John Harris

Journalist & Author

Forget Zuckerberg – the tech giants don’t have to own the future | John Harris

Facebook, Google and Apple make the headlines, but there are many inspiring startups to dissipate the sense of techno-dread

A quarter of a century ago, the Canadian author Douglas Coupland published his third novel. Microserfs was the tale of a group of young Microsoft employees who decide to exit the realm of Bill Gates in Washington state and chase a dream of their own in California places that, back then, sounded like the epitome of futuristic magic: Palo Alto, Menlo Park. As well as prescient flashes of the world to come – “Beware of the corporate invasion of private memory,” warned one of its protagonists – what always stuck with me was its air of techno-optimism, perfectly crystallised right at the end, when the central character’s mother has a stroke and is rescued from silence by a set-up attached to an Apple Macintosh. She communicates via such staccato sentences as “I am here”, and “I feel U”; the novel’s closing pages capture her and her family marvelling at the fact that she has become “part woman/part machine, emanating blue Macintosh light”.

The book was published in 1995, when computers suddenly offered an ever-expanding window on to the world. Many of us had no doubt that the leap from old to new represented nothing but progress. By the start of this decade social media platforms were being hailed as a means of individual and collective emancipation. But where has this faith in the future gone?

Related: The rise of technology in care: how will it affect workers?

Related: ‘My life is spent in this car’: Uber drives its Indian workers to despair | Amrit Dhillon

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