The Big Tech squeeze is here. Share prices have been falling. Facebook paused its hiring back in May. There has been a succession of clanking failures from WeWork to the wild west end of cryptocurrency demonstrating how money evaporates when it is underpinned by nonsense. We are living in a transitional period of Fin Tech and social media where the glitching sands are shifting. Perhaps there may even be an emerging cultural drive that’s about authenticity and getting back to reality.
Luckily, Ireland has been working flat out to copper-fasten our tech “ecosystem”; this is the word Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil used to describe the variety of tech companies thriving here, and how Ireland is a key tech-capitalist landscape for the internet’s infrastructure. In order to preserve Big Tech’s presence in Ireland forever more, the Government developed extraordinarily welcoming policies for data centres to be built, with their metered electricity use rising by 265 per cent between 2015 to 2021, and rocketing to becoming more than all rural dwellings’ use combined. This all happened at the worst possible time.
But we needed the data centres because they were going to be the things anchoring employment here. Even though they don’t create employment themselves, the public was sold a line that our alarming data centre development pace was all about jobs. The more we build data centres, the more these companies will love us so much, the jobs will stay. So, here’s a question for the Taoiseach and Ministers who repeated that time and again: if it was all about jobs, how come these lads who use Irish data centres didn’t even so much as ping you on WhatsApp to let you know those jobs were, in fact, going?
There is also a narrative that it’s overexpansion that’s leading to an inevitable contraction when things get too big. But that’s not the case at either Twitter or Meta. This is about terrible business and strategy decisions that were always going to fail. Twitter’s global workforce is remarkably small for a company with such a large presence in society. The reason they’re hitting the skids is because a petulant Elon Musk is in charge, a trolling boy king who clearly understands more about how Mars works than back down here on planet Earth.
Musk has made such blindingly obvious mistakes in his chaotic crash landing into Twitter that it’s almost laughable. His errors are so obvious to anyone that you’d almost believe he was trying to intentionally destroy the platform. It reminds me of my teenage years playing the tactical football computer game Championship Manager. I would spend a season putting Robbie Fowler in goal just to watch Liverpool lose in a simulation.
Over at Meta, Mark Zuckerberg bet the house on his version of the Metaverse and, obviously, the market did not respond well to anticipating a future where everyone secretly desired wandering legless around boardrooms in a knock-off of Second Life. Like so many colossal tech failures, it was an elaborate and hugely costly punt on offering a “solution” in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. It was also an effort to get some talent into the company.
Meta has a huge issue with hiring talent because of how terrible the company’s reputation is, what with the democracy-shaking conspiracies, hate and disinformation, live-streamed mass shootings, fascists and racists organising and the appearance in front of countless government’s talking absolute pony to defend itself. When remote working hit, and in an employees’ market, the company, having invested hugely in commercial property, was now facing another problem: building and running massive office developments for people who didn’t want to return and whom the company couldn’t push to bring back or else they’d walk.
Stripe also hit the eject button, getting off lightly, particularly in the Irish media, only because Elon Musk was self-immolating. Stripe dropped an email saying to check your inbox if you’ve been fired. It’s incredible these companies think this is how you conduct mass lay-offs. Across the board, tech companies have been cavalier with process, workers’ rights, employment laws and national regulations in multiple jurisdictions. But I guess that’s what happens when you think you can do what you want, how you want and that the rules do not apply. Tech is infamously anti-union for a reason.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, who has spent his tenure listening to warnings about how concentrated our tax take is regarding a handful of tech companies, gave a usual neoliberal response, saying that it was an opportunity for fired workers to start their own companies. Yes, Minister and the miners are all going to start their own boutique small-batch mines.
If you have the entrepreneurial spirit to conceive of, develop, and follow through on your own successful tech enterprise, chances are you are not selling adverts for Facebook right now. I mean no disrespect, it’s just not what that job is about. It’s like asking a dairy farmer to reduce her herd to open and run a successful cafe. It’s a different thing.
What’s on the shakiest ground, and where bad decisions are made, is always the first thing to pop as a recession takes hold. In a surprise to no one, this time that’s going to be the areas of tech where bad decisions and bad ideas are rife.