In today's special edition of Login, we look at the deep and lasting ways the pandemic has reordered the tech ecosystem — reshaping the industry's agenda, bringing new opportunities and threats to the fore, and leading us into whatever era will follow tech's long boom of the 2010s.
Thanks to Ina for handing the controls over to me here for the day! She'll be back Friday.
Today's Login is 2,100 words, an 8-minute read.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The coronavirus crisis has reset the tech industry's ecology with the speed and force of a meteor hitting a planet.
The big picture: Just as the industry's tools and services have shaped our experience of this disastrous moment, the pandemic has reshaped the industry itself in a matter of weeks.
Here's Silicon Valley's new food chain:
Big Tech's giant apex predators will strengthen their dominance while facing new threats.
In the middle ranks of the industry, where freshly IPOed newcomers on the way up pass middle-aged firms on their way down, chaos and carnage loom.
Tech's teeming underbrush of small startups will grow less crowded and more diverse.
The bottom line: The scale, reach and power of tech's giants looks less like a danger and more like a public good at this pivotal moment.
All this will give these companies a freer hand to pursue new markets, buy up potential competitors and fend off regulators than they had before.
Yes, but: In the new world, they'll face new dangers to their preeminence. (See below.)
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The industry's pre-coronavirus agenda isn't vanishing — but its priorities have already been reshuffled.
These agenda items have jumped to the top of the list:
Transforming healthcare. Tech has long viewed the healthcare sector as an over-regulated backwater resistant to digital transformation.
Distance learning and the digital divide. With schooling at all levels transformed for now into a remote experience, inequities in online access have moved from a long-term ethical concern to an immediate problem.
Network bandwidth and resilience. The shelter-in-place era has stressed networks in new and unplanned-for ways. So far they've held up well.
Misinformation and media polarization. Critics were already blaming big tech platforms for polarizing U.S. politics and spreading election-warping lies.
Meanwhile, these agenda items have lost some urgency:
Antitrust investigations and enforcement. The virus could slow but isn't scuttling efforts by the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, Congress and the states to investigate monopolistic practices by Big Tech.
Consumer privacy. Despite a cavalcade of data breaches and privacy-protection violations, the American public seems to remain ambivalent about the tradeoffs between protecting their personal information and supporting free, ad-supported internet services, telling survey takers that they care about the issue but rarely modifying their behavior.
Screen overload. Before the coronavirus, many Americans feared that too much time in front of screens was rotting our brains and atrophying our bodies.
Big Tech's newly bolstered dominance doesn't make these companies invulnerable.
The big picture: Three elements form the ground on which the tech giants built their success — cheap hardware, connectable software and the freedom to innovate. Each of these foundations already faced threats that the virus crisis has now amplified.
Cheap hardware: The tech economy relies on a simple dynamic of efficient manufacturing and process improvement that drives down the prices of expensive breakthrough products until they become cheap and universal.
Connectable software: Our digital civilization is built on software-all-the-way-down stacks of interdependent code. These layers upon layers of programs and libraries talk to each other using application programming interfaces (APIs) — sets of commands that let diverse companies, organizations, and individuals build services that work together.
Freedom to innovate: There's widespread consensus in Silicon Valley that the industry has thrived because it's been left relatively unregulated.
For the past decade, everyone in the tech world has wondered how the great boom of the Big Tech era that began in the mid-2000s would end. Now we know.
Why it matters: Recessions are "incumbent killers," says Bruce Mehlman. He's talking about politics, but the same principle holds true in tech.
Flashback: Every past recession and downturn in modern memory has led to the eclipse of tech industry incumbents and the rise of new powers.
What's next: Right now, it's hard to imagine how today's crisis could possibly alter the tech landscape in ways that would displace the power of tech's colossi.
Yes, but: Two midsize companies' recent successes point to ways that newcomers can still outflank the giants with well-conceived and -designed software, smart market positioning and, of course, luck.
The bottom line: We've only seen the first tremors from the pandemic's tech impact. Whatever's coming next will be as big as it is unpredictable.
This is a pretty amazing Hot Wheels track.