“Our republic has never been more hierarchical, more riven by class, more managed by an elite than it is today,” writes Josh Hawley in The Tyranny of Big Tech.
Who might that elite be? According to Hawley, it’s not our politicians, our lawyers, our Ivy League graduates, or our Hollywood celebrities. It’s Big Tech – those big names like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, and Google that have embedded themselves in our lives to an almost irreversible degree.
Hawley has spent his career as a U.S. Senator, and formerly as Missouri’s Attorney General, holding Big Tech accountable where others don’t dare tread. In investigations, in legislation, and now in this book, Hawley has confronted the antitrust and privacy violations committed by Big Tech companies, their business model run on addiction, and their discriminatory censorship of speech.
In The Tyranny of Big Tech, released May 4 after a dramatic fight for its very existence against the powers of Cancel Culture, Hawley lays out the very real dangers of today’s technological monopolies, and then provides detailed policy proposals to combat these powers. He introduces the reader to the unknown historical connection between Big Tech and the robber barons of the Gilded Age, attempting to resurrect the little-r republican values of the founding era.
The book is a beautiful defense of the common man and woman. Far from being the benefactors of social connection and freedom that Big Tech presents themselves to be, Hawley argues that they are actually robbing the American people not only of their emotional and mental well-being, but of their agency to self-govern and thus, their freedom.
How could that be?
Hawley builds a case that Big Tech is a direct descendent of the Gilded Age robber barons. By the end of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, says Hawley, the republican virtues of the Founding Fathers were replaced by a new economic system called “corporate liberalism,” thanks to the power-amassing efforts of men like Cornelius Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller. Theodore Roosevelt’s attempts to curb their power were valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful.
The intent of the Founders was to create a “commonwealth organized around the common person…where laborers were recognized as fit to govern, where labor itself was honored and the homely virtues of working life enshrined as the civic virtues of the nation.” Instead, the robber barons reshaped the economy into a corporate monopoly to serve their own ends, in which an aristocratic elite govern above the laboring masses.
And it’s in this economic injustice that Big Tech has been allowed to rise to heights unimaginable even by its twentieth century forefathers.
Hawley spends a good third of the book detailing for the reader the specific and horrifying ways in which Big Tech has encroached into every area of life. Social media has become an online casino, he argues, a metaphor also aptly used by Netflix’s documentary “The Social Dilemma”. In exchange for your attention, social media promises connection, but only delivers in anxiety, depression, suicide, manipulative marketing tactics, censorship, election interference, and antitrust violations.
Data is power in the Big Tech world, and that world relies on an addiction economy to keep users online in order to extract as much data as possible. And through those massive data collection practices, companies like Facebook and Google have the power to control what people consume, to shape what they think, and to censor what they say.
Still worse, Washington, D.C. politicians routinely protect the interests of Big Tech over and against the freedom and well-being of the American people.
The reader, however, must not despair. There are tenable policy proposals to help curb Big Tech’s power. Among those proposals: breaking up the monopolies, reforming Section 230, ending data tracking, and even raising the legal age to open a social media account in an effort to protect minors.
In my personal favorite chapter, Hawley brings the solutions closer to home: What can you – the average American man and woman – do about the oligarchical power of a technological elite? We must remember our most important institutions and return to a life of authentic community:
“We can start in our own lives. Ending Big Tech’s sovereignty is about taking back our own, and we can begin to do that in the lives we live together. Big Tech works relentlessly to force individuals into its ecosystem of addiction, exhibitionism, and fear of missing out. It seeks to create its own social universe and draw all of life into its orbit. But the real social world, the life of family and neighborhood – the authentic communities that sustain authentic togetherness – can act as a counterweight to Big Tech’s ambitions. They can act as what they always have been, as havens for individuals and as training grounds for citizens. If these real and authentic communities have grown weak in recent decades in the political economy of corporate liberalism, that is no reason to abandon their potential now. In fact, it is just the time to reclaim them.”
In other words, we are not doomed to a life under the purview and manipulation of Big Tech. Ordinary American men and women can choose a life rooted in connection with one another, and thus, can chip away at the power of the “techno barons.” Or in the very least, we can live authentically, free from the addiction economy of social media.
Should you pick up this book, you will be met with hundreds of citations documenting the abuses of some of our most relied-on applications and websites. You may also be inspired anew to resist the status-quo and push against the idea that a world run by Big Tech is “inevitable.”
It is not inevitable, so long as the common men and women for whom this nation was founded choose freedom over convenience.