For a decade, it seemed like the technology industry was going to usher in a newer, friendlier form of capitalism. The CEOs wore t-shirts and hoodies. Their staff had spare time to improve the world. They said they wouldn’t be evil. For a while, web users believed them.
But things have been shifting. This week, the European Union formally accused Google of abusing its dominant position in search. In India, Facebook is facing an uprising against Mark Zuckerberg’s internet.org, meant to give first-time users a taste of the internet for free. Uber is under criminal investigation in the Netherlands. Apple was last week met with underwhelming reviews for its watch.
Why? The uniting factor is arrogance. Google, with over 90% of the search market in Europe, blatantly favored its own services. Of the 500 million people who’ve used internet.org, first-time internet users make up only 1.4%, and Indians saw that this was less about connecting the poor than consolidating Facebook’s dominance. Apple decided to make the watch without any notion of what it might actually be used for—except maybe as a notifications device. No wonder even people who wanted to like it had a hard time recommending it.
The ultimate symbol of that arrogance, of course, is tech company valuations. The latest example is Slack, a one-year-old chat tool for businesses, whose funding round this week prompted cries of disbelief. “Is Slack Really Worth $2.8 Billion?” asked the New York Times (paywall). “It is, because people say it is,” said the CEO.
Of course he’s right, in a sense: Markets, not tech company founders, determine what their companies are worth. But when founders conflate market value with true value, they start to think they can do no wrong. That’s where their downfall begins.—Leo Mirani
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Do ATMs have a future? Most certainly, explains Leo Mirani; even as digital transactions grow, bank cash machines are dispensing more cash than ever, and are taking on more tasks that human tellers used to do.
Hank Paulson’s insights on China. Gywnn Guilford interviewed the former US Treasury secretary and author of a new book on China, who explained how the US-China relationship is changing, and why he’s cautiously optimistic about China’s economy, despite the corruption, structural problems, and lack of consensus among its leaders.
The unworthy feeling of success. Akhil Sharma’s Family Life, inspired by the story of his brain-damaged brother, was one of last year’s acclaimed novels and catapulted him into a writers’ world he had never dreamed of occupying. He writes with painful honesty of how he struggled to accept the good fortune that his brother can never experience.
How to fix restaurant reservations. Customers who book online and don’t show up create huge headaches for restaurants. Allison Schrager proposes a solution restaurants will love (and you might hate): Diners should get ratings too.
We know when Beijing’s air pollution peaks. At midnight. This and other findings come from one of the first analyses of new air quality data from US consulates in several Chinese cities, by former diplomat David C. Roberts, with charts by Quartz’s David Yanofsky.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Don’t count humanity out. Very smart economist Tyler Cowen interviews very smart economist Jeffrey Sachs, and they have nuanced discussions about nearly every important issue. The conversation is wide-ranging, but centers around Sachs’ belief that well-intentioned humans can solve even the most difficult problems. The discussion is available as text, audio, and video.
A puzzling obsession. For most people, crossword puzzles are a relaxing weekend pastime. For others, they’re an intense sport, complete with photo finishes and secret databases. Oliver Roeder goes behind the scenes for FiveThirtyEight to document this year’s US national championship, its rival personalities, and the rapid ascent of a robot competitor, “Dr. Fill.”
America’s addiction to trucks. In the 60s, they loved tail-finned gas-guzzlers; today, it’s flatbed pickups. This graphical interactive by Bloomberg breaks down the US car market in ingenious fashion, showing the growing preference for pickups, luxury cars, and non-US brands, as well as more subtle trends like the decline of the hybrid and rise of the electric plug-in.
The dying art of the visa. The days when your passport’s pages, like the lines on your face, told a story of a life well-lived, are on their way out. Druva Jaishankar at the Huffington Post reviews 25 years of visa stamps in his Indian passports and ruminates on what they say about technology, geopolitics, and aesthetics.
Bid your old body farewell. Tech site Motherboard’s “Goodbye, Meatbags” series this week focused on our increasingly biohacked, cyborgified future. Our favorites include solar power for body cells, how virtual reality helped someone with a gender transition, the technical challenges of making truly realistic video games, the youngest person ever to be cryonically frozen, and interviews with the first human head transplant surgeon and his intended patient.