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💔 Love Doesn't Scale
And yet subscription fees keep going up
Yep, I’m a data scientist. Okay now on with the main thing.
You know, I thought I was too young to get a stomach ulcer until I read the Techno-Optimist Manifesto which was released earlier this week by Andreessen Horowitz, the biggest VC firm in Silicon Valley. Tbh I was really trying to avoid looking at it but everyone kept talking about it so I gave in.
If you didn’t know by now, I hate capitalism and critique it at every opportunity. But even if that wasn’t true: I’ve never read anything that demonstrates a fundamental hatred of humankind more than this does. The whole thing is an Ayn Rand wet dream of infinite growth and abundance. It says, pretty much in the same breath, that humans are not exploited by the free market, yet their entire purpose is to be useful and productive.
I’m not going to pick apart the whole thing (because frankly it’s completely unhinged), but it has everything you might expect from a16z: an expert conflation of technological progress and human progress; the continual malignment of things such as collective action and sustainability as ‘enemies’; the aggressively narrow vision that stagnation will lead to death; and of course the general idea that capitalism isn’t just an ideological choice, but a moral one, and we must all submit to it like a new religion or face being left in a societal ditch like a putrid commie who refuses to upgrade to the latest iPhone.
The thing that really gets me with hyper-capitalist rhetoric is the stuff about never-ending innovation and abundance. Never mind for a minute that ‘infinite everything’ is impossible, it’s also completely at odds with what capitalists do, which is to restrict, enclose, and make scarce.
In fact, when an attempt is made to build something that even just feels infinite — like the internet — capitalists are the first ones to chop it up and sell it back to us. This silly manifesto has come while we are nipple-deep in a multi-verse of subscription models monetisation projects. Elon Musk has just decided to start charging $1 a year for people to post on Twitter. Microsoft’s Copilot is no longer free. Reddit’s third-party apps now have to start charging or shut down because the API has become so expensive. And the CEO of Unity has had to step down because of his new, grossly unpopular monetisation scheme.
It’s kind of hard to agree that capitalism + tech = abundance when every time I want to do something of any use with a piece of software, I have to pick a payment plan first. The world of SaaS seems to force us to approach our personal suite of tools and gadgets like a small business would, where you have to weigh up the costs and benefits of glorified word processors and kanban boards. To me, abundance in these contexts would be getting to use software and experience online spaces without restriction.
It’s especially patronising to be told that we live in a limitless world by the very people that are imposing limits. Nothing is limitless, which means you cannot — no matter how many times Marc Andreessen insists you can — grow infinitely. Even our new all-powerful AI systems have limits, and therefore a cost. You have to mine the precious metals which hold together the circuit boards that make up the GPUs that power things like large language models, and then you have to run these GPUs indefinitely, until they completely burn out, and continually keep them cool with water which, again, has to come from somewhere. All that extraction costs the Earth a great deal, and costs the consumer a monthly subscription fee. The extraction of finite resources works us towards scarcity… not abundance. The ‘infinite growth’ mindset comes from people who’ve mangled their cognition by watching numbers on a screen go up all day.
We’ve seen this play out in a bunch of ways now: aiming to scale infinitely doesn’t work, it just makes your service worse. That’s why social media platforms are rapidly decaying and why Google just kind of sucks now. Because Google doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be big. This week Google’s ongoing antitrust case revealed that they pay Apple annually to be the default search engine on Safari, and this makes up 14-16% of Apple’s profits. Brb just trying to figure out who this benefits, other than Google and Apple. Okay, now I’m imagining how much iPhones will increase in price after the courts order Google to stop paying all that money to Apple every year. Abundance, amirite?
Not to labour the point, but the Microsoft-Activision deal is also going through, which means Microsoft will own, and therefore probably restrict access to, loads of popular computer games. In tech at least, this honestly feels a renaissance of enclosure, not of endless wonders and innovation.
But I will say that this Techno-Optimist Manifesto did concede that there’s one thing out there impervious to growth. Apparently (and this is verbatim) “love doesn’t scale” — hard to scale something you’ve never experienced, I guess — thus the natural conclusion here is “let’s stick with money”. Can’t argue with that.
I’ll never restrict your access to Horrific/Terrific, but if you don’t donate, YOU’LL be restricting MY access to happiness…