These Behemoth Tech Monopolies are Starting to Own Everything!

New Orleans   When Amazon suddenly buys Whole Foods, and some hidden part of your psyche suddenly feels a pang of regret for Walmart, you know you’re in trouble and that something has gone awry in the world. Walmart was an easy target. They were everywhere. Amazon is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but having them around the corner at a Whole Foods, even though I don’t shop there, makes me uneasy.

Are there any limits? Where are the boundaries?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Kindle. My neighborhood pet store is so haughty and off-putting that I get my dog food from Amazon as well and save money and time while doing so. I needed a cheap phone for international calls that Google offers, but they are out of them, but Amazon will come through for me.

But, Google is also scary. European regulators are about to levy a record fine on them for privileging their own advertisers in their search algorithms. They are in a blood fight over who will control self-driving vehicles with Uber in a battle of the tech titans, although other techies and even legacy car makers are in this race, too. I use Google. We have channels on YouTube. Their maps are a godsend to the lost wayfarer. But what do they know about cars?

Not that Uber gives any comfort. Their CEO and one of the founders was forced out of the company by his big time investors, largely because he was out of control, but, hey, Uber has been out of control and past the pale in its business practices and disregard for local and national laws and regulations since it began, and they seemed unworried until there were too many headlines.

Facebook and Google are somehow going to manage the news and police internet postings. Maybe we don’t want the government doing that, but are these folks qualified since their priorities are running ad engines. Recently I read a new book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, and it’s a good one. The author made the point about the arbitrary and capricious rules of both that have endangered – and even jailed – organizers and human rights activists around the world. Their policies have both given voices and taken them away with equal impunity. All of this despite the fact that their business is communication. Did I mention the fact that the head of Amazon now also owns The Washington Post and produces TV and movies?

The disrupters become the establishment, too. AirBnb wants to be more like a hotel. Uber and Lyft want to replace car ownership, buses, and taxis. Amazon wants to automate the grocery business. Despite the branding hype and their own self promotion, all of this is not in the name of public service, but private profit. If you need any proof, look at the destructive impact these tech billionaires are having on public education, where they are clueless, yet leading the way in random directions.

Increasingly, we are finding out who is in charge, but nobody seems to be on watch and those that are seem to be sleeping at the switch.


Could Noncommercial Radio Be the Technology of the Future?

Bangladesh-Online-RadioNew Orleans   Recently I was visiting an amazing collection of fancy, high-tech radio studios that had largely been used to make commercials for local and national companies to run on the radio. According to the owner that business isn’t gone, but it’s drying up, partially because fewer dollars are being spent on either radio or television ads, but also because the technology has become more accessible and more companies and radio conglomerates are doing everything themselves. You buy an ad, and you get the production for free, essentially, or at least rolled into the price in a one-stop move, rather than jobbing it out. As I left he said something off-hand that caught my ear about radio being fading technology.

Of course that’s the buzz, since contemporary wisdom would be that the internet owns all of the future, but I wonder.

Amazon, which is a pretty future-forward company for both good and evil, has a new device called an Echo. Like the Kindle e-reader years ago, it’s not the most expensive tool out there priced a bit over $100. There’s a genie living in the Echo, whose name is Alexa, and you activate the device by talking to Alexa. You know the drill, “Alexa, what is the weather in Paris today?” “Alexa, what is the 7-day forecast in Toronto?” And, here’s the deal, Alexa answers you. No muss. No fuss. Amazon is one of these classically super secretive, super competitive techie companies, but when it comes to the Echo, they have encouraged other companies to develop applications for the device, which seamlessly connects the apps from your computer or whatever.

So what does this have to do with radio not being a horse-and-buggy technology but, just maybe, a hot ticket to the future? Well, accessing radio is still a million times easier to do from your car or old-fashioned radio set, than from your mobile phone or other devices. On the other hand with the Echo, all you have to say is, “Alexa, play KABF,” and, bam, there it is streaming in your house from a million miles away.

But, I’m not a salesman for Amazon, so my point is that this emerging revolution in voice recognition software and computer intelligence and capacity means that in a few years you can easily expect that we’ll be able to tell our phones, our computers, and any other devices, exactly what we want to hear, when we want to hear it, wherever we are, and there is nothing more ubiquitous than music on the radio. Certainly this is true for terrestrial stations that also stream on the internet, but it is also likely something that may become true for internet-only stations that could be accessed more easily on a voice-command.

Podcasts are not a growing audience according to surveys, but they are also more easily accessed in the same way by voice-command on a device like the Echo. Music still trumps because it more easily adapts as a background soundtrack to life, and noncommercial radio and internet stations will also have an advantage there because there will be less underwriting, talk, and commercial-like blah-blah. There will continue to be some business-model problems to resolve, but far from radio going the way of the manual typewriter, the new world coming of voice-command, immediate search and deliver internet-enabled music could provide radio with a spring in its step for quite a long time, everything being equal.


Please enjoy Banta’s Three Feet From Gold.  Thanks to Kabf.