Politics Theory Other

« Speaking

On May 30, 2018, I appeared as a guest on the Politics Theory Other podcast hosted by Alex Doherty. The episode was released on May 31. Below you can find the audio (embedded from SoundCloud) as well as an edited transcript (skipping some of the intro and filler words, and cleaned up to make myself sound more eloquent than I was).

Alex: I’m joined by Wendy Liu to discuss Silicon Valley, the platform economy, and the democratisation of technology.

Wendy Liu is an economics editor at New Socialist, which is one of the best new resources for left politics and theory to have emerged in recent years in Britain. I strongly recommend checking out their website.

So Wendy, you’ve worked in the tech sector in startups and you also worked at Google for a short time. Could you say something about your experience of working in the sector? And also your political trajectory - were you on the left at the time you were working in the sector, or did you become disillusioned and did that drive you to a more leftist position?

Me: I’m very new to the left. I didn’t really have any political awareness until quite recently. I started programming when I was pretty young - I built my first website at the age of 12 - and since then I started writing code and generally being part of the [software development] community. I got to a point where I thought, I guess I’ll just be a software developer since it seems like a lucrative field and I like doing it.

So I studied computer science and math in university, and then I did some side projects and got some jobs working on software. And then in my third summer of uni, I interned at Google in San Francisco.

When I got the internship, everyone was saying, it’s such a great opportunity because Google’s this amazing company & I must be so thrilled. And I was. But when I got there, it was a really interesting disappointment. Because no one was lying - it was this great opportunity. They pay really well - as an intern you can make $25,000 USD in one summer, working pretty regular hours for three months. And they pay for housing, and you get free food. So they give you a stupendous amount of money. Not as much as, say, law or finance, but similar in terms of magnitude.

The problem was that the work I was doing just felt so stultifying. It was hard for me to reconcile all the things I’d been told about Google and what I was actually experiencing on day-to-day basis. I had technical challenges, and they were fun to work on, but at the same time, the idea of having to sit in front of this computer every day …

The thing about internships is that a lot of these tech companies have nice internship programs with the hope of getting the interns to come back and work full-time. So I was thinking, if I do this, if I get a full-time offer, this will just be my life. And there was a part of me that thought, no, this is not sustainable. [This sort of work] is supposed to be creative and challenging, and it is, but only on a technical level. So if you’re trapped in the machine - just manipulating code - it can be fun, but you’re disconnected from the larger impact of your work.

I was personally working on this internal product that made it easier for people at Google to forecast how many servers they would need. And it was completely removed from the larger societal impact. I wanted to do something that was beneficial to society - I think a lot of people in tech do - but the only thing I could say was that Google as a company [must be] good for the world. I wasn’t really sure why, but I felt like everyone at the company kept saying that. Google was making the world a better place by organising information, making things more efficient, and providing wonderfully innovative services to the world.

I had to keep believing that. That was the only thing I could cling on to, to convince myself to stay.

I did that for one summer in San Francisco. [Speaking of] San Francisco in general: the city has only gotten worse since I was there, but even when I was there, the levels of inequality were shocking. In terms of homelessness, [which was exacerbated by] the housing crisis [which is largely caused by] tech - [people working in tech] were the only ones who could really afford places …

Which made me realise that what I had thought of as the dream - this very American, Silicon Valley-style dream - where if I learned how to code, I would secure my own success and also, in the process, the world would become a better place … I started to realise that maybe this is not actually the case. Maybe there are issues with the tech industry itself that make it not this benign, wonderful thing that it likes to talk about itself as.

So I started going through this phase of questioning. At the same time, I wasn’t really sure where to turn to. I felt like a lot of my friends in the industry were having very similar doubts, but none of us really knew what else we could do. And the only other alternative that we were presented with was this idea of starting your own company.

Because there’s such a huge myth around that. Anyone who’s a software engineer or has any sort of connection to the tech industry probably thinks they could start a company one day, or at least they’ve been told that they should. So [after] going back to university and finishing up my last year there, I kept thinking, what if I just started a company instead?

I ended up finding some other people at university and we founded a company together. For me, it was partly because I didn’t want to go back to Google. Which sounds silly, but I just couldn’t face the idea of sitting in front of a computer, [working] with colleagues who I didn’t really like on something incredibly mundane and stultifying. I wanted a challenge that was more than just writing software for some corporate behemoth.

So I plunged into the startup. We didn’t know what were doing, and it was amazing that we managed to raise money [at all]. At the same time, that is how the dynamics in the industry work. Most people don’t really know what they’re doing; they just manage to convince investors that they do.

We started a company that was initially intended to be a data science startup, using machine learning to try to infer what people were saying about themselves on Twitter and Instagram and figure out what it meant. The only purpose we could find for that sort of data was advertising: selling this data to marketing companies, other advertising technology companies, political campaigns, retailers. Anyone who could find a use for this data, we would just pitch them all.

Our biggest customer ended up being Urban Outfitters. They connected our data to their email marketing database so that they could send emails to people based on what we knew about them. So if we knew this person liked yoga or One Direction, then Urban Outfitters could theoretically use that to tailor their marketing more efficiently.

A couple years [into the startup], that was the most significant thing we’d achieved. There was no use case [for our technology] that wasn’t this really banal advertising use case.

After a certain point, I realised that even though it was a lot of fun to build the startup - we’d learned a lot, and there were a lot of challenges - what we were doing was just not worth our time. And especially it wasn’t worth my time. At one point we were pulling 80-hour weeks and barely sleeping and not really doing anything besides working on the startup. Constantly fighting fire after fire.

And I was thinking, why am I doing this? I’m doing this so that someone at Urban Outfitters can get a slightly higher email open rate. What is the actual purpose? I’m not contributing anything to the world.

So I started to get really disillusioned with that whole world. I think a lot of people who aren’t in [the tech industry] don’t realise how disgusting it is - how much money is being spent, and how easy it is to come by money if you’re in that world and have the right connections and look like a founder or an engineer. I think that’s one of the social pathologies of our time: how this world of exuberance and this incredibly lucrative sector is coexisting at the same time as precarity for everyone else.

So [as a result of being] completely fed up with [the tech industry], I started to seek out alternative viewpoints. I would follow people on Twitter who were critical of the industry, and as a result, I started reading some left-wing publications and books. I also found Jacobin, which was probably one of the biggest contributors to me turning towards the left. I’d go to library and read books about Marx.

Eventually, I got to the realisation that there is this huge field of people approaching the world in the same way that I did. That was what drove me to the left.

When I moved to London [last year], I started going to events: Momentum events, The World Transformed, various talks about tech and the left … and I realised that there are actually a lot of people who think about things the same way I do. It was nice to finally find a community.

In tech, it can sometimes be quite isolating when you’re questioning how things work. People do question it, but at the same time, it’s really hard to openly question. There’s almost this unspoken thing - everyone has to be in agreement about the fact that salaries in tech are inflated, but that’s just the way it is, and so it’s okay. So I’ve been very grateful to have found this community of people on the left who see the tech industry the same way I do.

Getting fed up with the industry

Alex: Going back to Google for a moment. I suppose these tech giants have to tread quite a fine line of making the jobs sufficiently creative that people will want to stay in them and will be sufficiently enthused to be part of the business, but nonetheless they need to be still contributing value to the company.

Do you think that over time, the degree of creativity within the industry has declined somewhat and that your experience might be not untypical these days? I’m thinking about the Sanders campaign - there was a significant number of disillusioned tech people in the US who had been drawn to the campaign.

Me: Exactly. I don’t think it’s that rare. I think there are quite a few people who are disillusioned with how it is, [but] it’s very hard, due to the dynamics in the industry and the amount of money involved, for them to quit the same way that I did.

I was lucky that I founded the startup. If I hadn’t - if I had gone to work for Google - I don’t know if there’s a way I could have quit.

The way compensation works [for many software engineers] is that they’ll pay you a salary, and a bonus, and then on top of that they’ll give you stock, [and in the case of Google, that comes in the form of] Restricted Stock Units (RSUs). When you first start working for them, they’ll give you, say, $150,000 worth of stock vesting over four years and then each quarter of that vests annually. If you leave after eleven months, you don’t get any of the stock. If you leave after a year, you get a quarter of that stock.

The thing is, every year or sometimes more often, they’ll give you stock refreshes. They’ll give you another (say) $200,000/$300,000 worth of stock for the next four years. That’s how they keep you in the company: golden handcuffs. Even if you hate the work - even if you find it absolutely awful - you don’t want to leave the company. You’re [more likely to] switch to a different team. It’s hard for anyone to leave.

I think this is something that happens as any company grows. In the old days, Google was touted as this wonderful, creative company where you could do whatever you want. They had this thing called 20% time - 20% of the time [or one day a week] you could work on whatever you wanted. Some really interesting projects were launched that way - Gmail was one of them - but that was something they had to phase out as the company grew and they realised they couldn’t keep starting new projects all over the place. There’s a lot of work to be done in maintenance and the more boring stuff that has to be done.

This is definitely not specific to Google - I think any tech company that gets to a certain size becomes more corporate, they solidify a little more. That’s not necessarily a problem in itself, if a company is doing something inherently valuable, and if there’s a way to justify that company’s place in the world.

The problem with Google, at this point, is that it feels like any potential good that they do is negated by the harm. And a lot of this harm isn’t even anything that they themselves are trying to do. It’s more a function of them being this huge corporation that is avoiding taxes and siphoning off wealth from areas that need it.

And it’s not necessarily specific to tech, either. It’s just that in the tech industry, it’s so easy to create products that scale and accelerate adoption to the point where you’re accumulating all this wealth in a very short period of time. I would say the problems are more to do with the fact that it’s a corporation with a certain remit. But the technical aspect makes the timescale vastly different from anything we’ve seen before.

I was having a conversation about Google internships salaries yesterday. They pay you a lot, but this whole idea of value is completely detached. In a way, it’s spread out over the company. They’re not really thinking, for each individual person, is this person contributing their salary’s worth of value? There are people there to do internal blogs - interns who are making blogs that no one reads. They’re almost given sinecures during the internship. Because the whole point is to make sure that Google has this funnel of technical people that it can recruit, that it can keep coming into the company to have this constant injection of fresh blood.

So it doesn’t really matter if people are contributing value - [these companies] are making so much money that they don’t care. [In any case,] for software engineers, it’s hard to assess whether they are, sometimes. Not everyone is working in a [role where] you can actually measure ROI. So a lot of the time, [salaries are determined along the lines of,] “this person is a good engineer, they made this much at their last job, we’ll pay them this much”. It’s a weird dynamic in terms of the labour market in tech.

Employee stock options

Alex: This thing of giving employees stock options - I suppose that has an effect in terms of altering the way that people conceive of themselves, in the sense that they won’t necessarily think of themselves as salaried employees, but as capital owners in some sense.

Me: Exactly, and that is part of the incentive, right? It’s even worse in smaller startups - startups that haven’t gone public yet - where instead of giving stock units, they [usually] give stock options [instead].

Let’s say you’re employee number one at a startup like Deliveroo. They’re going to give you probably a low salary [relative to a larger company like Google], but a large amount of stock. The founders will promise you that if the company goes big, you’ll be a millionaire - a multi-millionaire.

Because of that, you’ll think of yourself as someone who owns part of the company, so you’re invested in the company. You want the company to succeed. It’s not just the founders’ company, you’re not just an employee; this is your project, too. Your fortunes rise and fall with it. If the company goes bust, then you’ve lost your potential to be rich and famous.

So you feel the need to give your life to the company, because it’s yours. Even if the founders are making so much more than you - if they have ten times the amount of stock you do - and, of course, the investors who don’t have to do any work for the company, they have more stock in it too - but still, a little bit of stock is enough to make you feel like you’re part of the company, and that it’s yours, in a way.

There have been cases where people have been early employees at these tech startups, and then something happens: some sort of falling out with the founders, or they quit, or there’s harassment, and they didn’t get their options in the end. The company goes big or raises a huge round of funding and then one of these early employees is shoved out. The most obvious case - the one that everyone knows - is Facebook [because it was depicted in the 2010 film The Social Network].

The most fascinating thing about all this is just how arbitrary these valuations are. The difference between being employee number one versus employee number ten at a startup can be millions and millions of dollars. You can have joined a week apart, but it’s a dramatic difference [in stock grants]. It goes to show just how arbitrary the numbers are. And, really, how messed up it is that that there is all this money being funneled into startups right now, going to people who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Organising the tech sector

Alex: What’s the situation of the labour movement in this regard? What you’re describing, facilitating workers to think of themselves as part of the company rather than employees - presumably that militates against labour organising as well.

Me: It does. There’s a really great article in n+1 magazine by Alex Press about labour organising in tech [[Code Red](https://nplusonemag.com/issue-31/politics/code-red/)]. This is something that has come to the forefront only recently. There’s a company called Lanetix in San Francisco [and DC], and some of their software engineers tried to unionise. I think this is the first case of software engineers trying to unionise in recent years [in the US].

They were all fired. The company said that they’d be moving those jobs offshore - hiring workers from Eastern Europe to take over.

That was a really interesting case, because Trump has said, “I’m gonna stop companies from moving their jobs offshore”. At the same time, he’s of course not sympathetic to the labour movement. So this is going to be an interesting test of the National Labour Review Board in the US - who knows what’s gonna happen with that. [Post-episode update: the NLRB ended up ruling in favour of the employees, excitingly enough.]

In general there has been very little class consciousness in the industry. Recently there has been more, and that’s pretty heartening for me to see. The Tech Workers Coalition is the organisation I’m most familiar with - I’m actually running a couple of panels with them at Left Forum in New York about the state of organising in the industry [Towards an Organised Tech Industry, Part One and Two].

It’s really dire [overall, though]. In the US as a whole, the organised labour movement has never been as strong as in the UK. Especially in the tech industry, it has never been great. More and more, [though, tech workers] are starting to realise that not only do they sometimes face adverse conditions - they might be asked to work long hours, or to work on things they don’t agree with ethically - but they also have a lot of leverage. They can advocate for other people in the industry who have even worse conditions.

If you look at any big tech campus, there are so many support workers: cleaners, security guards, cafeteria workers, who most of the time are paid awful wages and don’t have any sort of job security. We’ve seen a few cases in Silicon Valley where software engineers tried to help the support staff unionise and get better conditions. That’s really inspiring, and I think that is something that software engineers should be doing more, using whatever leverage they have.

At the same time, the case of Lanetix showed that even software engineers can be fired. I guess it comes down to the dynamics of the specific situation - does this software engineer have enough leverage to be able to say, I’m going to walk away and I’m going to completely damage your business if you don’t give me these conditions for either myself or my colleagues.

The Silicon Valley narrative

Alex: in a speech you gave at the State of the Economy conference in May, you began by outlining the conventional narrative around the big tech platforms (Facebook, Google, Airbnb and Uber and so on) and that narrative is that these companies are the brainchild of these genius entrepreneurs who are contributing to innovation as part of the Second Machine Age. What do you think is wrong with that picture?

Me: That picture is one that’s born out of this very neoliberal (or just capitalist) drive towards glorifying entrepreneurship. It’s one that is deliberately obscuring the role of labour.

New Socialist published a review of a book by Liam Byrne, who’s the MP for Birmingham for Labour and part of the New Labour tradition. The book was called Dragons: Ten Entrepreneurs Who Built Britain, and it brought to the forefront this “great man” theory of history: it’s the entrepreneurs, these few glorified individuals like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg - they’re the ones who have created all these jobs and innovation. They’re the ones we should be celebrating.

There are so many things wrong with that [narrative]. Just knowing anything about the way these people made their money - it’s so clear that their fortunes, their successes, were founded on exploitation, on countless other people who have actually done the work but whose names will never be recorded in history.

If you look at the case of Uber, Amazon, any of these companies that have have accelerated so quickly - it’s always the founder who gets the glory. The founders, investors, maybe a few people at the top: they’re the ones who get all the money, who have all power. But the only way their companies could exist is if they had all these workers who are actually creating the value, who are actually putting in the hours.

It’s this incredible pathology of startups. It’s magnifying this trend that we have within the business world as a whole, where it’s always those on top who are glorified.

The problem is, it’s very hard to challenge. The only way you challenge this is through a strong organised labor movement.

So what’s wrong with this narrative is that it’s entrenching the status quo of inequality. Where those at the top - because they’re the ones who have created all this success, who have created all these jobs - they should be the ones who make the decisions. And they should be the ones who should be materially rewarded [the most] - at the expense of those at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy. [When it comes to ] Uber drivers, it’s fine if they’re underpaid and have terrible conditions, because they’re not really the ones who created any value. They’re just workers; it’s fine, we can ignore them.

This is a narrative that I think a lot of the mainstream press - either consciously or not - propagates. I think it’s incredibly harmful. At the same time, it’s not something new to tech, either. This is just something we see in the [corporate] world at large; tech has just found a way to seize onto it and magnify it for its own purposes.

Alex: I suppose part of that narrative is not quite to say that other workers aren’t contributing to the value, but that the most important thing - the moments of innovation or genius or whatever - are coming from the key individuals at the top. That’s Zuckerberg having the idea of Facebook and that sort of thing. I wonder if you think even that claim is eliding the fact that a huge amount of technical innovation is coming from people that we we don’t know and don’t hear about.

Me: The moments of innovation at the beginning - a lot of that is just overrated. It also comes down to what we think of as deserving of material rewards, and also what we think of as innovation. So this moment at the beginning when Mark Zuckerberg comes up with this idea - well, the idea itself, that is what we should be focusing on. That is what should entitle him to this huge share of the profits and control.

But that’s really such an arbitrary way of looking at things, and there’s no reason it has to be like that. There are all these “smaller” moments of innovation in the course of growing the company, which aren’t seen as worthy of discussion or recognition.

There are so many problems with the way the tech industry is discussed and thought of. There are so many blind spots. This whole idea of meritocracy is one that has a huge part to play in the distribution of wealth within the industry. It’s this idea that those who are at the top - people like Mark Zuckerberg - just have more merit. They’re just more intelligent, they’re more capable, they’ve hustled. Of course, any idea of what merit is - what constitutes merit - is inexorably bound up in existing power structures.

There was a case of a prominent investor in Silicon Valley who said that he could be fooled by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg. He meant it kind of as a joke [based on] the fact that investors do pattern-match - if they’re used to people who are Harvard dropouts, white men who have a certain way of talking and interacting with people … if they’re used to that [kind of] founder, then they’re going to invest in more people like them. Women and minorities are not able to get the sort of support and funding that white men are able to, and that’s just one of the symptoms of the problem.

Ultimately, it’s a very liberal narrative about who deserves what, who should be glorified, who’s creating innovation.

Alex: It’s amazing to think that these investors would be actively seeking out people with Mark Zuckerberg’s personality.

Nationalising or breaking up the tech giants

Regarding Facebook: at the moment, it’s under more pressure for its business practices than it’s been at any other point in its history. There’s even talk of its eventual breakup as a monopoly service provider. How seriously do you take that talk, and do you think moves to break up the tech giants would be particularly beneficial?

Me: I’m personally not in favour of breaking up the tech giants. Nick Srnicek has written about that and why that wouldn’t work.

The main argument there has to do with the fact that these platforms have become infrastructure in a lot of ways. And because of the properties of these digital infrastructure platforms, there are network effects and economies of scale that make it implausible that breaking them up would offer any advantages in the technical sense.

From an economic standpoint, if the fear is that having monopolies is bad for business, then yes, maybe it could make sense to break them up. But that buys into this very free market-glorifying view of the economy, where it’s like the only problem with the market is that there isn’t enough competition. I think anyone on the left would would agree that that’s not the only problem with the market. [Hettie O’Brien has written a great article on this for New Socialist: Monopoly’s Fallacy.]

I’m still struggling to figure out what exactly can be done with these companies. Companies like Facebook and Google in particular, because they make so much revenue from advertising (around 90 percent) - these companies have started to become important gateways in the digital advertising world as a whole. That has ramifications for entire global value chains in terms of products that are produced (commodities).

In that case, we can’t just deal with these companies on a one-by-one. You have to think, what role do these companies play in the global economy? How do we make sure that the products they offer can be separated from their business model, which is just advertising?

A lot of the products these companies offer - ideally, these would be offered for free, without any advertising in the background. At the same time, you have to figure out how you replace [advertising]. Because advertising has come to this point where it is so integral to the way the goods are produced [and distributed]. You can’t just get rid of Google; you can’t just break it up or nationalise it without thinking about how that would be accounted for. So it’s a complicated topic.

There are movements around making data either collectively owned, or collecting data and improving privacy along the lines of GDPR. At the same time, that won’t necessarily solve the problem. There are always going to be these tendencies to try to collect data like Facebook and Google do in order to use it for advertising. There has to be this broader movement around reassessing what these companies actually do - where they get their money from. We have to imagine a world where you don’t have these huge advertising [technology] companies.

Because even if you figure out a way to deal with Google and Facebook (which I think would be almost impossible given how much money and resources they have, and the possibility of regulatory capture), it’s going be incredibly difficult. But even then, there’s no guarantee that you won’t have another company springing up to do the same thing within a few years’ time, just because of the larger economic structure. The soil that these companies grew out of will remain the same unless we address that.

Alex: I suppose in an earlier period, [with] so-called natural monopolies, the solution would be to nationalise them. But these are transnational corporations. It’s very hard to see how something like that would work.

Are there models of ownership that you think the left should be advocating aside from nationalisation?

Me: I think we’re at the beginnings of the conversation [on this topic]. These are not the same as, say, the railways. For one, ]these companies] are not fixed to one place geographically [such that] you can just seize the physical assets. With these digital companies, the only thing you can really seize (or have control over) as a national government, is to control the access. The domain names, access to the internet. Which is what China has been doing. I don’t really think that’s a good model - I think there are other models.

It’s hard to think about how this could work when these technologies are so new. The left has never really had to deal with digital technology on this scale before. You can only imagine what Marx would have been written if something like Google had existed at the time.

I think there has to be some greater form of control in terms of actually controlling what these products do and what they’re used for. The labour Party, what they’re doing with the Alternative Models of Ownership - it’s a promising start, but there’s nothing in [the report] that’s really specific to tech companies. There’s nothing that addresses how these digital platforms [should] work.

There has to be an organised movement on a bunch of different fronts, including from within the industry. You need tech workers who are in positions of leverage to assert that they want to be the ones having control - kind of like the Lucas Plan, at Lucas Aerospace. There’s so much progress to be made in terms of class consciousness within the industry, what workers should be fighting for, and how both the public and governments are able to deal with it.

Right now, it feels like there’s huge blind spot. The Labour Party’s current shadow digital minister, Liam Byrne, has a very New Labour-esque, liberal way of dealing with the problem. He isn’t [in favour of] creating this new form of democratic ownership of tech companies for the 21st century. [Instead, his attitude] is very much rooted in this idea that because the tech sector is generating so much money - because the salaries in the tech sector are so high - we should just get more people in the tech sector. We should teach more kids to code, we should invest in retraining and move all these people into the tech sector. That will magically fix things.

When it comes to the big tech companies, he’s saying we should ask them to pay little more in taxes (that was the exact phrasing he used). We should regulate them, we should make sure they behave ethically and have codes of ethics … It’s not a very novel way of dealing with things. It’s very much stuck in standard management techniques, a very free market, capitalist way of dealing with things.

I don’t think that’s sufficient. I think the Labour Party needs more people who are able to talk about tech in a way that’s cognizant of the new challenges that technology will pose to any sort of socialist agenda.

Alex: Why do you think the left is so unprepared to deal with this question? Is it to do with the the newness of the industry, is it to do with the fact that it’s quite rare for people on the left to have really engaged with these issues on a personal basis? It’s not often that I meet people on the Left who have worked for startups. Certainly within parliament, it’s relatively rare for people to have much intimate knowledge of these industries. Their tendency seems to be being quite starstruck by things like Facebook.

Me: I think it comes down to a structural problem with the way the industry works. If you look at Liam Byrne’s background, he [actually] did have a stint in startups. He started a company during the dot-com bubble, which either failed or sold or something (some sort of government software thing).

What that illustrates is that a lot of people who go into the startup world don’t really leave it. They don’t become politically radicalised. A lot of them continue believing the kind of free market, libertarian, entrepreneurial ideology that got them in there first place.

I feel like I’m quite rare within the industry. Most the people I know - with the exception of people in the Tech Workers Coalition - they still see the world in much the same way. Even if they do have progressive politics, they still believe in this idea of entrepreneurship and this very noble view of technology and what it should be doing and how companies should work and be regulated.

So I think it’s partly a structural thing - there aren’t enough people who have experienced the industry who ever get the opportunity to become radicalised. Most the time, they’re getting paid lots of money to continue believing whatever got them to that point.

With the left - I feel like there’s a bit of phobia towards technology. There are people who think that it’s either too difficult to engage with or not worth engaging with, or that there’s no need to worry about new technologies because we can just look at what Marx wrote in 1848 and everything is still the same as it was then. That’s a tendency that really bothers me.

I think there’s a younger crop of scholars on the left who are engaging with tech in a novel and interesting way. The best is probably Nick Srnicek - his book Platform Capitalism is one of the first books I read [featuring] someone on the left engaging with these topics in a way that was consistent with my own experience within the industry.

But there needs to be more. I’m not really sure how that’s going happen unless it’s some sort of greater movement or recognition from the Labour Party that technology is actually an important thing we need [to think about].