Powerful FANGs

What’s considered ‘essential’ for an economy is easy: if you control it you have power; but has what’s ‘essential’ evolved over the years?

Imagine spending a whole day without checking Facebook, scrolling through Amazon, catching up on your favourite show on Netflix, and not tapping into that wondrous little know-it-all Google search bar. The horror! The horror!

Alright, let’s calm down everyone, it’s only a thought experiment. Put away that brown paper bag, it’s just a mild panic attack…breathe…

Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google have sunk their FANGs into the flesh of our daily lives; so much so, they’ve earned their own cool acronym which is earning traction with economists, politicians and expert pundits everywhere. It’s appropriate – as any good acronym ought to be: you can imagine the mega-tech giants as indestructible hipster vampires, hovering nearby, periodically sinking their teeth into our nubile necks, and drawing up the life blood coursing through our veins. Without it they cannot survive. And we can’t hide from them. Between them, they know where we are, what we are thinking, who we know and love, what we want to spend our money on. And we willingly give ourselves to them! Now that is power.

It’s no wonder FANG are now among the biggest companies in the world. Furthermore, the other technology companies that plug into their ecosystems, or facilitate their delivery, are bloating on our blood. Even vampires need assistants: someone to sharpen their teeth; a manufacturer to make his kick-ass cool cape; bodyguards to fight off people who want to wave garlic in their face… All kinds of companies now benefit from our increasing dependence on technology. And as that dependence grows, so too does their power and influence over us.

But, this kind of control and power is not new; it’s just taking a different form. Like all vampires, they have a history.

Vladimir Lenin – the Bolshevik revolutionary who led the beginnings of the Soviet Union – similarly knew that there are a few key things that must be controlled in order to hold power. Back then, it was mainly operational structures like mines, metal works, railroads, and the mechanisms that govern foreign trade. Controlling these things commanded the fundamentals of the economy. They were even coined the ‘Commanding Heights’ of the economy.

Are the FANGs of the modern world the new Commanding Heights of the economy? Perhaps, but here’s another thought experiment (brown paper bag ready?): if all hell broke loose (think revolutions and massive social upheaval), owning and controlling mines, the resources that come out of them, and the infrastructure needed to move that around, would mean controlling something physical.

Conversely, we all know what happens to vampires when someone opens the curtains, and lets daylight in…

[This article originally appeared on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 5 February 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more].