possibilities…that humans have available. Admittedly, Kelly is somewhat of a maverick in his thoughts and actions, noting that in 1952, the year of his birth, was the time the word “technology” first appeared – was uttered in a U.S. State of the Union address.

The word “technology” derives from the ancient Greek word ‘tekhne’…which encompasses ‘art, craft skills, and ingenuity, etc.

Kelly defines ‘technology’ more broadly, to encompass anything…that’s produced by – is the product of minds, human or animal, it doesn’t matter. So, in Kelly’s view, when a beaver (animal) builds a dam, that’s technology, not dissimilar to when humans build a dam, either would be technology.

Smart phones, for example, are a collaborative product of hundreds of intertwined technologies…which Kelly refers to as a system or ‘the technium’.  In this context, technium is more than merely the plural of technology, rather, a technium is a (technological) ecosystem, i.e., an ecology with its own and variously unique behaviors which are extensions of an evolutionary process that function within the technium.

Krista Tippet, host, Radio Public, ‘On Being’ https://onbeing.org/ suggests…I think you (Kelly) would describe ‘technologies’ to be comparable to such products as aspirin, cotton clothing, metal pots, and telephones.  That is, because these ‘tangible – physical things are not living beings. But, tangibles (the physical things) have become integral to our lives, and frequently enhance our lives, even though they are, by today’s standards, examples of rather low-tech (tangible) technology outputs.

To that point, Kelly argues…such low-tech tangibles, quite possibly, have more impact on human lives than their high-tech (more intangible) counterparts. But, there is another perspective which Kelly puts forth.  That is, most of the tangible things people produce with and through our minds, i.e., intellectual, structural, and relationship capital are old.  On the other hand, we tend to think of technology, being most anything invented after we were born, when, in fact, most tangibles were invented before we were born.

This includes institutional things like libraries…not merely things which, if dropped on our toes, we would sense pain, ala the time-honored, but pathetic explanation for the difference between tangible and intangible assets. Again, aspirin, cotton clothing and pots and pans, are, in many respects, as technological as one’s smart phone. But, many humans are not inclined – receptive to recognizing them as such, still, they have, in some ways, far more impact on us than we realize.

There is no argument that the acceleration of global technology…has irreversibly produced countless changes, perhaps starting with what, when, where, why, and how we do certain things. Again, Kelly argues technology was originally characterized-perceived as…

Similarly, Ms. Tippett suggests, many people are now engaged in another reality…that is, we are obliged to reckon with the moral force which many of these technologies have – are influencing us on so many different levels, while still trying to (simultaneously) manage our lives while using these technologies. Me, I’m just curious how we will work all that out.

Kelly; technology is, for the most part, complex…many of us have spent four or five years in school, variously challenging practice and study, just to learn how to read and write with reasonable proficiency and understanding…

  • so why should we expect that social media and other technological platforms, etc., can – could – should be learned just by being in proximity to it?
  • but, it appears, in many instances, that’s precisely what’s occurring.

Yes, as Ms. Tippet points out, it’s challenging for humans to recognize…just how ‘new and young’ most technologies in use today really are, ala the infancy of the internet.

Perhaps in part, its because some of these technologies, ‘feel to us’ as being…

  • so globally powerful, influential, and persuasively addictive.

I’m wondering, Tippet asks, if, at some point…humans will look back, perhaps 20 or 30 years from now, and recognize how reflexively (a.) buying a preteen a smartphone, (b.) may not be wholly dissimilar to, (c.) buying that same preteen a lifetime supply of cigarettes, or (d.) not requiring the use of seatbelts in automobiles.

Twenty – thirty years ago, humans, for the most part, did not…have – hold much practical concept of personal – user safety, of course, that all changed. So, Kelly believes, our (a.) gravitation, (b.) advocacy, and (c.) use of social media will change as well, in the future that is. And at some point, humans will look back and ask…

  • should we have handled – addressed those things differently?

The structural, intellectual, and relationship capital routinely spent to…refine and redefine technology and it role, influence, and agency, are necessary and evolutional paths for technology.

Tippet states, rather matter-of-factly…is the fairly-rapid evolution taking place, especially in the last few years, i.e., the incredible power, influence, and increasingly consolidated ownership of the digital world by relatively few companies, ala Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter, etc…

  • have achieved power and social influence beyond what most political superpowers ever have, particularly, in terms of how many humans they reach and influence hourly and daily!

So, here is a somewhat supercilious question…‘what technology wants’ for humans, is intriguing and carries some human agency in terms of the various ways humans globally, will respond to it. Too, there is this current sense that, the technologies which are largely being increasingly woven together, ala

  • what technology wants – needs, i.e., what Apple, Facebook, Amazon. and Twitter want, and Bezos, Zuckerberg, Cook, et al, prefer humans do next.

Underlying those companies, are personal inclinations, operating philosophies, and core values of…

  • go fast, go hard, go global…
  • move fast, break things, fix’em later…
  • disruption, no matter what…

But, as some believe, it turns out thoseinclinations, philosophies, and values are (may be) at odds, if not in direct competition. Question; is this what humans want? I, for one don’t know, neither do I know, at this-point-in-time, know how to begin framing a reasonable response to the question.

For sure, a lot of the new wealth…be it largely in the form of intangible assets, which these mega-companies, i.e., Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are merely the product – outcome of mathematical and algorithmic inevitabilities, referred to as ‘network effects’ which is the value of a network’s intangible assets!  A network’s value increases by the square of the number of members, users, and/or friends it amasses. https://kpstrat.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=287

This means there is an exponential increase in (company intangible asset) value…for just a geometric increase in the number of members, users, and/or friends a platform – network amasses.  So, integral to the changes technology will be inevitably be experiencing, it is critically important to recognize – reaffirm this universal economic fact…

  • 80+% of most company’s globally, their value, sources of revenue, sustainability, competitiveness, and future growth potential, lie in – emerge directly from intangible (non-physical) assets, not tangible (physical) assets!

This should be interpreted by ‘the intangible asset operationally familiar’…as an effect and strategy for sustainable growth and competitiveness.  To be sure, the words are not merely ‘jargonized’ language empty of process. This is economic fact and business operation reality.

The more lucrative and competitive…technologically and intangible asset intensive – dependent companies get, the more value that accrues and the more attractive and necessary these companies become to – for humans relative to communication and interaction – undertaking and conducting business initiatives and transactions.

As most operational ready individuals and companies recognize already…there are these various and significant network effects occurring globally, which means that things ‘balloon up’ very rapidly, sometimes at ‘keystroke speeds’,  hence, the world experiences a few winners which variously impact – influence, and occasionally surpass all else that’s currently available.

To be sure, there will be, as there are today, certain companies, i.e…technology intensive-dependent conglomerates, that rise to the top, for good reason, i.e., their indeterminate competitiveness, horizonal thinking, assessed value, sector domination, and ‘lives touched’ hourly and daily.

Perhaps, not-so-good, for the long term…there remain those who argue such dominance may-will be short-lived, relatively speaking, until those conglomerate – dominant firms variously experience some level of unraveling. One only need to consider the revisionist strategies Facebook is proposing, undertaking, experiencing now as one potential example.

On the other hand, something which has seldom, if at all, been faced previously…at least in era of dominance of intangible assets and technology, is, there are no specific nor proven pathways to select what and how to act when companies rise to this scale, ala 2.07+ billion Facebook users today.  Just identify for me please, one person who believed (stated) this may be a circumstance that would emerge in 1995?, or who, rationally, objectively, and publicly, predicted Donald J. Trump would be elected President of the U.S. in early November 2016?

Kevin Kelly makes a variously plausible case that…Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter, etc., have, in-essence, become quasi-governments, which may oblige one or all to shift to, heretofore, never experienced, new modes of corporate governance. This notion of quasi (corporate, private sector) governmental status could, not inconceivably, press each company, and others, to, at minimum, re-think, if not commence treating customers, consumers, and ‘friends’ more like citizens!

While it may be doubtful any such a scenario will come to fruition…precisely as stated, it does present many very intriguing perspectives, one of which, obviously, is that the mere size and global influence a company may be positioned to facilitate or enable globally, in terms of culture, communication, and interaction, etc.

Too, should the notion of quasi-government status be legitimately pursued…at some point, irrespective of motivation or rationale and be legislatively debated somewhere, one could assume such a debate would include obligations of fairness and equitability of access, etc., that platformed companies as these have never dealt with previously.

Yes, this ‘legislative debate scenario’ may be improbable...even implausible, but, it may not wholly vanish. Instead, perhaps it may become somewhat of a new normal…

  • in which citizen users and relevant corporations could, in-the-not-to-distant-future, find themselves in positions whereby they may turn to collaborative development of certain standards, practices, and expectations for how these technology – intangible asset intensive – dependent entities (platforms) are to function and perhaps even, partially re-purpose.

When any one company, be it headquartered in the U.S., China, or India, executes a platform...(public or private) whereby there are multiple billion and growing numbers of users hourly, the realities of governance, i.e., stewardship, oversight, and management, will have various and significant effects on political and legal systems, democracies, and public speech!

It is conceivable some of these company’s CEO’s and boards have anticipated…and, ‘gamed out’ this or similar scenarios, and already put in motion ‘influence’ to mitigate its reality.

My reality remains…through my intangible asset lens, most companies, boards, stakeholders, and decision makers are very likely ‘making it up as they go along’.  So, their outcomes, whatever they may be, will still require substantial inputs of intangible assets, i.e., intellectual, structural, and relationship capital!

The above post was written by Michael D. Moberly, having been influenced by Krista Tippet’s ‘On Being’ program that aired on public radio on January 18, 2018.

Michael D. Moberly January 23, 2018 St. Louis [email protected] ‘The Business Intangible Asset Blog’ since May 2006 https://kpstrat.com/blog  ‘where one’s attention span, intangible assets, and solutions converge’!

Readers are invited to explore other blog posts, papers, and books I have published at  https://kpstrat.com/blog/papers

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