Tag Archives: regulatory capture

dispensable and scarce

Just a quick subtweetish sort of blog post, here, to note that the more times people start an essay or article or academic paper or blog post with a phrase along the lines of “[d]igital platforms and the online services that they provide have become an indispensable and ubiquitous part of modern lifestyles, mediating our jobs, hobbies, patterns of consumption and forms of communication“, the more reified becomes the supposed indispensability and ubiquity that is supposedly being critiqued.

Just fucking stop it, OK? Farcebork is not indispensable; Scamazon is not (yet) ubiquitous. But conceding in your opening line that “well, they probably will be, so maybe some gestures toward regulation (in a system where regulatory capture is a significant part of the problem) would be good, please, sir?” is to have thrown in the towel before you even step into the ring.

Every time I hear someone talk about the indispensability of Farcebook in particular, I think of junkies queuing for their methadone: “I wanna quit, I really do, but it’s too hard, all my friends are still using it”. Well, if that’s really the case, stop sitting around and fantasising about regulating your dealer; this idle chatter of ressentiment while you wait for Your Man is a big part of his hold over you.

(For the avoidance of doubt, this is not to to make the equally fallacious argument that “we can do without technology!”—though if anyone in this audience is still making that sort of argument, I’m not gonna waste my time explaining why its both stupid and hypocritical.)

(For the further avoidance of doubt, I’m generally sympathetic to the work of that paper’s lead author, and indeed to most of what the paper actually argues. But that doesn’t change my fury at the implicit capitulation of that opening line. Language shapes social reality; the more you describe the worst parts of our social reality as inescapable, the harder it becomes to escape them.)