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Tech neo-Marxism Tech neo-Marxism
by Joseph Gatt
2021-07-13 08:58:00
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When tech companies dominate the economic landscape, and that you marry that with economic ideology, you get “tech neo-liberalism” and “tech neo-Marxism.”

“Tech neo-liberalism” is fairly straightforward. No rules for tech companies. Hire at will. Fire at will. Impose labor contracts at will. Pay at will. Sell at will. Set up your own company rules for sales and customers relations. Deal with customers at will. Set up prices and business practices at will. You get the idea.

tec0001_400Now you have a burgeoning group, small group of still clumsy and inarticulate intellectuals, who babble some weird theories that I like to call “tech neo-Marxism.” So here are note on “tech neo-Marxism” in no particular order.

-Working conditions: tech neo-Marxists are angry that tech labor does not conform labor standards, because of the flexible nature of labor in the tech sector.

That is you have data entry jobs outsourced to India. Data entry is labor intensive, involves clicks and matching images with words, or matching numbers with words, or numbers with numbers, or words with words, or words with images.

Such workers often get paid around one, two or three cents per data entry point. But it adds up to a few dollars a day, and to around 150 or 200 dollars a month.

Other example of labor exploitation: Youtubers! You have a handful of Youtubers who made it big and got six-figure paychecks by producing and uploading YouTube videos. But then you have many, many individuals who put in hours of work and editing in their content creation, yet get paid absolutely nothing, because they fail to reach the viewer and advertisement threshold. The total page views of those individuals who lack popularity adds up to hundreds of millions of video views (because there are millions of small producers who lack fame, and their videos are viewed a few hundred times). And YouTube gets to pocket all the advertisement money and those struggling producers get nothing.

Other example: online retail platforms, or online freelance work websites. Such websites often pay less than minimum wage, and have supplies of workers that far outweigh demand. But the platform owners get to make money anyway, because they don't need to pay anything to hire freelancers or freelance salesmen. In fact, it's the freelancers or salesmen who sometimes pay small subscription fees.

-Financial products: neo-Marxists argue that the easy access to complicated online financial products leads to predatory practices by banks and financial institutions. Banks and big finance use appealing videos and advertisements to lure consumers into purchasing complicated financial products with just two clicks, and those financial products often resemble Ponzi schemes. So, neo-Marxists argue, this creates a financial market where too many people are tempted to make money with money, while sitting on their ass, and often lose it all!

-Huge pay gaps: neo-Marxists (and I disagree with them) argue that in most traditional corporations, the CEO gets paid, at most, three times higher wages than the lowest-paid employee. Yet, at tech firms, CEOs probably get paid several million or billion times higher wages than the lowest-paid employee.

And yet, despite the billion-dollar CEO wages and stock options, tech firms still hire unpaid interns, and use billions of users to provide vital input to their industry (such as Facebook and Instagram posts, Twitter tweets which are really the lifeline of those sites) and when you post or tweet, you get paid absolutely nothing. You often don't even have the option to monetize your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account, other than by links and advertisements to your company.

-Lack of democratic input on Internet platform changes. If YouTube or Facebook or Amazon decide to change the rules, writers or video producers or users have absolutely no say on whether the changes should proceed or not. That's the neo-Marxist outtake.

-Tech colonialism: neo-Marxists argue that Facebook users in France don't have the same needs as Facebook users in Algeria or Israel or the US or Japan or India or name a country. Yet, most, if not all tech companies, impose the exact same product regardless of geographic location, cultural sensitivities, or linguistic or religious or political parameters and so on.

Note: I'll share my personal views at the end. But I will note that those companies that tried to customize their product to each country failed miserably. Not only they failed, but users were complaining that “as an American, I can't interact with my friends who are based in France properly” or “as a Cambodian, I can't talk to my friends in Italy” and so on.

-Working environment: neo-Marxists argue that 18-hour workdays are the norm at tech companies. Traditional Marxism grew out of the abuse of workers in 19th century Europe, where children worked 14 hours a day for pennies, children had to work naked because of the factory floor heat, and children died on the job of overwork.

In the tech world, young adults get very little sleep, too much work, a work environment prone to violence, and a work environment where all kinds of abuses, violation of privacy, and sexual violence are the norm.

So neo-Marxists want rules to protect tech workers. Limit the working hours, and stop the abuse, and allow work-life balance.

Note: again, I'll leave my thoughts at the end. But, many tech workers get paid rather well, better than in most industries. A lot of the tech workers I've met “sacrifice” a few years of their life, save money, and then start their own easygoing business, or shift to a trade where working hours are very reasonable. And, by the way, abuse is often punished by the law, according to procedure.

Fast pace of the economy: Neo-Marxists argue that in the tech world, and with what they call “the dictatorship of the Internet” things change really, really fast. You get news every minute, new rules every minute, new vital changes every minute. That's too much information for the average person to handle.

Note: I'd say no one forces you to log into the Internet. You can always opt-out. Or you can control your Internet use and use the Internet consciously. But, I would say, if the government makes and takes decisions based on the speed of the Internet, soon enough, that will be too many rules to handle. Which is why, as for now, I tend to side with the neo-Liberals.

Dictatorship of the big tech companies: neo-Marxists tend to argue that tech companies are so huge, form such a powerful lobby, that they do what they want with their customers, users and clients. The government can not impose restrictions on them, because they are too rich and powerful.

Information Ponzi scheme: neo-Marxists argue that the Internet is an information Ponzi scheme of sorts. That is everyone provides information output, the information gets filtered and filtered until tech companies end up at the top of the pyramid with all the good information, and tech companies do what they want with the truth. As for the low-grade information providers, they lose time, sometimes money, but gain nothing.

Consumers don't understand tech products: neo-Marxists argue that tech consumers don't understand tech products and use them anyway, and often face very stressful and unintended consequences. So neo-Marxists argue that tech companies should be more transparent about uses and their consequences, be it consequences on physical health, mental health or social consequences.

Finally, the loss of human contact: neo-Marxists argue that many would rather watch porn than be in real-life relationships, many would rather have thousands of “friends” on Facebook rather than meet a couple of friends at the café, that coffee shops have become venues where individuals sip coffee alone while scrolling their smartphones or laptops, and that tech products are designed to be used for lonely and exclusively lonely use. No tech products for social use or multiple-user tech products.

Note: again, I'll disagree with this final note. You have websites like “Meetup.com” and “Couchsurfers.com” where you have people actually posting their locations and saying “everyone's welcome!” and they meet total strangers at strange places. A ton of Facebook groups are also dedicated to meetup events, and millions of people became best friends when they met on Facebook!

My views on tech neo-Marxism: I think it's important for Internet and tech users to make their own decisions about how to use tech products, and not for the government to decide how consumers will use the product.

I think the free press is important, and should give advice to tech users on how to make optimal use of tech. I also think that Google can be an interesting source for fact checking, as you can get both sides of the story, when in the newspaper days you would sometimes only get one side of the story.

I think tech products saved many people from barbaric practices. Many women met the love of their life and married them on social media when they would otherwise have had to marry someone imposed on them by their parents or family. Many abused men and women were saved when they blew the whistle on social media. And many disasters were prevented as people had been warned on social media, such as avoiding working for certain employers or avoiding certain people or places where crimes and abuse seemed to be taking place.

Now, from a purely economic perspective, tech companies weigh very, very heavily, and, in one and a half decade, built fortunes, almost out of nothing. So let me be their defense lawyers.

When you build Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, YouTube or LinkedIn, you have small team handling billions of users. New factors emerge every day, new trends emerge every day, new needs emerge every day. New information shows up every day.

As for “users not knowing the platform or product” I would say Facebook and YouTube themselves had no idea (seriously) what the users were going to do on the platform. When you invite friends home, you have no idea how they are going to behave. You invite them, cook them dinner, and hope for the best. And very often, you get the best.

Same goes for Tech products, on a much larger scale. They don't launch Facebook and say “we know exactly what users are going to do, and we'll watch the script play out.” It's all improvisation! Sometimes users behave properly, and then you have problems like users uploading pornography or users harassing other users or users scamming other users. But you also have old friends reuniting, people finding jobs, people starting business or political projects and so on.

Now if users are spending too much time or doing stupid things on social media, hey, it's their problem! If you don't use condoms, it's not the condom company's fault! It's not the motel's fault! You get the idea.

As for labor conditions, no one forces kids to work for Facebook or Amazon. No one threatens to withhold their pay or to send them to prison if they quit. Workers at Facebook probably won't starve or get evicted from their homes if they quit. And there are lots and lots of decent jobs out there that have easier working standards and conditions and that allow healthy work-life balances.

Finally, as for the freelancer and worker exploitation, before trying to get a freelance job, I'd probably search around to see if such jobs are legit! A friend of mine, about a decade ago, one of those odd things, got a data-entry job at a decent company, worked from home, and the job paid for half her tuition. Now this was a cheap college she was going to, but she was a virtual assistant at a decent tech company, doing mostly data entry, working flexible hours, and she was making 1,500 plus dollars a month!

But these freelance gigs kind of work like the job market. You test the grounds, work for a weirdo, quit, get a better job, better jobs gets weird, you find an even better one, until you settle for what's best! I hope you won't be stuck with 3 cent a click jobs your whole life!

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