How do we really measure success?
Sales; earnings; influence?
Let’s come back to that.
Let’s just say for now that on almost any standard measure, the big tech companies Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter (NASDAQ:TWTR), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) have been the complete and unqualified success stories of recent years.
All are trading at, or close to, all-time highs on the stock market, to the point where new norms of valuation are beginning to be accepted. They’ve all outperformed in terms of their ability to gobble up market share and create new markets. And they’ve managed to accumulate undreamt of political influence and control over the forming of social attitudes across huge demographics.
Indeed, it’s no real hyperbole to say that the tech companies are now so integral to the modern world that they are actually able to define it in their own terms.
But why is this so?
Or, to pose the question in slightly different terms, why is it only in electronic technology that such success has been achieved in recent years?
Where are the parallels in the physical world?
Why is it that, if you look around your home, almost everything you see that’s not electronic could equally well have been there in the 1970s and even, in many cases, the 1940s?
One answer is that that the most innovative and creative people seek work in the areas which offer the most opportunity, generating self-sustaining virtuous circles in certain sectors during certain time periods that take a long time to burn themselves out.
Before big tech muscled itself onto the centre of the stage, big pharma did this mantle.
That’s why infrastructure and public transport in such a parlous state in the US, the UK and many of the world’s modern economies – because infrastructure networks were designed and financed by the best brains of the nineteenth century but maintained only by mediocre brains in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The better brains of these later centuries went into plastics, aerospace, and latterly Big Tech.
On a deeper level, these trends reflect the broad direction of travel in human thought, a process in its current form that began long ago when the first moves away from faith-based belief systems were tentatively being made in the early sixteenth century.
Back then, atomism, microscopes, miniaturisation and mathematics created new ways of thinking.
Fast-forward four centuries and world as experienced daily by billions of humans has been atomised, miniaturized and mathematicised to the point where hundreds of millions of people no longer even need to leave the house in order to create worlds and live their lives.
So why have the tech companies been able to generate such vast revenues and profits? – they’ve created a world on their own terms, and inside it, they are the kings.
In such a world, you make your own measures of success.