First, I want to go on record saying I thought MySpace was better than Facebook and I was resistant to join Facebook. I mean, MySpace allowed you to learn basic coding skills! And MySpace gave you the option to have a song on your page! But alas, Facebook won…for now.
The other day I was watching a debate between Yanis Varoufakis and Gillian Tett where the topic was “Can We Fix Capitalism?”
I’m not an economist, so I’m not commenting on the debate itself. I watched it to learn and be informed. What I want to discuss here is a snippet of an exchange between Varoufakis and Tett that I thought mattered more than a quick glance would reveal. Varoufakis has been arguing that capitalism is already dying or is basically dead or has “evolved into another system”. He proposes that something he calls “technofeudalism” has taken its place. If you want to know his thoughts on the matter, here’s a clip where he shares his idea with Slavoj Žižek:
If you don’t want to watch the video, I’ll provide a very brief, very rough simplification: Capitalism needs (A) “profit to drive it” and (B) that “exploitation takes place in markets” but what we see with Amazon, Facebook, etc., is not a market since people like Bezos and Zuckerberg use their digital platforms to predetermine what can be bought or sold. Varoufakis believes that this limiting power is more feudalistic than market-driven and since it’s done through “platforms” the person who decides (“one person owns to whole digital space”) what can be bought or sold are those who own the platforms. (Varoufakis argues that once you get on Facebook, you’re already “outside capitalism”.)
While this is fascinating, I want to go back to the aforementioned debate. During the debate, in an attempt to defend capitalism’s redeemability, Tett points out change can happen, that these “platforms” don’t have to have the last word, and that, in fact, they’re already losing their grip. Her point to Varoufakis: Gen Z isn’t on Facebook.
Now, I’m not saying that this gives Tett the edge in the debate; I’m saying this one point is fascinating. Because Varoufakis’ observation seems valuable to me. Something is changing. But Tett’s observation also matters: these multi-billion-dollar corporations aren’t invincible or eternal. In fact, like Blockbuster, I think the clock is tick, tick, ticking on Facebook. Facebook may dominate the connectivity of Millennials, Gen X, etc., but Gen Z is on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. While Facebook owns Instagram, it appears that TikTok’s model (and still YouTube’s) is becoming increasingly attractive. What’s clear is Facebook itself is dying and this became most apparent this week when Zuckerberg lost $29 billion and Meta lost $200 billion. Why? Facebook is seeing a drop in users.
I don’t see Facebook rebounding. I don’t think the “Meta” rebranding will work. Facebook has lost the next generation already. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose my generation as well. I mean, MySpace did.
So, Varoufakis may be correct. We may be moving into technofeudalism. But Tett is right about at least one thing: consumers still have the power to bring even giants like Facebook to their knees.