I’ve been on something of a virtual tour for my new book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. It’s the first book I’ve written since Life Inc in 2008 that hasn’t recounted the process by which corporations and capitalism replaced business and commerce, and how most of Silicon Valley’s ignorance of that history has put them and their companies at the mercy of an economic operating system they mistake for the laws of nature.
Instead, I’ve been talking about more current missteps, such as how bitcoin unnecessarily recapitulates the extractive and speculative biases of central currency. Invariably, someone will get up to say I don’t understand how crypto works (I do understand how it works, and more importantly how it could work). But even more people ask where these extractive biases and addiction to growth came from in the first place. That’s why I’m pointing people back at my earlier books about exactly this problem.
I never wanted to write about business or economics. I was into digital technology and the early Internet as extensions of human consciousness. The fact that a few business people thought they could make money off this stuff was superfluous to me. If anything, I believed, the values inherent to peer-to-peer networking would soon break capitalism’s hold over our civilization.
But in 1999, I got a phone call from the New York Times OpEd page to write a piece on the AOL-TimeWarner merger. Really? I knew nothing about stocks and corporate acquisitions, but I figured I would wing it. So I took a look at the situation, and applied the lens of a media and technology theorist to the deal. AOL’s stock was an all-time high, but its subscription rate had started to peak. Steven Case, the founder, was cashing in his inflated shares by purchasing a real media conglomerate with studios and magazines and amusement parks and a cable TV company. In my analysis, this meant the Dotcom boom was about to go bust.
The NYTimes wouldn’t publish the piece. Everyone there thought I was nuts, and that the merger would augur a new “synergy” between old…