The tech platforms promised us a future of connection, but they were lying. They said their walled gardens would keep us safe, but they were building prison walls.
That’s the claim made by Cory Doctorow, one of the world’s leading critics of the impact of new technologies on society and culture. And in September 2023 he came to Intelligence Squared to talk about his new book The Internet Con, in which he argues that it isn’t enough to fix big tech – we need to dismantle it.
The fundamental problem, as he sees it, is big tech’s lack of interoperability: the way the platforms lock users into their ecosystems and make it difficult to leave. If we delete an account and try to stay connected on a different platform to the people and communities we love, and the audiences and customers we rely on for a living, we find it’s impossible. We would have to start all over again – and in the process we would inevitably lose contacts, photos, memories and conversations we value. So we stay.
Twitter, Facebook and the other platforms are holding us hostage, Doctorow claims, and this is a deliberate business strategy aimed at turning our personal data and connections into easy pickings that are making the tech giants unbelievably rich.
In conversation with science writer and comedian Timandra Harkness, Doctorow set out his solution to this problem, which is to force Silicon Valley to do the thing it fears most: interoperate.