Thanks for the talk Adam, it was interesting. However I would like to take you up on a couple of points.
Your principal thesis is that corporations were at their apotheosis (in terms of concentrated power) in the mid-20th century and since then power has been slowly shifting back to people as a result of emancipatory technology driven by a new type of corporation i.e. Google and Facebook.
I agree that these “new” large corporations seem different on the surface. For example they deal with consumers directly and have to at least appear to us to be a force for good (perhaps for the environment and/or society). It’s worth noting though that in the case of Google and Facebook, their customers are really advertisers and we (the people) are their product which they sell in the form of information. They control the historical record and information about us and this alone makes them incredibly powerful; both now and in the future.
Now for the paradoxical part. These platforms are “free” and “democratic”. So I could in theory use YouTube to learn about conspiracy theories, alternative economic models, and all sorts of other things that threaten their hegemony. Indeed there are plenty of anarchistic people on so-called “social” networks (I prefer to call them asocial networks but that’s another topic for another time). I believe it’s allowed to take place because the overwhelming majority of the uninformed masses are happy looking at Justin Beiber videos and the status-quo is therefore maintained. I like the philosophical analogy of the people in the Matrix Trilogy that took the (red?) pill and escaped the system to live in Zion with more autonomy, they were allowed to do so because the system of control still functioned; albeit imperfectly.
To obviously restrict information flows would break the “necessary illusion” of emancipation and freedom. We assume that social networks increase our frame of reference as compared to the mainstream media, and in some cases this is indeed true. But on average I would argue that it decreases people’s frame of reference because the information filtering built into these platforms has confabulation and confirmation bias built-in. For example on Facebook it has the concept of an “affinity” score between you and all your friends and types of information and won’t show you any information that you have not paid attention to in the past. Facebook could in theory manipulate these information flows to suit some political agenda but the really clever thing to realise is that they don’t even need to. I would recommend reading the first part of Assange’s recent book about Google and tell me if you still think the same way.
So that was the main thing I took issue with. The new technology you spoke of which actually supports your thesis going into the 21st century is the “blockchain” technology behind Bitcoin. Which for those who don’t know basically allows for a decentralised public ledger that supports trustless transactions between individuals. This in the future could be used as a public immutable record for contracts, and even intellectual information which is immune to interference from corporations and governments (other than regulation). This technology really does have the potential to to challenge concentrated power and we should watch the space very carefully. Joseph Schumpeter may have been right all along because it creates a class of small corporation which is doing something emancipatory and against the interests of large corporations.