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A Golden Age of Local Digital Stars

This can be great, but we may also lose something magical about a shared digital culture.

The global internet is becoming a little less American, and this can be both thrilling and unsettling.

At a time when many people and elected officials are anxious about the power of mostly American and Chinese technology giants to shape what people believe and remodel economies, it’s good that there are more alternatives to Big Tech dominance. But there is also something magical about globally shared internet services.

Let’s start with a brief internet history: For the first quarter-century of the modern internet, American companies — and more recently, Chinese ones — have largely been the dominant global forces. Facebook and its Instagram and WhatsApp apps, Netflix, Uber and China’s Didi Chuxing and TikTok have gotten traction in many countries.

There are a mix of reasons for the rise of local digital stars.

But the flowering of local internet services is not always a result of protectionism and nationalism. In some cases, homegrown companies are thriving or kicking the butts of global tech superpowers because they’re really good at what they do.

It can be great to have alternatives to the tech giants, but I worry about what we lose if we don’t even have moments of shared culture on YouTube or an affection for Amazon in common. Maybe you think that I’m silly, but I believe that there are elements of a global internet that bring us a little closer. (And sometimes, rip the world apart. It’s all complicated.)

I’m glad that Coupang can thrive by catering to South Koreans’ love of online shopping. Indonesians deserve local corporations that know what they need better than some faraway tech giant. I also hope that we can manage to retain those fine threads of shared internet life.

In the Before Times, a couple times a month I would open the Grubhub app and order too much food from a burger place around the corner from me. One day I looked at the restaurant’s own menu and realized that my burger and fries cost a couple dollars more in the app.

If you’ve used a food or grocery service like Grubhub, Instacart or DoorDash, you might have had a moment when you realized that the prices are higher than they are in the restaurant or store. Or you might have wondered what those “service fees” are.

That’s because in the rush to grow as fast as possible, these apps nearly universally hide what their convenience services really cost us. What if — mind-blowing suggestion coming — we knew the real price of having a burger or groceries delivered to our door?

I assume that my burger place around the corner marks up the prices of orders coming in by app to offset the commissions that the restaurant pays. Fair enough. Some people are choosing to use Instacart or restaurant delivery apps to avoid the risk of contracting the coronavirus. I get it. What’s not fair is not knowing the true cost.

I still get takeout burgers from that place around the corner. But now I call it on the phone — the telephone! — and know that more money is staying in my pocket and the restaurant’s, too.

Category: Technology

Source: New York Times

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