Big Tech Watch Davos 2022 and the Fourth Industrial Revolution Amay Korjan and Avantika Tewari January 25 | 8 min read
A New Social Contract for the Data Age
An instructive, even if odd, place to begin our inquiry into a changing social contract in the digital society might be the distinct archetype of the repentant Big Tech defector. These individuals, ranging from executives, developers, investors, product managers, inter alia, follow a seemingly similar narrative arc. From playing pivotal roles in shaping the course of Big Tech, they now provide confessionals in the Augustinian mode, screeds warning the world at large of the disturbing chaos that surrounds them. Former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya, speaks contritely about creating “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”; billionaire hacker, early Facebook investor, and Napster founder, Sean Parker, now identifies as a ‘conscientious objector’; García Martínez, the former Facebook and Twitter executive tells us about how “throwing the elections” was a watercooler joke at the Twitter headquarters. Many of their clarion calls would have one believe that we are inching towards the Deleuzian ‘Control Society’, “where mobility is fostered inside certain strictures of motion, where openings appear rather than disappear, where subjects (or, for that matter, objects) are liberated as long as they adhere to a variety of prescribed comportments”. This isn’t to suggest that the seeds of change lie with individual Big Tech reformists, but rather to illustrate how Big Tech’s phenomenal power to undermine democracy, the rights of citizens and workers, scares even those who have been its beneficiaries.
However, as Laura Mann puts it, “They [Big Tech] are firing on all cylinders. So must we!”.
This special issue on A New Social Contract for the Data Age, through interviews with four leading feminist voices – Deborah James, Laura Mann, Kate Lappin, and Anita Gurumurthy – explores the core of Big Tech’s usurpation of the data commons, the melding of real economy value chains with data value chains, or what Kate Lappin identifies as the unique challenge of factoring in “the commercialization of every part of our lives, the commercialization of every interaction we have through digitalized data”. The interviewees also explore and imagine new, focused heuristics and modes of resistance rooted in the urgency to popularize the idea of data as public good, the need for regulating Big Tech, and the path forward for producers in the Global South to gain their share of value in the global digital economy.
Read the latest interviews from the Special Issue on A New Social Contract for the Data Age below. Watch this space for the latest outputs from this series. ↑
Anita GurumurthyOctober 8 | 7 min read
Kate LappinOctober 6 | 11 min read
Laura MannOctober 4 | 12 min read
Deborah JamesOctober 1 | 12 min read