Assetization and the Logic of Venture Capital, or Why Facebook Does not ‘Feel’ Like a Monopoly to Zuckerberg

Guy Balzam, Noam Yuran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The most valuable companies in 2021 are tech firms known as ‘Big Tech’. In recent years these companies were the subject of public and academic scrutiny, especially because they were accused of acting as monopolies (Kenney and Zysman, 2016), maintaining a profit regime sometimes referred to as ‘tech-feudalism’ (Waters, 2020), and of having a vast and unprecedented social and political impact (Moore and Tambini, 2018). In a 2018 Senate hearing, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, denied the accusation that his company is a monopoly, and his position was echoed by other Big Tech CEO's. This position, we argue, is symptomatic of the nature of digital monopolies, which can be termed ‘fragile monopolies.’

Early manifestoes of the digital revolution, such as Negroponte's Being Digital (1995), argued that the digital sphere was inherently resistant to monopoly control. There was a sound reasoning for this claim: bits, in contrast to atoms, are replicable and very cheaply so. History, obviously, refuted the promise of economically decentralized digital sphere. Yet Negroponte's basic insight is important for understanding the form that contemporary Big Tech monopolies assume. They are motivated by a preliminary aim of creating monopolies, in an environment which is resistant to centralization. For that purpose, they develop from the outset things that can indeed be monopolized in the digital sphere. The popular aversion often directed at Big Tech companies reflects the unique form of their monopoly. What they monopolize typically belongs to the sphere of intimate experience: forms of self-expression, social ties, or users’ memories and habits. Their presence in our lives is often presented as intrusive, but this intrusiveness reflects, in fact, the ephemeral nature of their assets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-120
Number of pages14
JournalScience as Culture
Volume31
Issue number1
Early online date2 Nov 2021
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors contributed equally to this work.

Keywords

  • BigTech
  • Political Economy
  • assetization
  • monopoly
  • venture capital

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