Silicon Valley today is like Detroit in the 1970s, tech critic and author Andrew Keen says. Consumers are waking up to realize that they don’t like what they’re being sold, and several incumbents may soon find themselves in a bad place.
“The American car industry, in the 1950s, dominated the world,” Keen said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “Twenty years later, the American car industry had collapsed because they produced cars which were death traps.”
“I think we’re at a similar time in the digital economy,” he added, referring to the prevalence of advertising-driven tech products. “Consumers will and are coming around to the realization that this business model is not in their interest. What we need are entrepreneurs to come up with new ideas, trying to pioneer new business models that aren’t predicated on ‘We’ll give you our stuff for free, you give us your data and we’ll know more and more about you.’”
Keen argued that Apple is “in a better position than Google or Facebook” because its business is not dependent on collecting and monetizing consumers’ data, which he refers to as “surveillance capitalism.” He said Facebook’s recent decision to back off of news in its News Feed won’t fix the problems created by the company’s engagement-driven ad model.
“I think Mark Zuckerberg has been rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic with these latest reforms at Facebook,” Keen said. “I’d like to see him really acknowledge the problem and deal with it directly and come up with radical solutions.”
“If all we do is see what our friends say and think and the links they give, then what becomes of the middleman?” he added. “What becomes of the objective version of the world? We just hear what we want to hear, and that’s the really troubling thing.”
On the new podcast, Keen talked about his new book “How to Fix the Future,” which comes out Feb. 6. In it, he looks at the problems created by the Digital Revolution through a historical lens, and recommends reasonable solutions to our economic, political and cultural woes.
Keen said one bit of history that today’s tech titans can learn from is the example of their counterparts in the Industrial Revolution, such as Andrew Carnegie. Although he was “cruel” to his own workers, he reinvented himself as a philanthropist and contributed greatly to America’s public education and infrastructure.
The person best positioned to be a modern Carnegie, Keen argued, is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
“He’s a mensch, he’s a grown-up, he’s incredibly smart,” Keen said. “He’s not a geek like [Larry] Page. He understands it.”
“I’m wary of throwing around phrases like ‘moral responsibility,’ but if anyone has a responsibility, it’s him,” he added. “He has the resources, the vision, the intelligence. I don’t believe he’s drunk the Kool-Aid.”
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.