There’s actually a deliberate plan behind Musk’s Twitter frenzy

Privately owned Twitter cannot inherently become a public space. However, Musk has something else in mind: through its ownership, he wants to secure a place in the new techno-feudal ruling class — among the cloudists. Photo by Olivier Douliery, AFP

Elon Musk didn’t buy Twitter for $44 billion on a random whim. He knew he needed him. Musk pioneered online payments, changed the direction of the automotive industry, revolutionized spaceflight, and even experimented with an ambitious brain-computer neural interface project. His high-tech ventures have made him the richest businessman in the world.

But even his success and wealth were not enough to place him in the new ruling class — those who hold the reins of cloud-based capital. Twitter offers Musk a chance to rise among them.

The Miracles of Cloud Capitalism

Since the beginnings of capitalism, power has come from owning the means of production: steam engines, Bessemer converters, industrial robots, and so on. Today, owners of cloud-based capital — cloud capital — have power unimaginable until recently.

Take Amazon, for example, with its network of software, hardware and warehouses — and its Alexa device that communicates with us right from the kitchen counter. It’s based on a cloud-based system that records our moods more insightfully than any advertiser ever could.

Based on the observation of our personal inclinations, it offers us services, goods or experiences as if tailor-made. It provokes our other reactions and then reacts to them again — we ourselves improve its algorithms.

Unlike old-world capital tied to land or later capital limited to the analog production of things that consumers demand, cloud capital functions as a tool that changes our behavior in the interests of its owners. A single algorithm operating in a labyrinth of server farms, optical cables and mobile signal transmitters performs several miracles at the same time.

The first wonder of cloud capital is that it can make us work for free — increasing its value and productivity with every text, review, photo, or video we create and upload through its interface. In this way, cloud capital has turned hundreds of millions of us into its vassals — we are unpaid day laborers on the digital estates of its owners. At the same time, we believe, like peasants under feudalism, that our work — in this case, creating and sharing photos and opinions — is an expression of our personality.

The second miracle of cloud capital is that it sells us things that previously piqued our interest. Amazon, Alibaba, and their numerous e-commerce imitators around the world may resemble monopolized markets to the uninitiated observer. However, they are not, even if we close both eyes. They are not even hyper-capitalist digital markets — because even in markets that are monopolized by a single firm or person, people can communicate relatively freely.

In contrast, once you enter a platform like Amazon, the algorithm isolates you from all other shoppers and feeds you only the information that its owners want to give you. Shoppers here cannot talk to each other, associate or otherwise organize themselves, so they have no way to force the seller to lower the price of the goods offered or improve their quality.

However, sellers are always isolated in relation to the algorithm and must pay its owner in order to trade at all. Everything here is mediated not by a neutrally operating invisible hand of the market, but by an invisible algorithm that works for one person or one company — it’s basically an analogy of a relationship.

Twitter as a private fiefdom

Musk is perhaps the only major tech player who has so far watched the rise of the new techno-feudalism from afar, hands in lap. His car company, Tesla, is cleverly using the cloud to turn its cars — generating big data and connecting drivers with Musk’s systems — into nodes of a digital network.

His space company SpaceX, with its swarm of satellites that infest our planet’s low orbit, makes a significant contribution to the development of the cloud capital of other tech tycoons. But Musk himself? It must have been frustrating for the enfant terrible of global business not to have in his hands a portal to the gigantic returns that cloud capital can bring. But that has now changed: Twitter is to become that portal.

Immediately after taking office, declaring himself the “Chief of Tweets,” Musk reiterated his intention to defend Twitter as a “public space” where anything can be expressed in any way. It was a shrewd tactic that diverted the attention of the world public to the never-ending debate of whether the leading global forum for succinct communication should be in the hands of a tycoon who himself juggles the truth arbitrarily from time to time; liberal commentators fretted over Donald Trump’s intention to restore the account; the left lamented the rise of a more technologically advanced variant of Rupert Murdoch; decent people of all persuasions felt sorry for the horrendous treatment of Twitter employees. And Musk?

He confidently went about his business. In one tweet spoke out, admitting that he has ambitions to make Twitter “the app for everything”. What is an “app for everything”? In my opinion, this is nothing less than a cloud capital portal, which allows its owner to shape the consumer behavior of users and use their unpaid labor to make themselves cloud serfs — and, last but not least, collect from sellers for the opportunity to offer their goods in the cloud similar to an annuity.

Musk didn’t yet own anything that could evolve into an “app for everything,” and he didn’t have time to start from scratch. Because while he was trying to mass sell his electric cars and make money from conquering space, Amazon, Google, Alibaba, Facebook and Tencent’s WeChat were seizing platforms and interfaces that have the potential to become “apps for everything.” Until finally there was only one such interface left.

Musk faces the difficult task of improving Twitter’s own cloud capital while connecting it to its existing network, constantly fed data collected by Tesla cars and its satellites. Musk’s next task will be to reassure Twitter’s remaining employees and eliminate bots and trolls from the network so that the New Twitter truly knows — and owns — the identities of its users.

In a letter to advertisers Musk pointedly noted: irrelevant ads are spam, while relevant ads are content. In today’s techno-feudal age, this means that messages that fail to change people’s behavior are spam, while those that influence what people think and do have the only content that matters: real power.

As a private fiefdom, Twitter can never be a global public space. However, that was not the point for Musk for a moment. The question remains whether the platform will secure its new owner membership in the new techno-feudal ruling class.

From the English original The Techno-Feudal Method to Musk’s Twitter Madness published by the Internet magazine Project Syndicate, translated by OTAKAR BUREŠ.


Source: Deník referendum by denikreferendum.cz.

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