The Lisbon Investment Summit’s (LIS) slogan is #nobullshit. There are so many conferences that entrepreneurs, investors and corporates which lead to little more than stroking of egos and exchanging business cards. LIS 2019 was quite the affair. Over 2 days, about 1500 attendees packed into a former naval rope-making factory in the touristy suburb of Belém. There were some interesting speakers and a great buzz. The highlight of the conference was definitely the keynote address by Andrew Keen, an author and critic of the digital revolution.
He started his address with a few cutting remarks about how our elusion of wanting to change the world is actually a facade to make us rich. ‘We all want to end up rich. That’s really why we are here today.’ A few people squirmed in their chair and a chain reaction of subtle side glances ensued.
If the conference’s slogan was ‘no bullshit’, he really hit the mark!
Andrew paced the stage, gripping tightly to his plastic water bottle lamenting about the inequality, disparity and challenges of the tech age. The top tech entrepreneurs who are responsible for our favourite apps, devices and platforms are the ones who are also responsible for the majority of the world’s wealth. This sky rocketing growth has created a myriad of challenges, many of which regulation is not fixing as policy makers cannot keep pace.
He spoke of the hope he held at the beginning of the digital revolution. His peers, Bill Gates and others believed that technology would create a way for the voiceless to find a voice, for the uneducated to become educated and for the powerless to become powerful. Unfortunately it seems the digital revolution merely fuelled the inequality of the capitalist system. The underlying premise of capitalism is that the free market will regulate itself and consumer power will ultimately reign supreme. However, with new business models that are focused on opaque data empires, this underlying value needs to be reassessed.
‘I thought that technology would create more equality and empower democracy, but all I have seen is the opposite. We need to act now if we are to fix the future.’Andrew Keen
In a recent LinkedIn article, Andrew zooms in on the perils of Facebook:
‘…in response to a growing concern about Facebook’s corrosive impact on our culture and democracy, Mark Zuckerberg proposed a series of reforms to his ubiquitous social network. Designed to counter Facebook’s infestation of fake news and online incivility, Zuckerberg’s reforms focused on the de-emphasis of curated content from traditional publishers and brands and a reprioritization of content generated by friends and family.
Zuckerberg, then, is doubling down on his original vision of the social network that he founded from his Harvard dorm room in 2004. The whole idea of Facebook, from its beginning, was to “democratize” connectivity, to enable anyone to create a network, to empower all members of the social network to post anything they liked and distribute that content to their friends and family.
And yet, with these “reforms”, Zuckerberg is really only rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. They fail to address Facebook’s core problem. That the world’s dominant social network, with its almost 2 billion users, is a media company that will neither acknowledge nor take on the responsibilities of a media company.
The problem is that Facebook’s business model is profoundly flawed. By giving away his product for free and collecting revenue through the sale of advertising on its network, Mark Zuckerberg has turned his users into his products. Facebook, like Google, is a big data company that leverages its users’ data — our most personal information — to create a half a trillion dollar pioneer of surveillance capitalism.’
Ultimately, Keen’s stance is one of healthy criticism. He has assessed and analysed in great detail the challenges of industrial democracy and capitalism in a digital age. Since the conference, I have researched some of his work.
Andrew Keen’s work
Andrew has an extensive career which can be viewed on his website here. Below are some of the things that have caught my eye.
Book: How to Fix the Future
This is the name of Keen’s latest book. He has previously written about challenges of the internet and technology with ‘The internet is not the answer’ and others.
In How to Fix the Future, he identifies five broad strategies to tackle the digital future:
- Competitive Innovation
- Government Regulation
- Consumer Choice
- Social responsibility by business leaders
The book aims to draw the link between the role of technology that are creating some of massive social and environmental challenges we see in the world today. The unprecedented growth of the digital age means we need Government, business and individuals to act on a local and global level. His book is a series of case studies and practical solutions.
*I am yet to read the book, but it is on my list. Currently I am reading Winners Take All which is another critique on capitalism.
This time the book by Anand Giridharadas focuses on the corporate charade of businesses changing the world. The reality is, many businesses will only ‘change the world’ until it compromises their power, position or wealth. It has really challenged my views on capitalism and helped me to assess the pitfalls in greater detail. Follow our Facebook page for a competition to win ‘Winners Take All’!
Podcast: Keen on Democracy
This has fast become one of my most played podcasts called ‘Keen on Democracy‘. Each podcast is a 30 minute power session with some of the world’s digital and governmental leaders about the state of democracy. Keen teases with the question of whether democracy is broken, fit for purpose or completely outdated. His conversations discuss the challenges from a range of angles and it is great to hear approaches that bring business, society and government together to create a path forward.
The thing I really like about his podcasts is 5 key points at the end each episode.
Tip: If you cannot be bothered listening to the whole thing then you can click on the links below and his 5 key points are in the text.
Here are a few of my favourites:
- Keen on Global Capitalism – Martin Sorrell
- Why Democracy Is Turning Us All Into Palestinians
- Exposing Surveillance Capitalism – Shoshana Zuboff
- Is Media Killing Democracy – Tom Baldwin
His final remarks were ‘The future is pretty fucked.’ With power and greed being fuelled by tech advances, Keen has a cautious tale for our obsession with technology.
As democracy and capitalism underpins modern society, it is critical we understand how these systems operate. Andrew Keen is not always easy to listen to, but creates new ways for us to approach these complex issues.
What are your thoughts on democracy and capitalism in the digital age?
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