The year in tech empires

China’s government was anxious enough about the power of the country’s tech superstars that it cracked down on some popular digital services. In London, Brussels, Seoul, Washington, Tallahassee and — OK, just about everywhere — regulators and lawmakers are trying to erect new guardrails to control what they see as pernicious effects of tech companies’ power in our lives.

A lot of this activity might be go-nowhere bluster or ultimately prove relatively inconsequential. But when elected leaders turn against an industry, it is often a reflection of the popular mood. And it’s a good bet that they won’t turn sunny again soon.

It’s hard to ignore how entrenched and influential the tech empires are. And it’s difficult to overlook how swarmed they are by doubts and challenges.

And while the Big Tech giants remain profitable and growing, there are signs of weakness there, too. Jeff Bezos stepped aside as Amazon’s chief executive this year and some other tech bosses quit, too. Once a company gets big, it might be less fun to manage the messes.

Mark Zuckerberg seems worried about Facebook and its ability to stay relevant with young people. And big ideas in food shopping during the past two years came not from Amazon but from Instacart, fast-delivery startups like GoPuff and even Walmart. Americans spend more on groceries than nearly anything else, and Big Tech is largely a side show.

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Feelings about tech companies and tech personalities are also growing more complicated. People often love or rely on tech, but they sometimes also feel yucky about it.

The latest obsession in the tech industry are cryptocurrency startups and related companies that imagine a future of the internet that would be less dominated by corporate control. This feels, in part, like a crisis of confidence about technology’s foundations from inside the machine.

Empires don’t tend to last forever, although many of the Big Tech companies have adapted to crises before and emerged even stronger.

I don’t know what will happen this time. It’s hard to ignore how entrenched and influential the tech empires are. And it’s difficult to overlook how swarmed they are by doubts and challenges.


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