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Is Big Tech experiencing an identity crisis?

Reflections from attending Collision 2022

Collision 2022 was an overwhelming experience for someone new to tech. I'm sure it was overwhelming for many others, too. 35,000 people! In one place! So many stands, exhibits, and presentations to get to! Having had some time to process the experience, it is interesting to recognize what has truly taken root in my mind.

There was such a huge variation between the things I found depressing and the things I found inspiring. The chasm between those two categories is about the size of an exhibition centre that can hold 35,000 people.

Let's start with the depressing things. The things that made me roll my eyes. HARD. Some of the most memorable moments are listed below, but altogether they just gave me a sense that there are still too many ultra-capitalists (read: personal financial growth at all costs) running tech spaces, who cannot even fathom the kind of lives that most of us lead, or what truly matters to most people at a time where we face many manmade existential crises:

  • We were warned about big corporations and institutions coming into the Web3 space without really honouring the principles of Web3. For example, Meta are partnering with luxury brands to provide online marketplaces using Web3. But is it really Web3 if they don't subscribe to interoperability, open source software, and decentralized models? If it's about surveillance, control, and closed gardens, be wary. If they have nothing open source, be VERY wary.

  • "Airbnb is all about connection and belonging." Really? It's not about driving house and rental prices up exponentially, leaving literally millions of people out of stable living conditions? We heard about how much the Airbnb hosts were hurting during the pandemic, how "everyday people can become hosts" (are you kidding me now?), and that "our product is people." I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to be defined as a product, ever. The dissonance between genuine social issues of our time how this whole discussion was framed really made me fizz for the rest of the day. It's like poor people do not exist. And by poor, that includes people like me who cannot imagine owning a property.

  • Onto the next talk where, I kid you not, this was said: "The economy should benefit everyone: people in the top, the middle, and everywhere in between. Let's create economic prosperity for all." (See above. Poor people do not exist to these gurus.)

  • There was an acknowledgement that crypto has a long way to go. Apparently, Celsius is not a business model that anyone should replicate: accusations likening crypto to a Ponzi scheme are, in this case, quite understandable (according to the centre stage speakers). Predominant use cases for crypto need to move from gambling, trading, and fees that are prohibitive to so many people. To scale well, we need better research and more tech breakthroughs. Ethereum are struggling to innovate.

  • The Uber guy talked about "dominating every market" and "Uberising has to be magical." He briefly mentioned supply issues (no kidding – when your workers keep suing you due to their working conditions, you're going to face some 'supply' issues.) For me, everything about his philosophy stank. It was all about domination and control – of the market, and of people generally.

  • A recession is coming. Everyone knows it. Founders were advised not to seek funding until after Labour Day at the very earliest.

  • One speaker on centre stage actually said, with their whole chest, "Greed is good!" I beg to differ.

Tech could do so much good in our world, if utilized for the right reasons and regulated appropriately. I'm tired of the fat cats who have always profited disproportionately taking centre stage (literally, in the case of Collision). Many of us are tired of the underlying ideology that we know is accelerating ecological and social collapse. It's time to demand change.

And so, with that said, here were the moments that gave me hope:

  • I heard more about how Wikipedia and Fandom spaces operate; it made me feel the warm and fuzzies. Guess what? Devolving power into your communities works. People self-regulate the spaces they care about, and they do it well. Elected admins can exert the kind of genuine control that doesn't exist on platforms like Twitter. People are safer and happier in these spaces, and they find true community. This is why Cordial World is needed for the more complex problem solving that our societies need to address.

  • Sheila North, Bobbie Racette, Jacqueline Jennings, and Willow Fiddler took to centre stage to talk about indigenous innovation and how it is shaping the future. They spoke on National Indigenous People's Day in Canada, and it felt like a true celebration of progress. Raven Capital – the only indigenous-led venture capital fund in the world – is entering spaces they haven't been in before and bringing their own ways of being and of knowing. Bobbie is the first indigenous woman in tech to close a Series A funding round, and 20 indigenous tech companies were present at the conference. I learned about Indigenomics: wealth is perceived differently. It's about your ability to give what you have. You get as much as you can so that you can give it away. Just think how world-changing it would be to take their lead and run with this way of being and knowing. Indigenous people were the first entrepreneurs of Canada, and they have the drive and resilience to continually progress and move forward: "Indigenous people have often been told NO their entire lives...we were meant to be extinct 150 years ago. Where will we be in another 150? The only challenge is ourselves and our ability to bring other people in who have been left out." It wasn't lost on anyone that this is the first time Indigenous women have taken centre stage at a major tech conference. It was deeply inspiring and challenging: "LPs are saying representation is important...but representation is suicide prevention for our youth. Period. It's not performative."

Okay, so there are only two points in the above list. It might seem like the negatives outweighed the positives in my experience of Collision, and in some ways that is true. However, the two positives gave me so much hope, and so much drive for projects like Cordial World to succeed to help shape a kinder, more just, representative and collaborative digital space that it feels like they matter more in the end.

Do you want to be part of reclaiming and shaping tech spaces for good? If so, we'd love to hear from you – let's work together!

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