China is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to more tightly regulating large technology companies.
Along with China’s intensifying regulation of soft technologies has come an overall crackdown on Big Tech, as was argued in a recent Op-Ed in the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper.
For those of us who wonder what further regulating our technology giants might look like, the best current simulation is to look in the direction of Beijing:
“Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on China’s technology giants has fanned the flames of a sidebar discussion about the value of ‘hard’ technologies versus ‘soft’ ones. A popular notion is that hard technology, such as a powerful new piece of machinery, helps give countries a competitive advantage over rivals, whereas soft technology, such as an app, mainly entertains consumers and could spoil people.”
So the discussion in China is becoming aligned with our discussions in the United States.
Here, we watch court battles between Silicon Valley tech and our nation’s leaders over their use of soft tech. In China, there is a similar argument that the nation is producing too many soft technologies (apps, for example) and that it’s time to return to a focus on hard tech.
For those of us in the U.S., this should serve as a warning that we might not be able to have our cake and eat it too.
Soft tech drives hard tech, not the other way around.
I lived in Beijing before virtual private networks were very popular or reliable. When we used a VPN in China, it would get blocked pretty quickly.
For reliable use of many of your apps, you needed to be signed up for a good number of VPN services. All of this was complicated and time-consuming, so in practical terms, it served to regulate how I used technology. I’d bring a simple, unlocked Ericksson burner phone from Stockholm and that would give me the basic tech I needed with my Chinese SIM card.
It always worked and, over time, actually helped me regulate the time I was spending on apps that I really didn’t need to.
If we crack down on soft tech in the U.S., it will absolutely impact hard tech. If you believe that software is eating the world, hardware is its knife and fork.
What percentage of your pictures will you take if you don’t have the option to post them on social media?
If you don’t take as many pictures and don’t care whether they are amazing pics or just pretty good pics, will you keep a phone where hundreds of dollars of its price come from the fact that it’s a fairly high-end piece of photographic equipment with multiple lenses?
Since its launch, 2 billion iPhones have been sold. Just in the fourth quarter of 2020, there were nearly 400 million smartphones sold around the world, with Apple capturing a healthy 21 percent of that market, with Samsung not far behind at 16 percent.
There are also some smartphones that are very popular in some regions and not in others, such as Xiaomi, whose sales increased a staggering 34 percent year-over-year in Q4 2020.
Four years ago in 2017 (multiple generations in the world of smartphones), an article in the International Journal of Management Research & Review argued that having a wide range of smartphones supports competition in both the hard tech of the phone as well as the critically important development of soft tech, such as operating systems and apps.
We should all keep in mind one more almost identical feature between the current crackdowns in China and the U.S. on technology companies: They both come from a place of fear, a notion that these massive technology companies now wield power that the government never expected they would or even could.
Whether in China or the United States, any crackdown on technology is going to have an effect that reverberates through the entire economy.
While we call this progressive authoritarianism in China yet simply see this in America as using laws to regulate technology companies we argue have overstepped their bounds, the result is the same.
When the government cracks down on one type of technology, it impacts the entire technology industry and our society.
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