Farewell From Pattern Matching
Today is my last day at Medium. Before I go, I want to sincerely thank everyone who subscribed to Pattern Matching. I also want to thank my editor, outgoing OneZero editor in chief Damon Beres, who has been my partner in this project from the start.
When we launched this newsletter, we had good data showing that readers tend to like concise, breezy newsletters whose subject lines promise a quick return on their time investment. We decided to ignore it entirely. I’m grateful and a bit surprised that tens of thousands of you decided to open our emails each week anyway. And now we have good data showing that at least some readers are also willing to open newsletters that promise a lengthy, meandering, and often ambivalent critical foray through the week’s tech news, with zero guarantee of self-improvement or actionable takeaway. Score one for non-data-driven decision-making.
At the time of our first issue last May, some were predicting the pandemic would herald the end of the “techlash” and a new era of appreciating Big Tech’s role in our lives. I was skeptical. Yes, the lockdowns had forced us to depend more on the internet than ever, and there was a place for gratitude that platforms such as Zoom, Slack, and Amazon worked at a time when so much else did not. But it was already clear that the leading firms would use the pandemic to consolidate their power and influence over our lives. And with that power would come — sooner or later — even more scrutiny.
A year later, as parts of the world prepare to reopen, it’s clear that the economy has shifted in lasting ways. Some were predictable: Zoom’s profits increased tenfold year over year, Nextdoor usage surged, and Amazon nearly doubled its workforce to become America’s second-largest employer behind Walmart. Others, less so: Clubhouse, launched in 2020, surged to a $4 billion valuation while pioneering a live audio chat format that Twitter, Facebook, and others have rushed to copy. A craze for non-fungible tokens saw a tweet sell for $2.9 million and a digital art collection fetch $69 million.
Big Tech’s gains have been staggering. As I write this, the eight most valuable publicly traded companies in the world by market capitalization are all either tech or tech-adjacent: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, Tesla, Taiwan Semiconductor, and Alibaba. All except the last have seen their valuation grow by at least 50 percent in the past 12 months.
And yet Big Tech is under siege as never before. If the “techlash” is over, it’s only because the forces opposing the industry’s power have grown into something bigger and more permanent than a mere backlash. The largest firms are under assault on the antitrust front, the privacy front, and — as the Amazon unionization drive in Bessemer, Alabama highlights — the labor front.
I’ve tried in this newsletter to focus not just on how to think about tech’s problems, but on what some of the solutions might look like, and how they can avoid throwing out the good with the bad. I don’t know yet what’s next for me, but it will probably involve continuing to explore those three questions. If you follow me on Twitter, I’ll let you know when I figure it out. (And if you’d like to reach me directly, my DMs are open.) Until then, here’s some fresh reading material.
Tech Reads of the Week
— Brian J. Barth, OneZero
— Lauren Goode, Wired
— Olivia Solon and April Glaser, NBC News
— Nick Clegg, Facebook
— Ellery Roberts Biddle, Tech Policy Press
— Lily Hay Newman, Wired
— Tate Ryan-Mosley, MIT Tech Review