If we had to compare the giants of industrialization of the late 19th through early 20th centuries — Andrew Carnegie, Thomas A. Edison, Henry Ford, Henry Clay Frick,J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt — with the giants of the contemporary tech world —Jeff Bezos, Jack Dorsey, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg — would we see significant differences? Fred Bech tackles that at Expensivity.
He finds that the immense fame, power, and wealth are comparable, as is the fact that they took inventions created largely by others and — via business acumen — transformed our way of life.
Of course, that means new problems as well as new solutions. Staying in touch with far-distant loved ones is a blessing; viruses, hacking, and Twitter mobs are not (though they are arguably a price worth paying).
Both groups were, generally speaking, only modestly well-educated by the standards of the time but, of course, had a strong work ethic.
Bech does notice some differences, though. The new titans, as he details in his essay, generally came from troubled backgrounds and sought the computer subcultures that they largely invented as a solace: “These subcultures were predominantly populated by adolescents and very young adults”:
In other words, unlike the Old Titans, the New Titans were in no hurry to leave their teenage years behind and join the adult world. Rather, they created the means to turn their adolescent enthusiasms into lifelong careers.Fred Bech, “Titans of Industry, Old and New” at Expensivity (August 24, 2022)
And there’s something else that’s different as well. The old titans established universities and libraries, foundations for science research and art collections that formed the basis of famous galleries and museums.
And the new ones? They tend toward utopian projects of “saving the world” accompanied by old-fashioned authoritarian politics. For example,
In controversial scientific debates such as those surrounding global warming and the recent pandemic, Gates arrogates to himself the right to decide the truth and spends vast sums of money to impose his resulting Woke vision upon the entire planet.Fred Bech, “Titans of Industry, Old and New” at Expensivity (August 24, 2022)
and Mark Zuckerberg’contribution to the last U.S. election:
… contributing nearly half a billion dollars to provide “drop boxes” in inner city precincts in swing states, where ballots “harvested” by partisan “community organizers” could be stuffed without ID-checking or any other form of accountability.Fred Bech, “Titans of Industry, Old and New” at Expensivity (August 24, 2022)
The fallout did little to build democracy:
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on Wednesday ripped Zuckerberg for trying to ‘purchase’ Wisconsin, a critical battleground state that was reportedly targeted by one of the Zuckerberg-funded groups, for Biden…
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis blasted Zuckerberg during a news conference and touted new election laws he recently signed into law as a ban on ‘Zuckerbucks’ in Florida.Elizabeth Elkind, Alyssa Guzman, “GOP furious Zuckerberg piled $400M into Dem groups to sway election” at MSN (October 14, 2021)
Those “Zuckerbucks,” as they are called, could have bought a great deal of urgently needed research.
It will be interesting to see whether the new Big Tech moguls’ funding choices result in more legislation of the sort that Governor DeSantis notes above. The legislation might be needed but the overall public benefit is perhaps much less than the philanthropy of old offered.
You may also wish to read: Texas governor signs law curbing big tech censorship. A similar law in Florida was halted by a federal judge. Will Texas’s law face the same legal battle? A similar law in Florida was halted by a federal judge. Will Texas’s law face the same legal battle?