Blitz Empires – How The Mighty Fall In Modern Times

I’m a long time Apple fan. I mean very, very long time.

I remember being a student, 30 years ago and being fascinated with computers. Not only the entire computer phenomenon was at its very beginning, but I was also in Romania, a country which was just escaped communism a couple a years ago. Computers, in general, were scarce. But it was also common for universities to receive support and donations for other universities after the communism collapse. So, one day I picked up word that the Faculty of Journalism received a couple of Apple word processors, as donations from another university. That news alone was enough to make me apply (and get admitted to) the Faculty of Journalism. I wasn’t too much into journalism, as I was into computers. Specifically, Apple computers.

It took a long time, though, until I was able to get my own Mac. I was already an entrepreneur, and, after 4 or 5 years of hustling (again, in a post-communist Romania) I was finally able to afford one. I used to play on Linux before that, so when I switched to Mac it was like an epiphany: I had the best of both worlds, a Unix core, but a beautiful UI.

Years passed, Steve Jobs was called back from NeXT to Apple, and he led the iPhone revolution. I am an iPhone user for more than 11 years, and I still remember the initial announcement: we have 3 devices… in one.

After I got my first iPhone I started to write mobile apps. Still doing this today for a living.

So, as you can see, my admiration for this tech company spanned more than 3 decades. That’s a very, very long time.

Alas, the Apple I fell in love with is no longer the Apple of today. It sounds harsh, but it’s just the reality.

Innovation slowed down, cash piled up, compromise started to creep in at strategic levels. And when I say “compromise” I don’t specifically refer to the quality of the devices. Nope, I talk about the actual social and political impact the company has.

Because now Apple sits on more cash than the combined GDP of Slovakia and Bulgaria. That is $195 billion. At these levels, the roles are melting… Are we talking about just a tech company? Or are we talking about an active social and political actor, the size of two countries?

Again, please try to stop for a minute to realize the enormity of this situation: a single company, led by a single person (there is a board, I know, but still) is bigger in cash than two European countries, all with democratic processes, elected leaders, various industries, manufacture sectors, agriculture, commerce, and with a combined population of 17 million people.

Apple is bigger than these two, combined.

Unfortunately, you start to really understand the sheer size of this monolithic structure when you look at how they use their tech.

Recently, Apple announced they will scan user’s iPhone for photos, and match them against a private database. The goal, as Apple stated, was to stop child porn. At first, this seems like a good goal, and the goal, indeed it’s good, in and by itself. But the way Apple is trying to reach it, by transforming their devices in permanent surveillance gizmos, is definitely not.

This announcement spurred a wave of protests and Apple backed up. For now.

But even if they stopped now, there’s nothing stopping them to try this (or something similar) at the next iteration of their operating system. Even more, it’s hard to know if they didn’t already implemented it, in a secret way.

Let’s be clear, this approach is a social and political one. It’s miles away from the initial goals of the company, which were to facilitate communication and information processing. It’s something that works very closely with state surveillance structures (even though, the goal in and by itself is a noble one).

My point is that Apple is not the maverick company it used to be 30 years ago. Not anymore. It grew into a Behemoth. It’s more on money and power and less on innovation. It’s steering away from the “don’t be evil” mantra they tried so much to abide to in the beginning.

Empires are not falling at once, unless there’s a bigger, more profound catastrophe, like a natural disaster. They melt down slowly, like the Roman empire melted for a few hundreds of years, until they disappeared, engulfed by other structures. That’s where Apple is right now. At the peak of its expansion, starting to go down.

The difference now is that empires are “blitz”, compared with previous history examples. It didn’t take Apple 500 years to establish itself as a formidable financial (and now, with political ambition) structure. It took it, in total, just 30 years. A generation and a half.

The speed at which the world is moving is starting to resemble more and more a fast forward movie. And we don’t have access to the “pause” button.

Photo by Bangyu Wang on Unsplash

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