As I write this there are no less than seven stories in this morning’s paper lambasting the intemperate excesses of large companies that have resulted in large scale privacy loss, antitrust violations and billions worth of lost capital. Not surprisingly, Facebook, one of the four horsemen in Scott Galloway’s book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google is being investigated by the state of California for its mishandling of the Cambridge Analytica case which compromised data from as many as 87 million of its users. The company is also facing antitrust lawsuits in Europe over the dubious way it acquired WhatsApp in 2014.1
Then there’s SoftBank, a money machine, popular for infusing exorbitant amount of cash to help technology start-ups thrive, with literally nothing but a vision, also on front page (top half) for losing $9 billion in the last quarter.2 How did Masayoshi Son do that? He doubled down on a shaky pre IPO deal with an overpriced workspace sharing company called WeWork and a cash-strapped, ride-hailing company we all know and love, Uber (a possible contender for the Fifth Horseman).3
Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at the New York University School of Business warns us about what big companies, if left unchecked, can do to inflict harm on us, consciously or unconsciously. Take for instance our affinity towards Facebook. Are we willing to trade our privacy for fleeting connections in virtual space?4 Why do we allow these mega corporations to act with impunity? Is Google’s motto “Don’t Be Evil” sufficient to stem the inequities these businesses foster?
I believe the real reason why we allow these companies to run unabated is our love for their products. Galloway made allusions to Google having god-like characteristics that hold a sort of religious sway over us.5 What he failed to connect is that we have actually become our own gods. This is more befitting of our times. God created us in his image. We decided to return the favor. Their products will help recreate ourselves to be better than our former selves. With the aid of AI we can gene-edit human beings into our own likeness and obtain the materials delivered to us in a week’s time—two days if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Then we snap a photo of our successes, using our iPhones of course, post it on Facebook to broadcast to the whole world that we matter.
This is the future I’m afraid. But it doesn’t have to be. As an aside, it would not be fair to say that the Four Horsemen have not contributed anything positive toward human flourishing. The benefits of technology are obvious; and Galloway is not naive not to acknowledge that. But since we live in a fallen world, it takes more effort to prevent abuses than to unflinchingly continue toward progress. His tips for thriving in the apocalypse are worth noting. The one that stuck with me is about staying curious.6 “Curiosity is crucial to success” is the short but enduring quip from Galloway. Curiosity can take many forms. It’s true, trying to resist the avalanche of change will drown you. Galloway said “Successful people in the digital age are those who go to work every day, not dreading the next change, but asking, ‘What if we did it this way?’”7
For me that means continued learning—learning how to be a better leader to guide my organization through the challenges and threats these Four Horsemen bring about.
1 Sebastian Herrera, “California Probes Facebook On Privacy,” The Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2019.
2 Phred Dvorak and Megumi Fujikawa, “SoftBank’s Founder Takes Blame,” The Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2019.
3 Scott Galloway, The Four: the Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (NY, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018), 204.
4 Ibid., 104.
5 Ibid., 125.
6 Ibid., 222.