“You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.”—Andy Warhol
The “no amount of money can get you a better X” type of selective egalitarianism was epitomized by Coke — as Andy Warhol famously summed above — and it took a long time for this select club of best in the world objects — used by presidents, billionaires, taxi drivers and housemaids alike — to expand with another just as iconic object: the iPhone.
But the iPhone (and the very quickly innumerable lookalikes) was different: through its antennas flowed not sugary water, but the very substance political power is made of: information. Trivial information at first, not information about what really matters: life, death, wars, money, politics — the things powerful people talk behind closed doors.
But recently something changed. The internet evolved, the information democracy widened — while the political class devolved and sunk.
And now — during the pandemic — it is the first time it’s all out, wide open, obvious. Every citizen with common sense, a phone and a Twitter account could access real-time stats, models, expert opinions, pre-review research papers and live opinions from the battle front, all broadcasted 24 hours a day, from many countries and countless cities around the planet.
While the most powerful politicians in the world — being fed crisis data by their state information machines — lagged behind, failing to see, to think, to understand the pandemic dynamics. Data flowed free, for everyone to see. But not for them.
Unprecedented! Think of it — in any and all of the previous global crises, the super-rich and the governments, information services and the military were using their own channels and tools to gather and extract high-grade data, unavailable to the public and kept secret, to base their close-doors situation-room inscrutable decisions on. The powerful guarding their power.
And now, look at them — feeding on last-week data, misinterpreted, undigested, half-understood. A random Donald Trump, in denial, divorced from the script of his own reality show. A ‘herd immunity’ Boris, shaking hands obliviously only to be saved by the immigrant health care workers he despises.
For the first time in history my data is better.
For the first time in history my Coke is better than the President’s Coke. And the Prime Minister’s.
Natively in sync with live data, the business class filled the leadership vacuum left by the dull slowness of the asynchronous political industrial complex — and, although badly wounded by losses, quickly developed first-response rules and best practices. Fluidly reorganized for working from home. Developed new services and pivoted the existent ones. Repurposed production lines to manufacture masks, visors and ventilators. Organized donation campaigns and fundraisers.
Something changed in the very fabric of power — as subtle yet deep as the change of seasons. Because information is power, and now it’s beginning to dawn on us that we have it in our pocket, every single day.