While many have struggled through 2020, tech companies have come out on top, writes Tom Hodgkinson
It has been a nightmarish year for so many people – though not everyone. It’s been a very good year for Big Tech, as The New Yorker’s John Cassidy pointed out the other day:
“Among the biggest gainers are eight tech barons with large stock holdings: Elon Musk (Tesla), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Alphabet), and Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) … between March 18th and December 7th, Musk’s worth rose by $118.5 billion, Bezos’s worth rose by $71.4 billion, and Zuckerberg’s worth rose by $50.1 billion. The other five – Ellison, Page, Brin, Gates and Ballmer – each saw gains of between 20 billion and 30 billion dollars.”
This is obviously because many of us have been stuck at home in our cells, our screens our companions, like something out of EM Forster’s dystopian novel The Machine Stops. The overlords of Silicon Valley have benefited because they mediate our communication and sell ads when we chat to each other online. “Trebles all round!” as they say at Private Eye.
Cassidy asks, quite rightly, why these maniacs are not using their enormous wealth to alleviate poverty?
It’s also been a good year for the self-important, the politicians, who have enjoyed bustling about, telling us what to do and awarding contracts to the tycoons.
But what about us idlers? I feel torn because on the one hand we’ve been able to slow down, consume less and spend more time idling. That great enemy of idling, commuting, has been killed off for many. There’s been less pressure to do stuff all the time, more time for aimless wandering, for art.
On the other hand, the opportunities for merry-making have been very few and far between. Musicians and pub landlords, two classes of freedom-seekers who make life worth living for the rest of us, have had their incomes and businesses destroyed. I heard a sad interview with a trumpet player on Radio 3 who has had to retrain as a decorator. Nothing wrong with being a decorator, but he is a trumpeter, who had practised for years and years in order to fulfil his dream of making a living from doing what he loved.
The anti-authoritarians among us have resented being told what to do by governments and bureaucrats, while others have unselfishly followed all the rules out of a laudable public spiritedness. The Puritanical tendencies of Parliament have come to the surface, much to the horror of the right wing press, who have expressed their dismay at Boris’s expanding state. “We thought we were voting for a libertarian,” they say, forgetting in their naivety that all governments tend towards the authoritarian.
The War on Covid has something in common with the War on Terror and the War on Drugs: it is probably well-motivated but has made a lot of money for a few fat cats and has given states an excuse to busy themselves with imposing new laws, pronouncements, proclamations, slogans and systems, which they love to do.
In the end I think Stoicism and hope are the only sensible reactions. Merry Christmas.