Ryan Leatherbury

Business. Tech. Life

Does Technology Centralize or Decentralize Money and Power?

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One of the things I think about a lot is how different technologies tend to centralize or decentralize money, power and political influence.

Back in the middle ages, castles were a decentralizing technology because they were tough to defeat at least until canons came along.
Artillery was very centralizing because it made it easier for kings to defeat castles and pull the land into a larger area of control.

Today, when I think about decentralizing, Bitcoin, 3D printing, open source, crowd funding and all types of web publishing come to mind.

On the other hand, the electric utilities smart grid, telecommunications and data center infrastructure is centralizing.

But peeling back the onion a bit more, the differences become more nuanced.

The Internet continues to be the great equalizer with content provided by anyone with a connection. This is in huge contrast to the way broadcast and print media has consolidated down to a handful of massive companies over the last couple of decades.

Centralized Infrastructure Decentralized Content

Data center infrastructure and communications systems is under the control of a shrinking pool of companies with deep enough pockets to bear the costs. And even though social media gives everyone a chance to have a huge voice, all the content is funneled through the control of a handful of the dominant platform companies.

So I see it boiling down to the difference between infrastructure which is centralizing, and the content which rides on top which is at least in principle decentralizing.

Of course, most of the influence, money and power from that content tends to follow a power law: Most of the gains, YouTube views, Amazon downloads, likes etc. go to a small number of sources since on-line popularity grows exponentially. And with the speed of information, the result can either be centralizing or decentralizing depending on circumstances.

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Ryan Leatherbury • November 8, 2014

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