Why consolidation, anywhere, is bad.

The technology companies like Google and Facebook are primarily advertising companies (who also happen to have a significant presence in search and other online properties). End users are increasingly becoming reliant on “brands” without realising the incipient effect of moulding their opinion. (Twitter is another example of an advertising company that makes money from users adding content to it. Primarily, it is the user who’s toiling for an algorithm that behaves in unpredictable ways. That’s one of the primary reason why I prefer to automate my online presence to a large extent).

Anyone who controls the levers of “mass-opinion”, holds the key to push the agenda. We see this getting replicated across the workplace and broadly in our societies. “Opinion-shaping” is a full-time job that elects presidents; whether of a country or a club. A common attribute for any one of them is that they are “broadly acceptable” to a “majority” of users. The “debates” are usually fashioned by those who challenge the status quo.

The intermediaries, whether it is Google or Facebook (or any other Silicon Valley evil corporation), try to mould opinion to suit the “masses”. It, in effect, upends the accepted cultural norms while letting the stupidity to take hold. If you erode critical thinking and replace it with a model of “group-think”, it is usually the downfall of the society as a whole. It is because the group-thinking model can be replaced or copied by the corporations holding the sway.

This post was spurred after reading about how Spotify is consolidating its podcasts business. I am not sure if Spotify would “end up dominating” but I can see interesting parallels around the idea of how merged the academic publishing has become. Instead of original “ideas”, we are seeing a massive influx of statistics which are being cherry-picked to “prove a point”.

Medicine had the benefit of asymmetric flow of information, but that has been eroded to a large extent by the Internet. I am not debating its merits (and leaving it for a future post), but the central idea is doctors have consolidated their group-think and hospitals have banded together. It has led to the erosion of trust between the parties (and hence huge premiums on the medical malpractices) by naming and shaming the entire profession holding the outliers as examples. I don’t know who ends up losing, but no one is the winner.

There are several interconnected threads here which might make it difficult for the reader without the context. But think about it in its entirety to get an idea about how we are moving towards homogeneity of ideas. The group-think, down the line, would dictate the course of treatment- starting with the “immunotherapies” and “CaR-TCells” as the starting point. By the time, the tumour microenvironment and the hypoxic relation would be so fundamentally altered that radiation wouldn’t even work. It isn’t fear but a concern that the research isn’t happening to cure cancer- it’s happening by the dictation of the group-think chasing profits.

Consolidation of any industry is entirely fraught with dangers to the end-users. For example, Spotify would market itself with the best “recommendation engine” while the group-think would market itself with the best chances of survival versus “native therapies”. Never mind that less than 4% of total cancer affected patients ever enrol in the trials, which forms an outsized influence on the rest of us.

Think about it. Dangers of consolidation are more nuanced and have more harms than anything else.