The People's Platform
Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital AgeBook - 2014
From a cutting-edge cultural commentator and documentary filmmaker, a bold and brilliant challenge to cherished notions of the Internet as the great democratizing force of our age.
The Internet has been hailed as a place where all can be heard and everyone can participate equally. But how true is this claim? In a seminal dismantling of techno-utopian visions, The People's Platform argues that for all that we "tweet" and "like" and "share," the Internet in fact reflects and amplifies real-world inequities at least as much as it ameliorates them. Online, just as off-line, attention and influence largely accrue to those who already have plenty of both. What we have seen in the virtual world so far, Astra Taylor says, has been not a revolution but a rearrangement. Although Silicon Valley tycoons have eclipsed Hollywood moguls, a handful of giants like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook still dominate our lives. And the worst habits of the old media model--the pressure to be quick and sensational, to seek easy celebrity, to appeal to the broadest possible public--have proliferated online, where every click can be measured and where "aggregating" the work of others is the surest way to attract eyeballs and ad revenue. In a world where culture is "free," creative work has diminishing value, and advertising fuels the system, the new order looks suspiciously just like the old one.
We can do better, Taylor insists. The online world does offer an unprecedented opportunity, but a democratic culture that supports diverse voices, work of lasting value, and equitable business practices will not appear as a consequence of technology alone. If we want the Internet to truly be a people's platform, we will have to make it so.
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The truth is that the public good is increasingly financed by private money. Google Books, despite the legal troubles that dogged the endeavor, is a prime example of this phenomenon. While often described as a "universal library" the project is anything but. More accurately, it was devised with the aim of transforming the library from an institution that collects and distributes information to the public into one that collects and distributes the public's information in service of Google's core advertising business.
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