We packed Jamie Goldrick off to the Web Summit to see what all the fuss was about. He came back grumbling about more than the €20 burger .
Paddy Cosgrave is angry that the Irish Government just wasn’t really arsed with taking the Web Summit seriously and not fostering the start-up technology sector like other governments do.
So enraged by the government’s inaction to network with the world’s new movers and shakers, he pulls the whole thing and off to Lisbon he goes.
Some of the #WebSummit’s demands on the surface may seem quite ludicrous but are they really? Free Gardai escorts for high value attendees, free traffic management measures, free Dublin Bus, a registration area at the Airport upon arrival, and a price fixing on hotels in the city.
Yet taken into consideration of the State’s treatment of the lure of foreign capital it is not. For example: this is the State that has practically given away the lead and zinc at Tara Mines, the State that has let Marathon Oil come in a do whatever the hell they wanted down in Whiddy Island in Cork where low touch regulation contributed towards the disaster killing 50 people and spoiling Bantry Bay.
The State who gave away the Corrib Oil field for a song and bared it’s teeth up in Erris when it thought nobody was watching for the sake of said industry.
In short, the Irish State’s mentality since its formation has always been “that it is better to get some business rather than none”, Conor McCabe in Sins of the Father argues that Irish governments consistently embraced this philosophy even when alternative strategies were available.
In this light, are the #WebSummit’s demands so outrageous and cheeky?
Yet the world is changing, maybe a little too fast for Kenny and Co. The low tax economy has been the modus operandi in Ireland, slash the taxes and they will come, let the schmucks who are lucky to have a job fund the exchequer.
As the #Websummit has just demonstrated with their move to Lisbon. You now actually have to pay these digital saviours, even just to come here just for a conference for three days. Then drive them around for free, and impose market controls on their accommodation so they can sleep soundly and awake to freely exploit the free market however they please.
In this instance Ireland has been shown to be lacking and not understanding the new reality. It’s a race to the bottom and we’ve just been overtaken. The big players like Intel and Facebook are welcome but as Andy Storey argues elsewhere that it is at the expense of “largely abandoning attempts to build up indigenous economic sectors”.
By neglecting the indigenous technology industries this leaves the Irish State familiarly over dependent on one sector over which it has little control in which to fund its tax base, we’ve been here before, we all partied.
It goes without saying that the underlying discourse of the #WebSummit presumes an almost blind-faith in techno-optimism. The assumption is that technology drives society, it is technology that serves to liberate us from ourselves.
This is not a new idea, look at the World Fairs of the Cold War Era, the technology that would supposedly liberate society has come (and gone). This blind belief in progress is a chimera, it is the carrot in front of the donkey. Those who control visions of the future control the present.
True, we live longer lives, we in the Global North have easier lives in many respects, yet the working class is still oppressed. A single earner on an average industrial wage from my parents generation could support a large family and pay a mortgage, is that possible today? Not a hope.
Today you can fit all of the people who own half the world’s wealth on a double decker bus. Monopolisation is the end result of capitalism, technology is facilitating this through what David Harvey would call an increased “time/space compression”.
Back breaking work is outsourced to the Global South. Where does the Coltan in your smartphone come from? Where does it get assembled? Who in India picks your baby sweetcorn, who makes your clothes? Who cleans those shiny new boardrooms in Palo Alto?
The ideology of technological solutionism is a luxury of the privileged and relies on the toil of others to exist. It’s libertarian origins can be traced back to Silicon Valley, whose initial innovation was paradoxically facilitated by heavy government investment in infrastructure.
The #WebSummit is full of “radical new solutions”, well here is a radical new solution for you: Drop Third World Debt and regulate the global financial system, #disruptcapitalism, anything else is just shadow boxing. Innovation within the dominant discourse of the current economic system simply innovates existing forms of domination.
Attending the #WebSummit is a curious affair. There is a buzz, a nervous but hopeful optimism from the start-ups that have paid through the nose to be here, they stand cramped up at their stalls, glancing at attendee’s colour coded nametags to see their status as they pass by, hopefully looking to strike up a conversation with that prospective angel investor.
Nameless Facebook executive gives 10 minutes to how Facebook are going to connect the world (read: free Facebook and partnered content) through satellites and solar powered drones, then hammered onto the next point, no time for any depth or any sort of analysis.
But look! We are going to use cool looking drone to do this, here is an engine casing I brought with me, that’s pretty cool, right!
Speakers last anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. The #Websummit is proud of the fact that there was 1000 speakers at the event, nice round number that 1000, the amount of speakers is the important thing, not the content. Quantitative trumps qualitative, it’s a numbers game and data is beautiful.
Of course there the usual surface gripes to the #Websummit, the sensational story that a burger and a bottle of water cost €20 is as far the imagination of Irish media will stretch.
Sharon Ni Bheolain attacks Daire Hickey for the #WebSummit’s reasons for leaving Dublin. Technology gets a free pass. Start-up culture is cool, it is trendy, it is something that we should be part of, it is the future. Perhaps, but can nobody offer a goddamned critique around here?
Again this is indicative to the Irish mentality of “sure isn’t it great to get some business rather than none”. Technological Start-ups, i.e. a businesses that are just starting up are the most advanced form of capitalism there is, its leading edge. Just because it’s disciples are Reiki Masters or once took Ayahuasca in the Amazon shouldn’t cloud our judgement.
The model is pretty simple: find something that we already do, create a platform for this activity, and take a cut, simples! Companies like AirBnB and Ubur lead the way. The WebSummit embodies this philosophy. Stands on display at the #WebSummit: iBetchapp an app for having a bet between friends. Wanna be part of “the world’s first social internet service for those who want to become enlightened”? Then Abboom is for you. How about Bring4u, whereby you can “say goodbye to the post office”, because the post is inefficient, what with all those wasteful expenses like Postmen’s wages and holiday pay.
It is simply creating new markets where none currently exist, there is nothing radical or paradigm shifting about this. Technology has now facilitated capital to enter every latent aspect of our social existence. It has been an arduous and somewhat brutal journey for capital in search of surplus value: from domestic markets to foreign markets to futures markets, now to our very social existence.
We think therefore we are capital. Aspects of our social lives are boiled down to datasets in a data centre in a temperate low tax location to be traded off in some complex financial products.
Where is this all going? Probably not some digital utopia where we all work a 20 hour week, but rather to a global landscape, one where technological advances allows increasingly fleeting capital to locate where its needs are best accommodated, regardless of the local realities.
It’s a global village, for some. If this is what the future looks like, then Lisbon can have it.