Digital Delights & Disturbances: The New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism

JCU’s Department of Communications presented an online lecture called “New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism” on November 11, 2021. The guest speakers were Ben Little and Alison Winch, authors of the book The New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism: Celebrity Tech Founders and Networks of Power (Taylor & Francis, 2021). Little and Winch talked about their book and their conclusions on the current digital world. The lecture was part of the Digital Delights & Disturbances Lecture Series organized by the Communications Department.

The New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism

The New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism

The New Patriarchs of Digital Capitalism: Celebrity Tech Founders and Networks of Power offers a critique of the billionaires behind major tech companies in the U.S., as well as their power, influence, and role in digital capitalism. Little and Winch argue that the tech industry has a patriarchal network that gives the founders space for causing major impacts on both a cultural and political level. The book maps out the patriarchal network consisting of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Peter Thiel, and Sheryl Sandberg, and how it influences the various myths that are part of the narrative of the American dream, such as the Boy Genius, American Frontier, and American Household.

Winch talked about the importance of the celebrity persona biographies behind key tech founders, how they are represented in popular media and how this challenges their social power. This form of celebrity is specific to the authors’ case study since the tech geniuses have a degree of power over media, capitalism, and culture itself.

Little described the methodologies used in the book to analyze the patriarchal network in the tech sphere. From this, Winch went on to explain the creation of their Celebrity Founder Myth, which they developed while conducting research. On a superficial level, the myth describes the “requirements” to become a tech billionaire, like starting in a garage or small office, crushing any emerging competitors, etc. On a deeper level, the myth functions as a tool for tech geniuses to have a power grab or control on the technology world. All the research and analyses carried out by the authors support their argument of a repeating structure of patriarchy, especially in technology, and of how the structure adapts itself based on the context it is in. Little and Winch concluded the lecture, and their book, stating that Silicon Valley reflects a structure with long-standing classed, gendered, and raced hierarchies, where billionaires are at the top.

The online presentation ended with questions from the attendees regarding new media, such as the Metaverse, and the extent of the future trajectory of tech geniuses.

Ben Little is a lecturer in Media and Cultural Politics at University of East Anglia, and co-author of several books. Alison Winch is a lecturer in Media Studies also at University of East Anglia, and author of several publications on gender and media.