This Week In Tech News: Orwellian Doublethink

The last week has been filled with announcements from big tech firms:

Facebook tells us “the future is private“.

Google tells us they’re “here to help“.

Amazon tell us it’s a friend to small businesses.

"War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength"  by Nney is licensed under  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength” by Nney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In developers’ conferences and earnings calls, the biggest of the big tech companies are trying to develop unique value propositions that paint them as friendly, responsive, and attuned to the needs of their customers. Then the mainstream technology media (often overworked, understaffed and reliant on the good graces of big tech for continued access to stories), generally reports these messages at face value. News in the last week focused on Facebook’s pivot toward community groups, Google’s exciting universal translator or Amazon’s claim that small and medium sized business partners made on average 90K last year through their platform.

While these messages likely are not completely false (the best misdirections have a ring of truth to them), I think they are, to some degree, Orwellian doublethink (war is peace, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery). From Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, doublethink is the art of holding two simultaneous contradictory beliefs. In the novel, people adopt doublethink as a way to not be socially ostracized. Without doublethink, and it’s cousin newspeak the ruling political party was not able to maintain complete control

And so too with our technology erm…”friends”.

All three have been in the news lately in less than flattering ways. Facebook has been in the news for privacy breaches. Google has been in the news for spreading conspiracy theories and radicalizing people via search and YouTube. Amazon has been in the news for killing retail.

But war is peace; freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.

So Facebook is “pivoting to privacy” – for everyone BUT facebook that is. You may not be able to see how many likes your instagram post got, but they know, and will still sell your influence to a third party – anonymized of course.

Google is “here to help” – while still collecting your data and using algorithmic recommendations to drive you to content that may be eroding our social fabric – but whatever, you can read signs in French now.

Amazon is “supporting small business” – while also stealing their best ideas and undercutting them to make even more money.

Doublethink requires that people are willing to spread the contradictory message or face social isolation: much like our beleaguered journalists.

Doublethink helps ruling parties maintain power: much like our dominant technology firms would like to do.

Doublethink requires constant propaganda: and with technology companies structuring much of our information consumption through multiple platforms, they possibly have a handle on that too.

Orwell wrote,

If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes

The Big 3 tech companies are using past mistakes to craft compelling messages. We would be wise to not make the mistake of falling for them.

This Week In Tech News: Orwellian Doublethink

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