“Post Corona” and Beyond

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In “Post Corona”, Scott Gallaway does a surprisingly (considering we are not even out of the pandemic yet, at the time of this blog post) competent analysis of the current trends in the market. We will briefly go over some of the more important aspects he touches on and topple off with on overview of “The Great Questions Of Tomorrow” by David Rothkopf, to try and discern some of the future concerns for after the pandemic as well.

“The pandemic is also boosting an “innovation” narrative. Firms deemed innovators are receiving a valuation that reflects estimates of cash flows 10 years from now, and discounted back at an incredibly low rate. Investors appear to be focused on a firm’s vision, its narrative about where it could be in a decade. That’s how Tesla’s value now exceeds that of Toyota, Volkswagen, Daimler, and Honda combined.”

“So companies that were doing well before the pandemic hit have benefited remarkably from this worldwide crisis.”

The coronavirus pandemic’s most concerning trend was to facilitate the so-called “big players” to become even bigger. While smaller companies had a much tougher time trying to survive, the huge ones benefitted from the dying off of their competition and will emerge from all this even more profitable than before. It also helps, one ought to mention, that the bigger a player, the more impact in the economy, and the higher the chances that the government will support or bail them out.

As ads in traditional media are starting to disappear (with young people probably, hopefully, killing TV), companies are more present than ever in the digital space, with their PR campaigns easier to scrutinize. The author notes that “the performative wokeness across brands felt forced and hollow”. All of us who worked in Big Corporate remember the “we are here for you in this unprecedented times” emails, whose sole result was to provoke annoyance and disgust. Through memes and meme stocks, by the twisted relationships between cancel culture and corporate culture, and with a new focus on accountability, companies are now rightly antagonized by Millennials and Gen Z for their soul-sucking, hypocrisy, and totalitarian inner culture and politics.

Since Tech has had an explosive growth in the pandemic, a great portion of the book is focused on that and on the its biggest representatives. Gallaway describes two types of tech/internet services: 1) the red one, which is free, where your data is being exploited, the environment is uncontrolled and susceptible to bots and other issues and 2) the blue model, which is paid, but it protects your privacy and offers a more premium experience. His stance is that more companies should try to migrate to the latter model. While I agree with his argumentation and the benefits are obvious, I don’t believe consumers can suffer many more subscription services. However, irregardless of the discussion about which business models will emerge triumphant in Tech, I would like to draw attention to the following two quotes:

“Outside of technology, even many of the lions of American capitalism have been declawed”.

“In the ’90s, Bill Gates could keep a rival spreadsheet program from gaining traction. Today, Mark Zuckerberg can affect the outcome of a presidential election.”

This is the world of Tech now. But there are immense problems with Big Tech and online communities and we must come together to think of solutions, lest we risk becoming overcome by (political) polarization.

Consider:

“First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech is a cornerstone of American democracy, but it has never been absolute. Slander, calls for violence, breaches of confidentiality, and government secrecy have always been limited, and commercial speech restricted.”

The problem with “conspiracy theory content” and any other type of problematic discourse is that misinformation drives traffic. Numerous online studies have proven this and the companies are very much aware. This is also why Mark Zuckerberg said that social media companies should not be arbiters of Truth: hate speech and misinformation helps them a great deal. That being said, freedom in all its forms ought to be protected at all cost. This is the fundamental difference between the West and China. Gallaway talks about the latter as well and remarks that “they think in 50-year time horizons”. It’s true. Since they do not have election cycles like we do, the Chinese government can think and plan much more long-term than your average democracy. Plus, they have all sorts of other “advantages” coming from the coercion of its own citizens. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the hierarchy and primacy of our values. So far, in the West, the politically correct ideologues have not won yet and have not managed to legally restrict our freedom of thought and expression. As private companies with unprecedented influence in human history, and with a track record of silencing conservative voices, Big Tech should be called to account for even trying to curb one of our most sacred values. Zuckerberg has done more damage to democracy than any tyrant has ever dreamed. But he’s also right: they are not to be the arbiters of Truth.

What are some of the questions/problems we should focus on in the post-pandemic future? David Rothkopf proposes the following four main ones in “The Great Questions Of Tomorrow”:

1. Our sense of identity. Identity used to be connected to the physical proximity. The people, circumstances, opportunities, ideas, and resources you had access to in your immediate environment. Now, thanks to the internet, this is no longer the case. The open question is: what does that entail? The author notes that the nostalgia for the divisions between people is dangerous and exploitable. Unfortunately, this seems to be on the rise, but my personal guess is that this is merely a response to what are perceived to be as the failures of globalization.

2. Our sense of who we are within society. The traditional view of society is that we subordinate our individual needs to those of the community. I believe this mentality is slowly starting to shift. Modernity produced a change of paradigm here by over-emphasizing subjective experience and distrusting meta-narratives.

3. The economy. Big Data has started to become a deciding factor in the economy. Tesla is overvalued (more so at the time of me taking my initial notes for this post) mostly because it is the most tech-oriented out of all car manufacturers. They use the data that they collect to build the most advanced AI in cars as of yet. The intellectual gravity center is aligning with the economical one. In “Sapiens”, Harari also notes this has been the case for quite some time.

4. War. The internet will become the main instrument of war, and perhaps the main target in case of it. War will change its aspects. Let us consider now that a few private companies, rather than countries, practically hold the most power.

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