Samuel P.N. Cook
Nov 1, 2021
You arrive home to your rented house or apartment and discover that your key doesn’t work in the front door.
Hmm, that’s weird, you think. Am I inserting the wrong key?
So you look closely at the other keys on your keychain.
But … nope. You definitely were trying the right key in the first place.
So you try again...
But it’s clearly not working. You can’t insert it even just a tiny bit.
Then you notice something that sends a chill down your spine.
There’s a shiny new lock on the door.
Then it hits you: They’ve changed the locks without telling you!
But it gets worse...
You call your landlord to see what the story is … but your call gets routed straight to voicemail.
Not only that, but an automated voice tells you that the voice mailbox is full and cannot accept any messages.
And so you tromp down to the property management building to talk to someone in person…
But the doors are locked and you can’t get in.
You see a flyer in the window that says if you have any issues you can submit a form online and that you might (“might!!”) hear back in 2-3 weeks.
You’d go absolutely crazy, would you not?!
Of course, you would!
This is exactly how I felt when I got locked out of Facebook in 2019.
The rented house analogy is a valid one, and I’m about to prove it to you.
This is important. Not only is this a story for our time, but it also shines a light on what’s going on in the digital world today that has massive ramifications for you and your business as we move closer to 2022.
I’ll spare you the ugly details, but here’s what happened in a nutshell:
I was traveling from Ukraine to America where I was raising capital.
And I got locked out of Facebook. For literally no reason whatsoever.
(For those of you who have experienced this, I see you nodding in commiseration. I feel you.)
I literally had no way to get back into my account.
None, nada, zilch.
At the time, all my business activity was conducted on Facebook.
And I was so desperate that I literally burst into the Facebook office in Austin, Texas to plead with them in person.
I figured that a real, flesh-and-blood human being would be able to help me.
No dice. The best they could offer me was: "Here, fill out this form on an iPad, and you might hear back from us in two weeks."
It was quite the story. If you want to hear the details in full as I walk along a storied street in Kyiv, along with the various historic lessons we can draw from this cautionary tale, then click here right now to watch my video, "The Original Sin of the Digital Age."
It took a full 30 days to get my account back.
To say the least, it was a rude awakening.
An awakening from what, you ask?
We’ve been in a slumber about what Big Technology is doing to us.
Things Are Not What They Appear
Let’s start with the fact that we now realize that social media platforms like Facebook are not “free.”
The reality is that you’re paying rent to use Facebook, which is why I started this newsletter with the locked house analogy.
The rent you’re paying is your attention...
...which only happens to be the most valuable resource you have.
You can never recover lost time. And think back to what you’re actually doing most of the time on Facebook. Is it really a valuable use of your time?
Haven’t we all had moments where we’re scrolling and scrolling … and then we realize that an hour has flown by and we haven’t gotten a single productive thing DONE?
Facebook, Instagram and the other socials are the ultimate time-suck. How much value is truly being created?
And never mind that you’re surrendering your privacy and data, both of which are being leveraged against your better interest and are helping to degrade society to the point that many are now reasonably wondering if the United States, the world’s most stable democracy, is on the brink of a previously unthinkable civil war.
Hamster Wheels and Gravity’s Rainbow
“Once they have you asking the wrong questions. They don't have to worry about the answers.”
― Thomas Pynchon, “Gravity's Rainbow”
Facebook monopolizes your time, packages and steals all of your data, and then packages it all up to resell it to the tune of nearly $100 billion in annual revenue.
Oh, they’ve stolen your attention, too...
They’ve helped put us on a never-ending hamster wheel of consumption, killing off small businesses and commoditizing entire markets. I wrote about this in last week’s newsletter, which you can still read here.
Facebook’s massive power has reached the point where it simply acquires any legitimate competitor. It’s the sun that absorbs all smaller planets.
Why do you suppose Facebook acquired Instagram? It’s because they're so beholden to their shareholders that they have to stifle innovation in order to keep delivering for investors.
Competition has effectively been eliminated. This sort of self-serving preoccupation can only lead to a further dulling of the leading edge.
Innovation is the enemy if you want to keep your monopoly. This turns companies like Amazon and Facebook into mere rent collectors. They are the ultimate digital slum lords.
So the question, of course, becomes …
Why should you care? And what can be done about it?
Countries Are Starting to Take Notice
The good news is, the world is waking up to all this.
You may have heard that China has begun cracking down on its own tech industry in a way that portends what might come next on other continents.
As explained in this article, Why Is China Smashing Its Tech Industry?, nations are now questioning the value of big technology and the cascading havoc being unleashed on society.
I encourage you to read the article in full, but let me share a key excerpt here for now:
“It’s possible that the Chinese government has decided that the profits of companies like Alibaba (which roughly equates to Amazon in China) come more from rents than from actual value added — that they’re simply squatting on unproductive digital land, by exploiting first-mover advantage to capture strong network effects, or that the IP system is biased to favor these companies, or something like that. There are certainly those in America who believe that Facebook and Google produce little of value relative to the profit they rake in; maybe China’s leaders, for reasons that will remain forever opaque to us, have simply reached the same conclusion.”
China is, unsurprisingly, playing a heavy hand. It’s already swinging regulatory cudgels while the rest of the world wrings its hands and considers what to do next.
China seems to understand what Americans, regulators and venture capitalists haven't yet recognized: that we have over-invested our intellectual horsepower in tech enterprises that, at best, are not a net positive for society ... and at worst, are literally harming us.
China is breaking up its big tech industry in a very deliberate way to reallocate capital into more productive investments, into industries that will help national power.
That includes machine learning, the semiconductor industry, and anything that will help its military positioning.
No surprise there. And you might not like the sound of it either, but that's the reality. This is what we're up against.
And here we are sitting on our hands in the West, beating ourselves down and spending all of our money and going into debt … because that’s what we invest in.
So what can we do about all this?
Well, first of all, it’s my firm belief that it’s up to small businesses to innovate on their own.
I feel so strongly about this that we’ve made it our mission. For example, the SanityDesk team has created the world’s only all-in-one Growth Operating System for anyone selling digital products and services.
If you are an author, expert, coach, consultant, freelancer, solopreneur, service provider — or literally anyone with expertise to share online — it’s the ideal way to portray yourself ethically and effectively online, and you own it all. You can even use it for free by clicking here.
What about regulation? Can that work?
Well, there is certainly a historical precedent for doing so…
A Progressive reformer, Teddy Roosevelt earned a reputation as a "trust buster" through his regulatory reforms and antitrust prosecutions. His "Square Deal" included regulation of railroad rates and pure foods and drugs; he saw it as a fair deal for both the average citizen and the businessmen.
However, until that sort of reform finds its way through a divided Congress, the only option is for venture capitalists to invest in better and more ethical businesses.
This is imperative if we are to prevent predatory companies like Amazon, which strangles small businesses by gaming their algorithms to kill off competition…
… and Facebook, which is essentially strangling our entire society and treats small businesses with contempt. (What other company could get away with an utter lack of customer service for any customer who doesn’t spend millions per month on advertising before they can speak to a human being?)
If you think I’m being harsh, I encourage you to watch the excellent documentary film, “The Social Dilemma.”
Or go here to read last week’s newsletter in which I warn that we are now at “a very precarious moment in history.”
A Path Forward Out of the Chaos and Corruption
Of course I’m not saying to never use Amazon. That’s simply not reasonable or realistic.
What I AM saying is this:
If you want to survive in this rapidly changing digital landscape, you need to control your own brand.
For example, if you’re smart, you’ll use the exposure you get on Amazon to build your brand as quickly as possible AWAY from Amazon. (Shopify gives you the ability to do this.)
And am I saying to not use Facebook? Of course not. It’s unavoidable. It’s the elephant that isn’t leaving the room any time soon, and we just have to live with it.
But be aware of what Facebook truly IS…
Facebook has become the digital trolls of the Internet. They've created a world in which they control all the traffic (along with Google), and you just have to pay their tolls.
But you can start fighting back by building your own real estate.
The only way you can fight back against big tech is by creating customized experiences for your target audience…
...which is exactly what our SanityDesk platform lets you do — and you can do it all from one easy-to-use, centralized place, mind you, not scattered among a dozen apps that require separate logins and don’t work very well to begin with.
Own your own real estate. Build your own brand.
And remember that it only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche.
Join us on a weekly journey through the history of Technology, and the Future that we need to collectively create to realize the promise and avoid the perils of the Digital Age. Written by the Co-Founder and CEO of SanityDesk - a Former West Point History Professor.
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