There is a lot of talk about evil corporations. But enough about google.
On the other hand, maybe not, because google is part and parcel of what is going on. Its pattern is disturbingly the pattern of how wheels are coming off American businesses. And the failure mode is more and more the failure mode I’ve been observing for my own industry, or at least my own industry as it was.
First a clarification: I was born in late 62. I never considered myself a boomer. And before you scream that boomers go to 64, let me explain: I swear to you they didn’t use to. My brother, born in early 54 was considered one of the youngest boomers. And if you look at the ethos of the generation and what formed it, and how its public image was created and also when they came of age, you’ll understand that makes a ton more sense.
The boomers were the baby boom after WWII. By the time I hit school, the classrooms were half empty, the trailers that they’d added the decade before were being used for craft classes or gym or something that required tons of space.
It would take a long time to come home if you were still being born in 62. (And I’d been due in 63.)
This is important simply because I want to make it clear when I came of age it wasn’t with the boomer ethos of “each generation is going to be bigger than the last and we’re going to remake the world in our image.” That expectation is still obvious in books of the fifties and sixties, as well as the attached Malthusian panic.
The boomers, like now the millenials, are a much maligned generation. The public image is almost not at all that of the people in the generation I actually know, with a very few exceptions.
The people the media chose to highlight were the ones they wanted the boomers to be, not who they were.
But something about the boomers is true — ironically the reason that caused them to hate my generation before they decided to aggregate us, because it gave them more power to still be considered young and marketable-to — and that is that they were raised in the expectation they would make the world a better place, and that they could because of sheer numbers, and because they’d been brought up to be better than their parents.
Look, I’ve never bought into the “greatest generation” stuff. I saw it as a Jungian appeasement of the boomers towards their aging fathers whom they’d “sacrificed” in more ways than one. I’m at heart — or at back brain — very Roman. To explain why would take more uncomfortable biographical revelations than I have time for, including “because that’s what I was brought up to be.”
I get this dance very well. First comes the sacrifice, then the deification.
Did the World War II generation rise to the challenge? Yes, they did. But in a way they’d been brought up for it: a generation grown to continue Europe’s long war, because the previous generation had been eaten in the fields of WWII.
And can anyone blame the veterans, coming back from yet another European abattoir for wanting to put an end to the cycle?
Obviously something had gone wrong in Western civilization and it needed to be stopped. The next generation were going to be a brand new beginning. They were going to make it all better.
Did I mention the serpent in the garden? You can’t make the garden without the serpent.
A lot of the crazy of the sixties, and the unmaking of society was what the boomers were explicitly raised to do. A lot of the poison in our cultural waters was the rebellion of the veterans of WWII. An understandable rebellion, but one that threw the baby out with the bath water nonetheless.
However, even the boomers who weren’t raised on utopian ideals, who weren’t told the world was theirs to remake, even the ones who didn’t protest (or fought in) the war, even the ones who were and are decent human beings were raised with the idea that it was theirs to change Western Civ to be more… humane. Or at least not to self-destruct in battlefields.
This created an ur-programming, a back brain thing. Even responsible boomers who cut their hair, got jobs and raised families had the idea that they were supposed to transform everything.
But Sarah, you say, you have that too. How else are you supposed to fight in the trenches of the culture war?
Waggles hand. In a way. Maybe. But it’s more that I’m at the forefront of admitting that we went very wrong somewhere, that utopia doesn’t exist, and that it’s time to go back to a more realistic approach to society.
That kind of looks like remaking the world if you squint really hard. In fact it is the thing that got my brother’s generation to hate mine when we were young. We were as reviled as millenials are now but for different reasons: we weren’t idealistic. We didn’t want to make things fairer. We were materialistic. We just wanted to make money.
It wasn’t precisely true. But coming to adulthood in the late seventies and early eighties, when Europe and the US had run off their legs economically, and with leftist governments restricting growth so that there were no jobs and houses were unaffordable, we were forced to be more realistic. We took jobs, any jobs. And we worked our asses off. And yes, we aimed to climb. And we put up with all sorts of unreasonable demands (which might not have helped the corporations stay connected to reality.)
So, back to the corporations.
There is a lot of talk about how corporations are evil. There has always been, as far as I’ve been alive.
It’s a little stupid and ignores the fact that corporations are people. (Yes, like soylent green.) Most corporations are quite small. Yeh family publishing business is a corporation, because it makes everything easier, including having a single publisher, and eventually inheritance of copyrights.
But the view of business as inimical, and the military as inimical was imbibed by the boomers with mother’s milk. To an extent business and the military (rather than ideologies divorced from the real world, facilitated by a society rich enough to be out of touch) were blamed for the European long war.
So when they finally joined business, it was viewed as a sell out, and it was almost immediately followed by a determination to change it from the within.
Almost all the hyper-politically-correct and, yes, often evil mega corps now had their origin with idealistic kids founding them or changing them to be more caring.
The problem is that business and social justice don’t mesh. Business wasn’t to blame for WWII. Business was just business. The wars weren’t a ploy of arms manufacturers. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
It was easy after WWII to look around and thing “who got rich” and then blame the whole thing on the armaments industry.
But the war was the result of too much technological change too fast. It’s possible that it can’t happen without causing social convulsion and war. (And that’s what makes me shudder for where we are now.) The two always happen together.
And armaments manufacturers got rich because the weapons were needed.
There is no great conspiracy of business to cause war (unless it’s in the sense that wealth causes crazy ideologies, which cause war.)
The people who went into business, built it or took over went in with the exactly upside down idea.
“We’re going to create a just world through business.”
That’s not what commerce is. Commerce doesn’t have that kind of power. Yes, I’ve read all the crap about advertising causing needs. It’s crap.
It ignores all the new products that fail: most of them. Regardless of advertisement, you can’t make the dogs want the food.
It was great for assuaging the conscience pangs of the people who pushed for war in service of their crazy ideologies and their wish for power: we’re the good guys. It is business and the greed for money that creates war. Business can create any need it wants, let’s create a wonderful world.
Again, that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.
To coin a phrase, business is the term for what we do together (eh.) It is a way to weld individuals into working for a mutual or collective purpose, that doesn’t involve the coercion of every one, or enslavement of every one.
Advertising is not a magical force. You can, yes, for a moment, briefly, make a product without purpose “popular” but all you’re creating is a bubble. And the next bubble will be harder, and the next harder.
Mostly advertising works to show people things they can use or which will improve their lives. As an early tech adopter, I can tell you we don’t jump on every new trend, just on the ones we have a good expectation will help us.
Which brings us again back to corporations.
Doing good by doing well is how google started with “don’t be evil” and ended up partnering with Chinese totalitarians and claiming it will be YUGE. (It won’t, but that’s what we’re going into next.) AND what led them to create a crazy authoritarian company in which if you’re the wrong political color you’ll be destroyed.
Because they think they serve something bigger than SIMPLY serving people by making money.
And we see this everywhere else.
Recently I gave up on Team Viewer which I used to connect to the home computers (three) when I travel.
It started manufacturing insanity, accusing me of using it for “commercial purposes” and demanding I pay a subscription as a company.
Now, at first I thought it was due to the number of my computers, but the first one they bricked was the one I almost never used.
It turned out that it was random. They’d pick an account to yell at, and a random computer to brick (brick in the sense that you couldn’t connect to other computers from it using team viewer.) saying you’d used it the maximum number of hours that month.
I’m using this example, because I wasn’t alone. It was ALL OVER the net. Apparently someone at corporate decided this was a good move. Perhaps they didn’t have enough subscribers. I can well believe that. I can also tell you as someone who found the program incredibly useful that if they’d offered something like $5 a month, subscribe, we can keep track of all your stuff better, and you’ll have access to customer service, I’d have gone for it. I couldn’t afford corporate rates, but I could afford “individual subscription” or “Small business” rates.
Considering it was the most popular program for this purpose, I suspect they’d have done well, on small subscriptions but many of them. And it’s the sane thing to do if you think of business as a way to transact with people who aren’t FORCED to work with you, and to make money while providing something people need.
But that’s not the ethos of business, when the people running it think they’re in charge of changing the world and that advertising can do anything and “create needs.”
So instead they treated us as a crazy ideology treats its adherents or a government treats subjects. It made life uncomfortable and difficult and hampered the purpose we used it for, in the serene belief this would bring money flowing in.
Instead it brought us to researching alternatives and finding one that’s better than Team Viewer. And I bet we’re not the only ones.
It’s becoming a familiar failure mode, similar to what publishing did and to an extent still does, bringing the price of ebooks very high, so we’ll go back to buying paperbacks. (At the same time propagandizing us with “paperbacks take 100k to create, which means we’re losing money on everyone but mega bestsellers.” If they really believe that they need to fire their accountants and their entire offices, because they’re being taken for a ride.)
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. Business and advertising are not tools to herd the public. They’re tools to woo the public.
And business is not the dark force that moves the world. That is human nature, particularly when channeled through authoritarian institutions.
Businesses that try to remake the world don’t only fail. They take entire industries with them. And they create misery.
Build under, build over, build around.
The remorse of the veterans of WWII is coming home to roost in the person of their aging children.
And this is going to hurt like a mother, because the crazy is not just in tech or publishing. It’s everywhere and corrupting everything.
But life and business which is part of life must go on.
And we’re the lucky ones who see the need. So it’s up to us to keep civilization going when the rest falls.