doctorow1 Getty Images
en English

The Class Struggle in Silicon Valley

A generation ago, tech workers viewed themselves as billionaires-in-waiting, working extremely long hours at the expense of sleep and social life in the hope of making “a dent in the universe.” But deteriorating working conditions have led to a shift in perspective, sparking an unprecedented wave of worker activism.

BURBANK – Tech companies were once known for making high-quality products and treating their workers well. Now, they make inferior products and treat their workers terribly. This is not coincidental. It is a prime example of enshittification, a term I coined in 2022 to describe the process through which monopolistic tech platforms decay in the absence of any checks on their leaders’ worst impulses.

Historically, tech companies have been disciplined by four forces: competition (the fear that users might switch to rival services); regulation (the fear that government penalties will exceed the profits the firm expects to realize from questionable practices); self-help (the fear of aftermarket modifications, such as ad blockers or third-party clients, which undermine the firm’s ability to profit from users, perhaps permanently); and the firm’s workers – specifically, the fear that key personnel would quit rather than obey certain directives.

These forces are interlinked. A truly competitive industry, with dozens or hundreds of firms aggressively nipping at each other’s profit margins, is less able to capture its regulators. A concentrated industry dominated by a handful of firms can easily align on policy priorities and present a unified front to regulators, judges, and lawmakers. But an industry constituted as a swarm of competing firms would find it nearly impossible to accomplish such unity.