The rise of the Technostate - the book I never wrote
In 2010 I pitched a book to my literary agent (who has stuck with me despite not doing a whole lotta book writing lately), and while he was interested, he felt it was a bit too early. Given all of the talk about virtual currencies, I thought I’d share what I was thinking back then. I don’t have time to write this book, but I think someone should :)
Here are the first six chapters in an outline pitch…
Chapter 1: The Arrival of the TechnoState
Advances in life conditions due to human ingenuity is something that has been a driving force since the time the caveman first discovered fire, and modern technology – from Thomas Edison on – has created an even more accelerated effect on all of our lives in innumerable ways.
Today’s technology – from billions of devices communicating through digital networks, to the millions of years of accumulated information is a keystroke away, to the instant location sensing of people, places and spending opportunities through a network of satellites – provides a digital guidewire for decisions, purchases, learning and social experience.
In fact, the influence of technology – the digital life guidewire – could be said to exceed a person’s own government it its ability to control decisions, manage behavior, provide identity. As work begins to lose geo-boundaries in the digital economy, as social graphs are driven by what interests a person instead of who shows up at their local bar or water cooler, the geography of space becomes less important and the geography of the digital landscape becomes paramount.
It’s this fundamental shift that gives rise to the TechnoState and the first digital superpowers.
Chapter 2: The Reasons for TechnoState
Over the past decade, fundamental shifts in the world of technology have given rise to the unprecedented influence of a few companies.
The shift to digital commerce has allowed one company in particular - Google – to insert themselves as a central component for decision making and purchase decisions for hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people. This central role has allowed Google to amass amazing market power, from which they’ve expanded outward into practically every aspect of our lives, allowing them to become the first dominant TechnoState of this century.
The innate human desire to build a digital homestead with communities of friends, coworkers, interest-aligned peers is something that has created enormous power for those that control the social worlds. Facebook, Google and even Apple see the expansion of social connectedness of the web as a crucial weapon to expand their power. They see harnessing the power of these technologies as a way to create loyal armies of evangelists bring ever more legions of citizens into their worlds.
Lastly, economic power has been shifting to those who live and work in digital worlds. The classic holders of powers – from broadcast media to those who controlled the means of production to even those who owned the first wave of technology dominance in the PC era (Microsoft) has seen their power slip as those that effectively maneuver the networked digital economy landscape rise in stature.
This chapter will explore the precedents and those who attempted to do what these companies have done (Microsoft in desktop and computing, AOL in social/closed web) and see why they didn’t succeed.
Chapter 3: The Rise of Digital Superpower
Like during the cold war, the power in technology and on the Internet is becoming increasingly controlled by a few large players: Google, Apple and Facebook. While there are other important players – such as Microsoft, Intel, Yahoo and Nokia – these companies do not possess all the attributes – at least not today – to become a technology superpower.
What fueled the rise of these three TechnoState superpowers?
In short, a combination of luck, good timing, and well-executed strategy.
Google’s success is built upon being the dominant search provider on the Internet. The company leveraged this leading position, treating it as a country would its own abundant natural resources, to expand outward and capture more digital land and riches.
Apple’s beachhead was what would become the first dominant digital music platform in iPod and iTunes. From there, they expanded outward into neighboring areas such as digital entertainment content and ultimately into mobile phones. The growth was largely dictated by their founder and highly charismatic leader in Steve Jobs.
As Facebook has the biggest community in which hundreds of millions of users spend their time on the Internet. Their ambitions have grown, prompting them to expand their reach beyond their own site through their Facebook ID and platform efforts, as well as create more fertile soil in their walled garden to allow for more time to be spent within their walls through commerce, entertainment and expanded communication services.
Chapter 4: Digital War Machines: Tactics and Strategies of the Digital SuperPower
The book, Sun Tzu’s Art of War is a classic book from an ancient military general that examines strategies for warcraft. More recently, author Mark McNeilly applied many of Sun Tzu’s principles in his “Sun Tzu and the Art of Business”, outlining modern business strategies based on classic war tactics to gain business advantage.
Many of the same classic tactics used in war and realpolitik are now being used in technology markets. We can examine how the digital superpowers use war tactics and strategies to enhance their market position and win digital landwars.
In the age of the Digital Nation-State, the large actors take these steps even further, employing war tactics enhanced by the power of the Internet, fueled by social media, which in turns results in many of the same results you see in classic wars: to amass power, wealth and overall influence.
On a more literal level, we can also examine the increasing battles between the TechnoState superpowers and actual nationstates, as highlighted by the Google-China standoff over censorship.
Chapter 5: The New Digital Economy
We know that money, and the endeavor associated with accumulating it, is perhaps the most important engine of human activity today. The desire to create a better standard of living drives the large majority of human endeavor and is often the principal reason for both partnership and discord between organizations and nation-states.
Technology has become central to the creation, distribution and management of wealth, from the electronic stock markets to digital bank records to newer electronic markets responsible for billions of dollars in business such as eBay and Craiglist.
Given the rise of technology in our lives, perhaps it’s not surprising that the companies like Google, Apple and Facebook are increasingly starting to provide important economic services. Not only that, they are becoming, in a sense, economic markets unto themselves, where individuals and companies can make a livelihood, can create wealth (and lose it). Going further, in a sense these companies have currencies, economic system to transact, etc, things that, in a sense, can almost replace that of the government.
What is the economic foundation these new digital economies? These companies’ platforms. Platforms are the soil, provide for the internal digital economies to take-off. It’s their own form of semi-controlled free-markets, where actors are allowed to come in and innovate – as long as they play by the rules dictated by the government (which is, in this case, Google, Apple or Facebook).
In this chapter we will explore the lives of some of the new digital citizens living in these new economic worlds.
Chapter 6: The Virtual Passport: The Battle for Your Digital Identity
In the real world, a person’s identity is established by their government. You obtain a passport or driver’s license through a government office, and through ownership of this identity you can access goods and services, travel and move about, in general function in society.
In the new digital world, a person can have many identities. From the most casual and anonymous of identities created in an online chatroom, to email addresses and universal logins from Google, to universal authentication efforts by Facebook, a person’s digital identity can take many forms
As time goes on, increasing momentum is behind efforts to create digital passports to the open Internet, where a person would conceivably be able to go from site to site, purchase to purchase and be identified through a central ID.
Facebook’s ID ambitions are central to its platform push, where the company has opened up a set of APIs to allow developers to connect their sites and allow a person’s Facebook identity, usage, preferences and behavioral characteristics follow them around the digital landscape.
Google’s efforts have been aggressive and often times centered out of its login efforts with its Gmail email service. A person’s Gmail is their passport to access a universe of digital services commanded by Google that is continuously expanding and growing. From Google Voice to Buzz to YouTube to commercial tools like Adsense and Adwords.
While Apple’s identity efforts don’t have the entire web in its sites (unlike Google and Facebook), Apple is creating its own private world – the world’s largest Walled Garden – in which they have complete and utter control. The ID management system here is iTunes, where a consumer’s passport this private world is their iTunes account.