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.
Astra Taylor is a writer, documentary filmmaker, and activist. 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. Taylor’s writing has appeared in The Nation, the London Review of Books, n+1, The Baffler magazine, and other publications and she is the editor of Examined Life and co-editor of Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America. Taylor helped spearhead the Occupy offshoot Strike Debt and was one of the instigators of the Rolling Jubilee campaign. She lives in New York.
“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, musician and author
“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.”
“In this, perhaps the most important book about the digital age so far this century, Astra Taylor reveals the unacknowledged economic operating system actually running the net. It’s a landscape in which ‘open’ means different things for different people, 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, Program or Be Programmed and Life Inc.
“The scariest book I’ve read in a while is also the most exhilarating: The People’s Platform portrays what the digital age has done to our society, our culture, our lives—the power grabs, the blows to democracy, the uphill rush of money—and how it’s undermined the economic underpinnings of news and art, in broad scope and precise detail. There is no better, no stronger picture of our bleak new technological landscape and the peppy delusions and deceptions of its profiteers. 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 A Paradise Built in Hell
“A lively, engaging and wide-ranging look at the politics and the business of the Internet. This is a must-read call to action for anyone who believes in the democratic potential of the net.”
—Nora Young, host of Spark, on CBC Radio
“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—it’s one that can radically change the way we see the future of digital social change.”
—Raj Patel, New York Times bestselling author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved
“In The People’s Platform, Astra Taylor skillfully explores and dismantles familiar polarized positions on internet culture. In this unravelling, she reveals the complex and blurred relationships among users, creators and those who profit from them. Taylor’s argument for a sustainable cultural commons is moving and persuasive, and elevates the debate at this crucial juncture in the evolution of cyberspace.”
—Jennifer Baichwal, documentary filmmaker (Manufactured Landscapes, Payback, Watermark)
“The People’s Platform is a can’t-look-away tour through the bombed-out wreckage of democratic culture in the Internet age. 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
“Astra Taylor is a bright voice of the Occupy generation—a courageous philosopher and a keen activist with a digital populist message. Taylor’s prescient manifesto for ‘sustainable culture’ explains why the 99% must pioneer ‘cultural democracy’ to win real democracy. The People's Platform is destined to ignite a global social movement to rewild our mental ecology.”
—Micah White, Ph.D. (@LeaderlesRevolt), co-creator of Occupy Wall Street meme
“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
“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. She is on the side of the independent filmmaker, musician, and journalist, and pulls no punches in naming those on the other side. This is a brave, inspiring, and necessary book.”
—Keith Gessen, author of All the Sad Young Literary Men
“Why has the invention most celebrated for putting the means of expression in the hands of the people produced a few billionaire media moguls and a mass of creative producers expected to work for free? Confronting this fundamental 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 will win.”
—Jodi Dean, author of Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies