Borderlands Part 1: Digital Slavery & The Distant Cry for Freedom

Samuel P.N. Cook

Jan 11, 2022

As of 11 January 2021, Mark Zuckerberg was worth $116.2 Billion according to Forbes.

But poor old Zuck has nothing on Nicholas II.

In fact, neither does Elon Musk (clocking in #1 in the world worth $256 Billion).

On January 11th, 1917, the Tsar of Russia was worth an estimated $300 Billion (today’s inflation adjusted value).

It helps when you are the largest landholder in the world’s largest Empire, and you grant yourself a monopoly on the production and sale of Vodka in the coldest country on earth.

But just a few months later, the Tsar of Russia was forced to abdicate his throne.

Running a corrupt 300 year old regime in the middle of a devastating world war proved too much for even the Tsar or Russia to handle.

After his abdication, the Tsar’s cousin, the King of England withdrew his pending offer of a London exile under political pressure from Parliament.

But nevertheless, the former Tsar and his family with considerable connections across Europe were hopeful for an imminent escape to exile in Europe.

On July 17th, 1918 Czech and White Russian forces closed in on the Ural Mountains Industrial town of Ekaterinburg where the Tsar held Captive by the local Bolsheviks.

In the middle of that short summer night, the former Tsar Nicholas II, along with his wife Alexandra, his daughters Maria, Tatiana, Olga, and Anastasia, and his young son Aleksei packed up their belongings and moved to the basement to await their transportation.

Standing in the corner of the room, they were clothed in their formal affair, which covered their diamond encrusted undergarments.

The Romanov family was so wealthy that their family diamond collection was more than enough to support their lifestyle in exile.

When the door opened for what they thought would be their photographer, they were met with a sternly spoken death sentence, followed by minutes of what seemed like endless shooting.

While the former Tsar died almost instantly, it took several minutes for his daughters to die due to the protection their diamonds afforded them.

Tsar with a family

The Fall of the Romanovs was Shocking, but Predictable

The Fall of the Tsar, and the subsequent Russian Revolution of 1917 ushered in the Russian Civil War of 1918 - 1922.

The Fall of the Romanov Family took 306 years from its founding.

A Changing World Order by Ray Dalio describes how Empires rise and Fall throughout world history

the changing world order

While the sudden and deadly ending of the Romanovs was shocking at the time, it was entirely predictable according to Dalio’s model of history.

The Seeds of Russia’s demise were sown through its meteoric rise.

The decline that all Empires face always follow a meteoric rise in power and wealth (The U.S. is going through the same decline right now).

The case of the fall of the Russian Empire was spectacular in the way in which it happened, but not at all atypical.

Empires only fall when they overextend themselves, and their elites enrich themselves at the expense of the broader population.

While some Empires endure longer than others, they always come when both challenged by external competitors, but also collapse under the weight of their own internal divisions.

The seeds of the internal divisions that tore the Russian Empire apart are best understood through the story of Taras Schevchenko, the Ukrainian national poet whose writing and memory led to a movement that brought down the Russian and Soviet Empires in succession.

Oh, lovely maidens, fall in love,
But not with Muscovites,
For Muscovites are foreign folk,
They do not treat you right.

Taras Shevchenko, Kateryna, 1842


This famous stanza from the poem Kateryna was written by a Ukrainian peasant named Taras Schevchenko.

Kateryna was a peasant girl who was seduced by a Russian Army Officer.

When she became pregnant by him, she found herself ostracized by everyone in her village, leading to her tragic early death.

This poem is the most famous work of a man who inspired generations of Ukrainians to fight to recognize and live out their own national character.

Senchenko was born into Serfdom in the Russian Empire.

This meant that he was the property of his landowner.

He could not leave the estate without the express permission of his master.

He owned no property and could make no profits from anything that he did.

Growing up, Taras Schenchenko suffered beatings at the hands of his masters.

Because of his talent as both a writer and a painter, he graduated out of working in the fields and becoming the house artist of his master.

After moving from Ukraine to St. Petersburg, his work caught the eye of the elites of the Russian Empire, and he was purchased out of servitude.

But Schevchenko never forgot his native Ukraine, and he eventually made his way back there to join the faculty of a new university in Kyiv named after the Tsar.

While in Kyiv, Schenchenko met with members of the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a clandestine group dedicated to the liberalization of the Russian Empire.

Based on his writing in the poem Dream, which personally insulted the Czar’s wife, Schenchenko was sentenced to 10 months of hard exile.

Throughout the rest of his life, Schenchenko became a firm advocate of both Ukrainian language and heritage, and also the emancipation of the Serfs in his native Ukraine and across the Russian Empire.

Since his death, Schenchenko’s work and legacy have been to become the national hero of a country that finally gained its independence in 1991.


Serfdom, Property Rights, & The Russian Revolution

Just 3 weeks after Taras Schevchenko’s death, the Tsar of Russia finally began the process of emancipating the Serfs of Russia.

Just 5 years before, Russia had suffered a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War.

Despite its vast territory and population, the Russian Army was no match for the industrialized forces of the French and British Empires.

Forced with the reality that it had to modernize, the Czar begrudgingly started the process of freeing its serfs.

In the aftermath of the Black Death in Western Europe, landlords suffered an acute shortage of labor.

Therefore, they were forced to largely abandon the practice of Serfdom (effective slavery for peasants), and grant them property rights and some small stake in the performance of their land.

The long term impact of the emancipation of the Serfs led to the innovations in Agriculture that created the Artisan class in Western Europe.

The Artisan class gave rise to the Renaissance, which then made way for the scientific and agricultural revolution of the 18th century.

The vastly improved agricultural production of Western Europe created an excess labor supply that fed the industrial revolution.

This all went back to the centrality of property and individual rights that became part of the Western European historical trajectory.

These kingdoms and later nation states seemed weaker than the great Empires of the world at the time (China, and the Russian and Ottoman Empires).

But ultimately, they benefited from the fact that its lowest workers had an incentive to find more profitable crop yields.

The reason for this came down to the fact that while life was by no means perfect or close to equitable in Western Europe, everyone down the lowest farmer had a small stake in the system.

They owned their small piece of land and could profit from their own hard work and any surplus they generated.

If you made a surplus on your land, you could keep it, sell it, or trade it for anything you liked.

While Western Europe created a world where property rights were inherent in the system, this was not the case in the Russian Empire before the abolition of Serfdom.

As much as the Tsars tried to reform their system, it was fundamentally too hard for them to change.

Even after the abolition of Serfdom in 1863, the reforms the Russian government implemented did not go far enough to satisfy the peasants and their demands for real property rights.

While technically ‘Free,’ the Serfs still owed ‘Rents’ and ‘Taxes’ to their landowners which effectively tied them to the land.

While the situation did improve, peasants in Russia had far less property rights than their Western European peers.

In 1905, the peasants rose up against the Czar in the First Russian Revolution.

The Czar and backed by his feared secret police the Ochrona (the precursor to the KGB) managed to quell the revolution.

But the Tsar still had to compromise by setting up a Duma (parliament) and offering more reforms and property rights to peasants.

Subsequently, crop yields in the Russian Empire rose to their highest level of all time.

But still, the rights of the Peasants were not close to those of their Western Peers.

And fundamentally, the reason the Tsar could not reform was because of the entrenched interests of the aristocracy that relied on the rights already granted to them at the expense of the peasantry.

Why Mark Zuckerberg May Suffer the Same Fate as the Tsar of Russia

I have created a detailed history video here that explains why Mark Zuckerberg is like the Tsar of Russia.

history #1 - Taras.jpg

Mark Zuckerberg is a historical figure who has created untold wealth in the form of the Meta Empire he recently rebranded from Facebook.

He brilliantly seized upon the Original Sin of the Digital Age that was committed (not so innocently) by Google whose unofficial motto was Don’t Be Evil.

This brilliant book by Shoshanna Zuboff outlines the foundation of the Web 2.0 Economy.

It’s based on the principle of Surveillance Capitalism that she outlines in her book.

As Jaron Lanier explains brilliantly in this video for the New York Times.

The creators of the Web Economy in the late 1990s and early 2000s knew exactly what they were doing.

In The Agricultural Age the key source of wealth was arable farmland.

Those who controlled the means of production owned all of the wealth (like the Tsar of Russia).

The Industrial Revolution catapulted energy above land in terms of the ultimate natural resource and form of wealth.

The digital Revolution moved Data to the top of the hierarchy when it comes to wealth creation.

At the time they created the digital economy we all inhabit, nobody knew the value of their data (except the high priests of the digital economy).

So we happily traded the rights to our data (not knowing its true value) for access to ‘Free’ services that we came to rely on and then became addicted to.

And the thing about data is that its value rises exponentially rather than linearly.

The more time we spend creating data, the more value we create for the system.

But the more data a system manages to collect, from more people, the greater the value of the overall data set, and the greater its defensibility.

Data is a lot like accumulating land - it creates an asymmetric advantage that your competitors find hard to dethrone.

Google is not going to be easy to dethrone as a search engine, because it gets better the more data we feed it.

This is why Microsoft for all of its wealth was never able to make Bing close to what Google created.

The same thing goes for Social Networks.

The more time we spend on a social network, the more invested we become in the system.

The more invested we become in a system, the more we draw our friends and family into the same system.

70% of all value created in the technology world since 1994 comes from Network Effects.

Network effect

Because we spend time in these places, it becomes a social prisoner's dilemma.

If you want to connect with people, you have to spend time on the platforms where everyone else is spending time.

And the more time we spend on these platforms, the more value we create for the networks.

While we get their services for ‘Free,’ we certainly pay the bill with our time.

Because our time is so valuable for the network’s advertisers (who pay the bills) there is an ever increasing demand for our time.

The more activities and things we do on these platforms, the more value we create for the companies and their shareholders.

But ultimately, what good does that do for us?

In the Tsar of Russia’s system, the more time you spent on the land, the more profits you made for your landlord.

Your property rights were sufficient to give you many benefits for the extra work you put in.

In Western Europe, the more time you put into the land, the more potential profits that you created for your landlord you could at least share in.

This subtle but profound difference made all the difference between systems that survived and thrived and the complete breakdown that the Russian Empire suffered.

So while the Tsar of Russia was the richest man in the world right before he died, the entire system he built came crashing down as a result of his greed.

Even when he tried to reform the system, the entrenched interests would not let him reform.

The same thing will happen to Facebook.

I think that fundamentally the founders of Google and Facebook understand the monster they have created.

But the business model they have built is based entirely on ad revenues where our time is packaged and sold against our own best interests.

The more time we spend on their platforms is inversely proportional to our own best interests (we want quality time vs. the most quantity of time).

To rebuild their business models from the ground up to address this inequity in our interests vs. those of their shareholders is a lot like the crew of the Titanic trying to avoid the iceberg.

The big question is, will they be able to make the transition to serving the users, or will they suffer from a Digital Hunger Games Style Revolution?

The Taras Shevchenko of the Intelligentsia of the Digital Age

In Tsarist Russia, the poets and the writers held a privileged place in society.

Taras Schevchenko was part of a larger movement called the Russian Empire’s Intelligentsia.

Not allowed to criticize their government directly, Russians turned their eyes and consciences to their poets and writers to give voice to their unrepresented grievances.

Therefore Russian Literature went from being the backwater of Europe to the richest and deep literature in the world.

But it also cost men like Taras Schevschenko his freedom and ultimately his life.

In the digital World, a similar movement is afoot among the high priests who created the digital world we inhabit.

Tristan Harris, a Design Ethicist at Google once noticed that what he was designing for Gmail was going against the interest of his users.

He wrote a scathing presentation that circulated through the company and briefly found the attention of the founders.

Then nothing happened.

So he quit his day job and founded the Center for Humane Technology and starred in the Social Dilemma.

It was this documentary that first opened my eyes to exactly what the stakes are in the system we are trying to create online.

The Social Dilemma

The people you will see in this documentary are the ones that have educated me on where we went wrong, and what we need to do to build the future of the internet.

The Future of the Web is going to be built not by those who built the current system.

They have too much at stake in the current system where they are building wealth on the scale of the Tsar of Russia.

I believe the future of Technology may well be built by companies who are building from the right foundations from the ground up.

People are going to gradually start hearing the message that Tristan Harris and other prophets of the digital age are helping us wake up to.

Remember, when Facebook came out of nowhere was the biggest social media company in the world.

They won because they built a better product that served its users better.

But because of the advertising based model they adopted based on Surveillance Capitalism, they no longer serve their users.

The big question of our age is can and will Facebook and Google change to start serving their users?

Or will new companies that build something from the ground up based on property rights and Web 3.0 technology create the new worlds we are going to inhabit online?

My money is on new tech companies coming out of Europe, where regulations are creating the future environment.

The European Union is developing regulations where companies have to get your consent to use AI in their interactions with you.

And Europe is full of an immensely talented and affordable human capital surplus compared to the U.S. which is short on human capital.

For more on why the Future of the Web 3.0 World will be created in Europe, read this article.

Here you can watch Tristan Harris - the Taras Schenchenko of the Digital Age - describe this problem so clearly at TED.

Tristan Harris

Now that you understand the environment you are operating in, you have a chance to think Strategically about the world you are inhabiting.

Whether you are a small business owner, a founder of a tech company, or an investor, the next part of this report will outline how to develop a strategy based on the future of the digital age.


Written by:

Samuel P.N. Cook


Jan 11, 2022



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And if you want to join the next StoryFunnel Workshop we are holding, I am running a 6 week live training call (2 calls per week - one lesson and one Q&A), where you can learn how to use the power of StoryTelling to build your business.

Here is a video about the StoryFunnel Workshop.


This Series will be based on the Original 5 Video Series I did on the Borderlands.

If you want to get a sneak preview of what I will be talking about in each lesson, here is a series of videos that I recorded comparing the historical lessons of Ukraine to the future of the Digital Age.

Part 1 - The Original Sin of the Digital Age

Part 2 - Strategy in the Digital Age

Part 3 - Operations in the Digital Age

Part 4 - Tactics in the Digital Age

Part 5 - Why SanityDesk Chose Ukraine

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