The operations overlords of WIRED make me use Airtable. It’s a hip workflow tracker, with pretty color coding and copious tabs and a “robust” API that syncs with Slack. It’s also, apparently, a superhero. The Captain America of spreadsheets. Airtable isn’t just a shinier version of Excel—it’s on a self-professed mission to “democratize software creation by enabling anyone to build tools that meet their needs.” As if the oppressed white-collar workers of the world were crying, “Help! Bring salubrious democracy to my dismal day-to-day!” Democratizers run rampant through tech these days. An app called Robinhood (was that guy pro-democracy?) wants to “democratize finance for all.” Veo aims to democratize soccer videos “one camera, one field, one team at a time.” Custom Movement wants to democratize bespoke sneaker ownership, and Creator imagines the same for hamburger prep. Then there’s dearest Dadi, here to reform that most undemocratic of institutions, sperm storage. It’s all so gross and confusing. I mean, I theoretically support unfulfilled sneakerheads finding shoes that match their special personalities, but the last time I read my Plato a stable republic didn’t depend on the freedom to personalize products. See the contradiction? Democracy is a kumbaya-humming potluck where the whole class is invited. Democratization, meanwhile, caters to infinite constituencies of one, a nonsensical personalization of the political. By now I should be used to marketers pillaging the English language for profit, but this is tone-deaf even for tech. The town squares of social media? Now roiling hellsites of extremism! “Democratize” all you want, but I’m no fool. Democracy is burning, and you would have me buy a reclaimed-wood, custom-made violin.
This article appears in the November issue. Subscribe now.