From tethered capitalism to tethered communism?

Warning! Half-baked thought ahead…


At this point in time, it seems clear that nobody gives a flying toss about privacy so long as they have free access to information and the means to communicate it. Algorithmic newsfeeds are either not understood or seen as unproblematic. Tech companies make billions of dollars off the back of mining user data. Politicians are in bed with huge multinationals and use them to do the dirty work prohibited by the constitution.

What we’ve got is what I’m beginning to call tethered capitalism.

I was reminded of this as I help my father set up his Spotify account today and then drove back home in my lease car. I’m even getting rid of my home server this week as it makes my life easier just to sync and backup my files to one of the many cloud-based services. 

The more we can do this across many different sectors with lower costs driving down the costs the better it is for all of us. Or so it seems on a surface level. In digital environments, the cost can be driven down to free due to intrusive advertising and user-violating tracking. In other words, we do pay for our tethered life, and it creates huge monopolies. Think Amazon (online shopping), Google (email), Facebook (social networking).

My thought, half-baked at the moment, is that we could actually end up with a version of communism acceptable to everyone by coming out of the other end of tethered (late-stage) capitalism. Communism is one of those things that is abhorrent to many people because the most memorable examples we have led to dictatorships in Russia, China, and Cuba. But, actually, communism is something worth striving for — and tech can help us achieve it:

[Communism is a] socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state. (Wikipedia)

What that would mean in practice is that instead of the wealth created by huge tech companies going to a few individuals, we could instead share that wealth. There’s many ways we could get there and this short post isn’t the place to go into them. The easiest way for tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter to instigate this would be to turn their platform into a giant worker-owned co-op (and by ‘workers’ I mean ‘users of their products’).

So tethered communism would be a good thing, I think. It would bind us together more than we are now, and the technological mediation of that binding would be based on co-operation rather than competition. We could collectively own the means of production, particularly in digital environments, remove hierarchies from organisations, create a single (digital) world currency, and move to ever-closer integration with one another, removing the need for nationalistic country borders.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I better get back to my Proudhon… 😉