Tripod Editorial: Kara Swisher on Big Tech; Where We Come In

This past Thursday, Oct. 21, the college was lucky enough to host a lecture and reception for the presentation of the Moses Berkman Memorial Journalism Award to Kara Swisher. Swisher is one of the most highly respected journalists in the country, and focuses primarily on covering the tech industry and its success from the 1990s to today. She has conducted interviews with prominent figures throughout her career, ranging from Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg to Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama. Currently, she is an opinion writer for the New York Times and host of the podcast Sway, which has seen guests like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Nancy Pelosi, and more. She’s also New York magazine, co-host of the podcast Pivot, and has reported on big tech for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, as well as co-founding the All Things Digital conference and the Redo website. She’s written a number of books, including  aol.com: How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads and Made Millions in the War for the Web, and There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere: The AOL Time Warner Debacle and the Quest for a Digital Future. During her lecture, she read experts from her next book, and involved audience members in a Q&A like format, inviting faculty and a few students to engage in a dialogue on the state of tech and the wealth of the industry.  

The Moses Berkman ’20 prize honors a journalist whose work “demonstrates the qualities of integrity, insight, journalistic excellence, and serious moral purpose,” all qualities that Berkman embodied as a columnist, political editor and editorial writer on the Hartford Times from the 1920s to the 1950s. Swisher’s lecture, “Tech Is So Poor, All It Has Is Money” concerned the implications and consequences of the astronomic growth of the tech industry, which has been steady since its conception. She offered a perspective that challenged the notion of allowing big companies to dominate the industry, and emphasized that this kind of unregulated and sizable domination has encouraged the trading of morals and values for mere convenience. Swisher’s lecture revolved around the idea that the tech industry is in serious need of regulation, arguing that Republicans and Democrats “don’t agree on anything but this.” 

Swisher’s ability to appeal to the audience and create a dialogue that encouraged participation stood out to us as audience members at her lecture. She did not merely preach her two-cents to us, without allowing for anyone to contribute or question her reasoning. She emphasized the downsides that technology can bring into our lives, reminding us at The Tripod of our last few editorials. Since the beginning of the semester, our editorials and some prominent issues that have weighed on our minds range from issues involving the major tech companies that Swisher spoke about and social media, to the the power of creating a dialogue when issues arise, to the importance of free speech. Swisher confronted all of these issues comprehensively in her lecture this past Thursday. 

Swisher noted the obsession with technology that permeates not only the youth of America, as we noted in the editorial from our Sept. 14 issue, but also the adults and older generations in this country. She called us audience members out  by matter-of-factly stating that we are constantly carrying a surveillance device with us at all times, and let us know that we are “in love with it.” She stated that “you’re having a deep relationship with your cell phone – everybody is.” 

There is a time and a place for tech, but because of its accelerated and somewhat uncontrollable growth, among a multitude of other factors, it is currently not being used for all the good it can create but rather for the bad that it is capable of inflicting. The larger companies are attempting to kill innovation, according to Swisher, so that they can dominate. The amount of money the companies that are running the show have is enough to overwhelm the federal government, and the concept of putting unlimited power that comes with such a supply of funds, without any regulation, in the hands of a very small group of people on major issues inside politics just screams to Swisher “problematic.”

Swisher ended her lecture by advising all of us to get off our phones, and we echo this sentiment. Making a conscious effort to not buy into the systems in place will serve to create small change, that turns into change that is sizable. The same applies to matters like wealth discrepancies, systemic racism, climate change, and more. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and underlying themes such as these permeate the world of tech.  

-KJN        

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