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Garages and Monopolies

The tech industry is collectively closing the decade waging wars with politicians and the press. Was it always a disaster waiting to happen?

3 min read
Garages and Monopolies
Before Growth is a weekly column about startups and their builders prior to product–market fit.

I’m a young person and shouldn’t be able to say so, but thanks to some weird coincidence I watched the tech industry go from MySpace to the FTC suing Facebook for illegal monopolization in December 2020.

I wasn’t around the dot-com bubble, but I built my first app when I was 12 years old. It’s weird to know that there are a lot of much older people who joined tech much later. To this day I remember my surprise when I realized that a friend worked as a software engineer mostly because it’s a career. I don’t say this to brag or imply it’s wrong but to show you that what others felt for their very first serious childhood hobby, I felt for the tech community in the mid-2000s. Once I cloned a repo from SourceForge, made a few changes and put it online, it completely blew my mind. The potential seemed limitless.

I don’t remember the first Facebook like I got. I’m sure it felt pretty great, though. This imagined memory has to come to terms with a notion that many people now think, with some justification, that the company broke democracy worldwide. And it’s not just Facebook, of course. The tech industry is collectively closing the decade waging wars with politicians and the press. Others lost faith in it because of our shared problems like social divisions, but also due to many unforced errors, scandals, alleged monopolies, and misconduct—ranging from overblown by bad-faith actors who are out for blood, somewhat justified, to 100% real. I’m sad to see this happen. It feels like a childhood hero may go to jail.

Was it always a disaster waiting to happen? One can’t help but wonder.

Louie Barry is an English professional footballer, aged 17, who plays for Aston Villa. This week, Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow has revealed that the Villans returned 14 positive Covid-19 test results ahead of their FA Cup third round clash with Liverpool, making it difficult to put together a full squad for the match. Aston Villa were forced to play youngsters, so Barry made the team—and scored a goal for the Villans, helping the inexperienced team hold full-strength champions to a 1:1 draw after 45 minutes of play.

When the match ended, somebody found Barry’s old Twitter profile, created it in 2013 when he was just 10 years old.

plays for west brom academy and i love football i am a striker—reading this made me smile so much, I genuinely love it. Even though I hope everyone at Aston Villa recovers as soon as possible, how could you not love football after seeing this?

(The young Villans fought bravely, but lost 1:4. I’ll remember this result for a long, long time, and not for Liverpool’s goals.)

I saw the profile after I already decided to write this post, so I couldn’t help but notice some connection. After all, sport at the highest level has in the last few decades become a highly profitable business and its magic sometimes seems all but commercialized. But as long as we all continue to need hope and football produces stories like this, I think it’ll be fine.

There were 68,053 new Covid cases in the UK the day of the match.

Can the tech industry still spin innocent tales like Villa’s? I was slowly losing faith in it for years, even if I didn’t want to admit it to myself. Something slowly changed in 2020, though. To say the year was chaotic would be the understatement of the century. But I think it forced every single one of us to reflect about what’s important, because, well, how could you live through it completely unchanged?

I’m not lying to myself that we can restore the past—the time’s arrow marches forward. But we can reforge its memory into something new. New strengths, new ideas, new people—not necessarily just young. Another generation of unlikely heroes.

Did the same happen after Microsoft won the PC wars? During the dot-com bust? Is it forever recurrent? I don’t know for sure; it’s just a narrative I choose to believe in even though some will call it naive. Maybe it is. But I prefer that to cynicism, so I’m going to leave Facebook and Big Tech to others. I’ll continue, for better or worse, to throw in my lot with anyone trying as hard as they can to build their weird app with a passion akin to that of a kid who dreams to become a pro player, hoping to keep the good and help fix the bad.

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Kamil Nicieja

I guess you can call me an optimist. I build products for fun—I’m a startup founder, author, and software engineer who’s worked with tech companies around the world.


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