Year of the Technological Empires

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This article is part of the On Tech Newsletter. Here is a compilation Past columns.

In 2021 Big Tech will become bigger and stronger. The empires of technology seemed to be more vulnerable than ever to forces such as control, competition, complicated public mood and perhaps shame.

Yes, this is a contradiction. But this strong-but-weak phenomenon for Big Tech is likely to continue in 2022.

Behind this trend is the same question I keep asking in this newsletter: Are American tech superpowers, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook, invincible without the previous generation of corporate titans?

First, here’s a look at ways to reach the Big Tech stratosphere in 2021. Apple, already the world’s most valuable business, is close to reaching an unimaginable $ 3 trillion stock market value. This is about eight Walmarts or more than the value of the entire German stock market.

Amazon has had a huge impact on the U.S. job market, with the company’s hourly wages prompting local businesses to increase their fees, raising the salaries of many Americans who do not work for Amazon. While Facebook and its other applications briefly went blind this fall, the crash shows just how much our lives and business depend on one company.

This year, American technological powers were involved US drug policies, Russia’s presidential election and ethnic violence in Ethiopia. Tesla’s Elon Musk – whose company is not technically considered Big Tech, but its stock market value and influence make it an honorary member – was recently named the Times Person of the Year.

This is an area known to many of you. Technology is one of the most important forces in the world and one of the leading lights of technology. The wealth of these technological empires, the importance of the economy, the large number of users and the global influence is something we have never seen before.

But at the same time Big Tech has grown richer and as a result, there is more pressure on their empires.

The Chinese government was keen on the power of the country’s tech superstars, which had overtaken some popular digital services. In London, Brussels, Seoul, Washington, Dallahassi and – well, everywhere – regulators and lawmakers are trying to set up new security barriers to control what we consider to be the detrimental effects of the power of technology companies on our lives.

Most of these functions may be invalid or ultimately relatively inappropriate. But when elected leaders turn against a profession, it is often a reflection of the mood of the people. And it is a good bet that they will not turn sunny soon.

While the Big Tech giants are profitable and thriving, there are also signs of weakness. Jeff Bezos stepped down as Amazon’s chief executive this year, and some tech bosses have also resigned. As a company gets bigger, managing chaos can be less fun.

Mark Zuckerberg worries about Facebook and its ability to relate to young people. The big ideas in food shopping over the past two years came not from Amazon, but from rapid delivery start-ups like Instacart, GoPuff and Walmart. Americans spend more on groceries than anything else, and Big Tech is often a side event.

Feelings about technology companies and technology personalities are also becoming more complex. People often like or rely on technology, but sometimes they are ashamed of it.

The latest scourge in the technology sector is cryptocurrency start-ups and related companies imagining the future of the Internet where corporate control is less dominant. This, in part, feels like a crisis of confidence in the foundations of technology from within the machine.

Empires will not last forever, although many large technology companies have emerged stronger and stronger in the face of previous crises. Not sure what will happen this time. It is difficult to ignore how entrenched and influential technological empires are. It’s hard not to notice how much they are overwhelmed by doubts and challenges.


  • A little Christmas cheer: My colleague Niraj Sokshi says that people (mostly) get timely deliveries before Christmas. Xavier planning and higher spending by retailers and delivery companies helped to cope with the increase in packages. More and more people were doing holiday shopping in advance and in stores, which reduces stress on delivery networks.

  • Drones in disaster zones: The Washington Post looks at the pros and cons of small drones, which are increasingly used to capture images of natural disasters, replenish destroyed communication networks or search for people in need of assistance. (Subscription may be required.)

  • People are curious about something on the internet. For five seconds. Vox writer Rebecca Jennings says fast-moving web options – like the sea cottages on TikTok – create an eye-catching snowball effect. This rapidity of trends “makes it very difficult for people to determine what has real value.”

The Orcas team made a rare visit to Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro.


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