Tom Hodgkinson: The geekocracy are the 21st-century equivalent of the 19th-century mill owners


Tom Hodgkinson@indyvoices
Sunday 23 February 2014 01:00

The Geeks have inherited the Earth, and the middle classes are angry. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and YouTube have created gigantic ad-sales scams that exploit the creativity of ordinary people and bring money and power to a new elite of nerds, which we could label the geekocracy.

While these masters of the cyberverse spend their money in deeply unimaginative ways – fast cars, five-dollar cups of coffee and golf – the people who created their fortunes – the writers, musicians, artists, self-promoting Tweeters and Facebook babblers –drift round Lidl searching for cheap baked beans and wondering how they're going to pay their bills.

The middle classes are experiencing the kind of resentment that has marked working-class life since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. And their anger is erupting into violence. Over the past couple of months, the streets of San Francisco have seen anti-geekocracy protesters block the luxury buses that ferry Google and eBay staff from their over-priced white city cubes to their out-of-town offices. "Techies used to seem endearing geeks, who made money and cute products but couldn't get the girls," noted Gary Kamiya, author of San Francisco, Cool Gray City of Love. "Now they're the lords and masters."

The rise of the geekocracy was predicted in 1994 by the Canadian writer Douglas Coupland when I interviewed him for The Idler. He said then: "You realise that the nerds are the people who are going to have power in the future. From a Darwinian standpoint, they are the survivors. So the species' survival energy attaches itself to them as winners." And that is precisely what our governments have ensured. Instead of resisting the geekocracy, ministers court it.

The Tories in particular indulge in frequent bouts of arslikhan with Google and the like. One example is the simple fact that former Tory spin doctor Rachel Whetstone is international head of communications at Google. She is married to Steve Hilton, former head of strategy for the Tories. Both Whetstone's mother and grandfather were active Thatcherite free-marketers. The old Tory guard have attached themselves like limpets to the new geeks, the 21st century's equivalent of the 19th-century mill owners.

I don't suppose there is much we can do about it. There is no point in voting for Labour because they have their heads just as firmly planted up the backsides of the cyberlords as the Tories. All we can do is take to the streets and stop using Google, Amazon, Facebook et al. But that seems practically impossible: I thought I had boycotted Amazon. But when I get my bank statements, every second entry is for Amazon. My children order stuff from it all the time.

Protests against the geekocracy have erupted in Paris recently. There is a new tech business, hubristically called Uber, which is planning to take over the world of consumer services in the same way Amazon has consumer goods. Uber's first project was a taxi-ordering system. Instead of hailing a local cab, international travellers now get out their smartphones, go to the Uber app, and order a car. An Uber driver appears in a new Lexus to whisk them from Tokyo airport to a meeting.

Parisian cabbies are not happy about Uber, because it steals their business. In January, the tech blog Rude Baguette reported that taxi drivers had attacked an Uber cab, which, by coincidence, contained a couple of geekocrats: "It seems that protest turned to guerrilla warfare… as one Uber driver, carrying Eventbrite CTO Renaud Visage & Kat Borlongan from the airport to Paris, was attacked by multiple assailants, who allegedly, after smashing one window and slashing two tires, as well as defacing one side of the car with glue, attempted to enter the vehicle."

One ray of hope in the UK comes from Class War, the anarchist organisation founded by agitator Ian Bone, which promises to bring a dash of radical politics mixed with Monster Raving Loony-style satire to the next General Election. Bone will stand against Labour MP Tristram Hunt in Stoke and poet Tim Wells will stand against another Labour veteran, Diane Abbott in Hackney. The manifesto? "Double the dole, cancel all payday loans, 50% mansion tax." I disapprove of living on state benefits as a lifestyle option, but bring the geekocracy into your sights, Ian, and I may be on board.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

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