From a cutting-edge cultural commentator, a bold and brilliant challenge to cherished notions of the Internet as the great leveler of our age
The Internet has been hailed as an unprecedented democratizing force, a place where everyone can be heard and all 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 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 remain the gatekeepers. And the worst habits of the old media model the pressure to seek easy celebrity, to be quick and sensational above all have proliferated on the web, where "aggregating" the work of others is the surest way to attract eyeballs and ad revenue. When culture is "free," creative work has diminishing value and advertising fuels the system. The new order looks suspiciously like the old one.
We can do better, Taylor insists. The online world does offer a unique opportunity, but a democratic culture that supports diverse voices and work of lasting value will not spring up from technology alone. If we want the Internet to truly be a people's platform, we will have to make it so.
About the Author
Astra Taylor is a writer and documentary filmmaker. Her films include Zizek!, a feature documentary about the world's most outrageous philosopher, which was broadcast on the Sundance Channel, and Examined Life, a series of excursions with contemporary thinkers. Her writing has appeared in The Nation, Salon, Monthly Review, The Baffler, and other publications. She lives in New York City.
“If you’ve ever had the uncomfortable feeling that we’ve taken a wrong turn on the way to the future, Astra Taylor’s shocking, utterly rational, and elegant book will have you shaking your fist along with her. This is an essential and overdue indictment of our ailing media culture.”
—Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
“The scariest book I’ve read in a while is also the most exhilarating: there is no better, stronger picture of our bleak new technological landscape and the peppy delusions and deceptions of its profiteers than The People’s Platform. But knowledge is power, and Taylor gives us a picture so clear it empowers us to find a way forward through the debris. Read it and revolt.”
—Rebecca Solnit, author of The Faraway Nearby
“The promise was so utopian, and it really seemed possible! Now we watch as the lauded instrument of ‘creative destruction’ ends up in the hands of a few giant corporations. What happened? Is there a way out beyond pulling the plug? In response, Astra Taylor has laid out clear arguments, sobering information, and inspiring insights. There have been a lot of books about how the Internet is changing our world, but this is absolutely one of the best. Beautifully written and highly recommended.”
—David Byrne, author and musician
“Internet policy books seem only to come in two colors: bright dream or dark nightmare. Enter The People’s Platform—it’s a rainbow of insight. With nuance and a light touch, Astra Taylor exposes the fallacies in contemporary digital punditry. Unlike her peers, she has her eyes on a truly democratic politics. Which makes this a rare book—one that can radically change the way we see the future of digital social change.”
—Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved
“What happened to the Internet revolution? Why, if everything’s so different, does it feel like everything’s still the same? Astra Taylor breaks it down here with humor, patience, and an unerring moral sense. This is a brave, inspiring, and necessary book.”
—Keith Gessen, author of All the Sad Young Literary Men
“Lucid, unsparing, and brilliant, The People’s Platform demonstrates how the Internet, hardly a paradise of freedom and equality, has been left in the hands of moguls, oligarchs, and corporate scamsters to produce little more than new forms of exploitation. But it also shows that the utopian promise is not all hot air. Freedom doesn’t just happen. It has to be conquered, and this book begins to tell us how.”
—David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years
“Astra Taylor’s insights into the ‘missing middle’ of our present situation are sane, lucid, and generous. This book adjusted my thinking on several scores.”
—Jonathan Lethem, author of The Ecstasy of Influence
“In this, perhaps the most important book about the digital age so far this century, Astra Taylor reveals the unacknowledged economic system actually running the net. It’s a landscape in which leisure might better be classified as labor and the promise of free culture ends up costing us so much more than money.”
—Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: Why Everything Happens Now
“Why has the invention most celebrated for putting the means of expression in the hands of the people produced a few billionaire moguls and a mass of creative producers expected to work for free? Confronting this core inequality of the digital age, Astra Taylor opens a new front in the battle for sustainable culture—and gives us good reason to think that this is a battle we can win.”
—Jodi Dean, author of Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies