London once had a Worshipful Company of Mercers and, among many others, a Worshipful Company of Skinners. The Worshipful Company of Pewterers has existed since 1348. Many of those bodies are not relevant today but their decline maps how technology and commercial imperatives changed our world.
Today, the Worshipful Company of Firefighters or Tax Advisers have a relevance skinners or pewterers no longer enjoy. Each profession peaks and ebbs as we evolve. The growth of influence of one process or another is a reliable guide to where real, self-accumulating power has moved.
In that context, it is impossible to ignore the symbolism of the announcement that Facebook is to lease the 14-acre Bankcentre campus in Dublin’s Ballsbridge. The once unassailable, pin-striped bankers make way for geeks in T-shirts — though their ambitions are equally rapacious.
The expansion will allow the tech giant add 5,000 staff to its Irish operation. Once AIB’s flagship, and maybe the modern Versailles of Irish banking, the Bankcentre is another old world bastion fallen to the relentless advance of ever richer, and more powerful, tech giants.
Pewters and skinners had finite influence but banks and social media giants have shown how they can steer societies — and democracies — towards dark, unknown chaos. Though primarily symbolic this move must re-energise efforts to contain a leading member of what has become the Worshipful Company of Worldchangers.