To quote Robert Wright from Non Zero:
To stay strong, a society must adopt new technologies. In particular, it must reap the non-zero-sum fruits they offer. Yet new technologies often redistribute power within societies. (They often do this precisely because they raise non-zero-sumness- because they expand the number of people who profit from the system and so wield power within it.) And if there is one opinion common to all ruling classes everywhere, it is that power is not in urgent need of redistributing. Hence the Hobson’s choice for the governing elite: accept valuable technologies that may erode your power, or resist them so well that you may find yourself with nothing to govern.
I consider the ruling class as gatekeepers because they control the access of the remaining populace to prosperity. Across time, different entities have played the role of gatekeeper by controlling different facets that can change society’s general prosperity. To name a few, religion by controlling behaviour, government (aristocracy to democracy) by controlling the central currency and freedom of all sorts, media by controlling information, and the wealthy, by the sheer ability to control deployment of capital, and thereby job creation.
Stratechery had a well argued post (as always) titled Goodbye Gatekeepers recently, using the Weinstein context and the changed role of him, and the NYT as gatekeepers. He ends by stating that the end of gatekeepers is inevitable: the Internet provides abundance, not scarcity, and power flows from discovery, not distribution. I am in agreement, but I also think we have just replaced one set of gatekeepers with another. GAFA, along with (arguably) others like Twitter do have a disproportionate control on discovery itself. Pando actually wrote this 5 years ago!
Access is a problem, and I wonder if, as technology advances, this will become worse. Not only will a set of people lose access to the latest tech if they aren’t up to speed on the previous cycle, the benchmark for ‘up to speed’ itself might be getting higher. I was thinking of AI in the context of this and remembered The Verge’s article on AI and social inequality. Automation, for instance, is apparently taking away many jobs that were ‘stepping stones’ to professional industries. No coincidence then, that if I look at the biggest players in AI today, it is GAFA.
At this point, the only tech that seems to show some potential in changing this is blockchain, Bitcoin and its ilk notwithstanding. But to quote Robert Wright again,