How the internet has Destroyed Us

The internet, its many evangelists tell us, is
the answer to all our problems. It gives power
to the people.
It’s a platform for equality that allows
everyone an equal share in life’s riches. For
the first time in history, anyone can produce,
say or buy anything.
But today, as the internet heads towards
putting more than half the world’s
population online, all this promise has
The dream has become a nightmare, in which
I fear we billions of network users are
victims, not beneficiaries.
In our super-connected 21st-century world,
rather than promoting economic fairness, the
net is a central reason for the growing gulf
between rich and poor and the hollowing out
of the middle classes.
Rather than generating more jobs, it is – as
I will explain – a cause of unemployment.
Rather than creating more competition, it
has created immensely powerful new
monopolists such as Google and Amazon in a
winner-takes-all economy.
Its cultural ramifications are equally chilling.
Rather than creating transparency and
openness, it secretly gathers information
and keeps a watch on each and every one of
You need only have read the stories this
month about how smart TVs can spy on us in
our living rooms to realise that Orwell’s vision
in Nineteen Eighty-Four, of a Big Brother
society, is becoming a reality.
Because such TVs are connected to the
internet, they can watch us and listen to us,
then beam that information around the
world for companies to use for commercial
And thanks to the explosion in social media,
rather than creating more democracy, the
internet is empowering mob rule.
This month, after years of social networks
being scarred by appalling personal abuse
and bullying – leading to several suicides –
Twitter, which has 288 million users a month,
finally admitted there was ‘no excuse’ for its
failure to stop its users sending vile messages
to the targets of their hatred.
The company’s boss, Dick Costolo, admitted:
‘I’m frankly ashamed at how poorly we’ve
dealt with this issue. It’s absurd.’
An increasingly common kind of online
attack involves the threat of rape against
For, rather than encouraging tolerance, the
internet has unleashed such a distasteful
war on women that many no longer feel
welcome online.
Pornography is so ubiquitous on the internet,
and controls denying access so inadequate,
that many parents rightly feel their children
are at serious risk.
And when people are not looking online at
other people with no clothes on, they are
looking at themselves.
Rather than fostering an intellectual
renaissance, the internet has created a
selfie-centred culture of voyeurism and
Far from making us happy, it is provoking
and channelling an outpouring of anger at
the world around us.
Of course, the internet is not all bad. It has
done tremendous good in connecting
families, friends and work colleagues around
the world.
The personal lives of three billion internet
users have been transformed by the
incredible convenience of email, social
media, e-commerce and mobile apps.
Yes, we all rely on and even love our ever-
shrinking and increasingly powerful mobile
devices. Yes, the internet can, if used
critically, be a source of great enlightenment
in terms of the global sharing of ideas and
The app economy is already beginning to
generate innovative solutions to some of the
most pervasive problems on the planet, such
as mapping clean water stations in Africa
and providing access to credit for
entrepreneurs in India.
But the hidden negatives outweigh the
positives. Under our noses, one of the biggest
ever shifts in power between people and big
institutions is taking place, disguised in the
language of inclusion and transparency.
Rather than providing a public service, the
architects of our digital future are building a
society that is a disservice to almost everyone
except a few powerful, wealthy owners.
It’s easy to forget the crusading intentions
with which the internet revolution began. But
then the mantle passed from the techno
wizards and visionaries to businessmen.
The internet lost a sense of common purpose,
a general decency, perhaps even its soul.
Money replaced all these things.
Amazon reflects much of what has gone
wrong. Now by far the dominant internet
retailer, it has achieved this position by
crushing or acquiring its competitors and
selling everything it can lay its hands on.
It has felt the need to expand so ruthlessly
because in its type of e-commerce, margins
are extremely tight and economies of scale
In 2013, Amazon made sales of $75 billion
(£49 billion) but returned a profit of just $
274 million (£178 million).
To succeed, it has to make itself a virtual
monopoly, stifling rivals along the way.
Inside the company this is known as the
Gazelle Project, after founder Jeff Bezos
instructed one of his staff that ‘Amazon
should approach small book publishers the
way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle’.
The book trade – which is where Amazon
began – was initially quite enthusiastic about
the new arrival but now sees it as a predator
as shops close down, unable to compete.
In Britain there are fewer than 1,000
bookshops left, down a third in a decade.
As Amazon expands into more retail sectors –
from clothing, electronics and toys to garden
furniture and jewellery – it is having the
same effect there.
The impact on jobs is huge. While bricks-
and-mortar retailers employ 47 people for
every £65 million in sales, Amazon employs
just 14, making it a job-killer rather than a
‘Robotisation’ in its warehouses may reduce
job numbers even further, until eventually
Amazon eliminates the human factor from
shopping completely. The ‘Everything Store’ is
becoming the ‘Nobody store’.
Then there is Google, which discovered the
holy grail of the information economy with its
search engine sifting and indexing the mass
of digital material on the worldwide web.
Last year Google processed 40,000 search
queries a second, equal to 1.2 trillion
searches a year. It controls around two-
thirds of searches globally, with 90 per cent
dominance in markets such as Italy and
The service is free to use. Advertising pays
the bills and makes the profits.
The irony is that Google was invented by a
couple of idealistic computer science
graduate students who so mistrusted
advertisements that they banned them on
their homepage. Now it is by far the largest
and most powerful advertising company in
history, valued at over £260 billion.
Unlike Amazon, its profits are mind-
bogglingly high. In 2013, it returned nearly
£10billion for its investors, from revenues of
nearly £39billion.
And Google’s power increases every time we
access it. Its search engine becomes more
knowledgeable and useful the more it is used.
Every time we make a Google search, we are
helping it to grow the product.
Last year Google processed 40,000 search
queries a second, equal to 1.2 trillion
searches a year
Even more valuable, from Google’s point of
view, is what it learns about us. And Google,
for better or worse, never forgets. All our
digital trails are crunched to provide Google
and its corporate clients with our so-called
‘data exhaust’.
From this concept other internet services have
developed, including Facebook, Wikipedia,
the business networking site LinkedIn, and
self-publishing platforms such as Twitter and
Most pursue a Google-style strategy of giving
away their tools and services free, relying on
advertising sales for revenue. In the process,
they have created significant wealth for
their founders and investors.
On the surface, this seems like a win for
everyone. We all get free internet tools and
the entrepreneurs become super-rich.
But there is a catch. All of us are, in fact,
working for Facebook and Google for nothing,
manufacturing the very personal data that
makes these companies so valuable.
The result is another massive loss of jobs.
Google needs to employ only 46,000 people,
compared with an industrial giant like
General Motors, which is worth just a seventh
of Google’s £260 billion but employs just over
200,000 people in its factories.
For all the claims that the internet has
created more equal opportunity and
distribution of wealth, the new economy
actually resembles a doughnut — with a
gaping hole in the middle where millions of
workers were once paid to manufacture
Take the photo app Instagram, which allows
anyone to share their own snaps online for
others to see. When it was sold to Facebook
for £651 million in 2012, it had just 13 full-
time employees. Meanwhile, Kodak was closing
13 factories and 130 photo labs and laying
off 47,000 workers.
It is, frankly, our fault for choosing to live in
a crystal republic where cars, mobile phones
and televisions – hooked up to the internet –
watch us
Or WhatsApp, the instant messaging platform
for which Facebook paid £12.4 billion. In one
month it handled 54 billion messages from its
450 million users, yet it employs only 55
people to manage its service.
That’s because we are the ones doing most of
the work. In this e-world, the quality of the
technology is secondary.
What’s important — and what is actually
being traded when these companies change
hands — is you and me: our labour, our
productivity, our network, our supposed
Yet for our input in adding intelligence to
Google, or content to Facebook, we are paid
nothing, merely being granted the right to
use the software free. And that’s what is
driving the new ‘data factory’ economy.
The whole point of the free Instagram app is
to mine its users’ data. Our photos reveal to
Instagram more and more about our tastes,
our movements, our friends. The app in
effect reverses the camera lens.
We think we are using Instagram to look at
the world, but actually we are the ones being
watched. And the more we reveal about
ourselves, the more valuable we become to
From social media networks such as Twitter
and Facebook to Google, the world’s second
most valuable company, the exploitation of
our personal information is what counts.
These companies want to know us so
intimately so they can package us up and,
without our consent, sell us back to
Another great irony in all this is that the
internet was created by public-minded
technologists such as the English academic
Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of
the World Wide Web, who were all indifferent
to money, sometimes even hostile to it.
Yet the internet they produced with such high
humanitarian hopes has triggered one of the
greatest accumulations of wealth in human
Jeff Bezos has made £19.5 billion from his
Amazon Everything Store that offers cheaper
prices than its rivals. Facebook co-founder
Mark Zuckerberg has accumulated his £19.5
billion by making money out of friendship.
In 25 years, the internet has gone from the
initial idealistic banning of all forms of
commerce to transforming absolutely
everything into profitable activity. Especially
our privacy.
Tim Berners-Lee never imagined that his
‘social’ creation to help people to work
together more easily could be used so
cynically, both by private companies and by
governments. Yet that’s what is happening.
Jeff Bezos has made £19.5 billion from his
Amazon Everything Store that offers cheaper
prices than its rivals
As the internet transforms every electronic
object into a connected device, we are
drifting into a world where everything — our
fitness, what we eat, our driving habits, how
hard we work — can be profitably quantified
by companies such as Google.
Faceless data-gatherers wearing all-seeing
electronic glasses watch our every move. Our
networked society is like a claustrophobic
village pub, a frighteningly transparent
community in which there are no longer any
secrets or any anonymity.
We are observed by every unloving institution
of the new digital surveillance state, from big
data companies and the Government to
insurance companies, healthcare providers
and the police.
Google and Facebook boast that they know us
more intimately than we know ourselves. They
know what we did yesterday, today and, with
the help of predictive technology, what we will
do tomorrow.
And it is, frankly, our fault for choosing to
live in a crystal republic where cars, mobile
phones and televisions — hooked up to the
internet — watch us.
Far from being the answer to our problems,
the internet, whose pioneers believed it would
save humanity, is diminishing our lives.
Instead of creating more transparency, we
have devices that make the invisible visible.
The sharing economy is really the selfish
economy. Social media is, in fact, anti-
social. And the success of the internet is a
huge failure.

Culled from

views expressed are not necessarily the opinion of blog author.

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