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Big Revolution - Toxic simplicity

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Welcome to Wednesday's newsletter. Let's jump straight in... – Martin from Big Revolution
 
April 24 · Issue #405 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Wednesday’s newsletter. Let’s jump straight in…
– Martin from Big Revolution

Today's the day
My next live online class takes place today. Reserve your place for ’Journalism for Marketers,’ and join us at 3pm UK time, 4pm CEST, 10am EDT, 7am PDT. It costs just $99 (approximately £75) for the one-hour class.
Big things you need to know today
  • Apple is now offering next-day repairs for its much-maligned laptop keyboards. Given the scale of complaints about the reliability of recent MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro keyboards, this is a good thing.
  • Alphabet’s Wing drone-based delivery startup has gained approval to operate as an airline in the USA. It’s the first such company to do so, and plans to launch use its license to launch a delivery service in rural Virginia.
  • Microsoft Paint lives on in Windows 10. The 34-year-old art app was due to be relegated to a free download separate to the main operating system, but Microsoft says it will now remain bundled for the time being.
The big thought
Credit: Thought Catalog on Unsplash
The toxic simplicity of ‘big tech is bad’
The big story in the online media world yesterday was the drama at pre-launch publication The Markup.
The Markup had raised more than $23m to launch a site focused on technology’s impact on society. But then this week editor-in-chief Julia Angwin was fired. Five of the site’s seven editorial staff have resigned in protest.
I’m not going to comment on The Markup’s case specifically, but the apparent reason for Angwin’s firing is worth noting. As the New York Times reports:
“[The Markup cofounder, Sue] Gardner wanted to change the site’s mission to “one based on advocacy against the tech companies” instead of “producing meaningful data-centered journalism about the impact of technology on society,” Ms. Angwin wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times.”
Gardner disputes that particular characterisation, but it’s worth highlighting because it’s a trap I see too many publications falling into right now. 'Big tech companies are bad’ is the new hotness in tech journalism. After years of falling for utopian hype, tech journalists are making amends by slapping down Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Google (but mainly Facebook) at every opportunity.
This isn’t healthy, because while big tech companies certainly do bad things and should be held to account, it’s no good caricaturing them as cartoon baddies. Huge companies do some good things and some bad things, and some things that are good for some people and bad for others. So while swinging an almighty pendulum back in their direction might seem satisfying, it denies the complexity of the world.
Let’s not forget that many of the problems big tech companies contribute to have wider causes. Social media may give oxygen to toxic voices, but the ignorance of politicians, and a 20-year period when too many people gave up engaging with politics and treated racism and sexism like 'solved’ issues, are also major factors.
And 'big tech firms don’t pay enough tax’ is a fair argument, but governments not updating their tax laws to make sense in a time of global businesses is the main reason the problem exists.
Asking giant companies to do anything but minimise their tax burden through all legal means available seems like a hiding to nothing. “I’m sorry, shareholders, our profits suffered because we volunteered to pay more tax” might be good citizenship but it’s also is a good way to see your share price drop. Change the rules around taxation and you might get somewhere.
The world is complicated. Pretending it’s simple leads to simplistic solutions to our problems, solutions that aren’t fit for purpose and might do more harm than good. It’s important to speak out against big tech companies, but to pretend they’re operating in a bubble helps no-one.
In that context, “meaningful data-centered journalism about the impact of technology on society” sounds like a highly worthwhile mission.
One big read
Confessions of a White Paper writer Confessions of a White Paper writer
An article exploring the ‘white papers’ that accompany initial coin offerings (ICOs) in the cryptocurrency, token, and blockchain world. It will affirm most of your preconceptions about the some of the worst people in that field of tech.
One big tweet
Donald Trump met Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey yesterday. Apparently Trump vented about having lost followers in Twitter’s cull of spam accounts.
Donald J. Trump
Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter. Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue! https://t.co/QnZi579eFb
9:54 PM - 23 Apr 2019
That’s all for today...
Back tomorrow. See you in your inbox then, or in the online class later today!
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