Lately, in the more thoughtful corners of the Internet, everyone is talking about wealth and inequality. Everywhere else on the Internet, they’re gawking at the Internet itself. Which makes Astra Taylor’s new book, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, a perfect combination of conversation pieces. A well-researched, forward-looking indictment of this very moment, Taylor’s book has quickly become the official word on the Internet and inequality.
Stepping back from her Twitter feed for a minute, Taylor performs the downright heroic thought experiment of suppressing the “gee whiz, isn’t that neat” reaction that we’ve all been having to new technology for the past twenty-five years, and wondering instead if there is a better way for society to shape itself in the age of the Internet. If you’ve seen the new X-Men movie, Days of Future Past, then you can think of Taylor as Wolverine: a hardy visionary, sent from the post-apocalyptic near-future to stop us from making a crucial mistake that will doom us all forever. It’s a big job. If you live in society or you use the Internet (so, yes) then you must read this book.
Taylor, in case you were wondering, is a documentary filmmaker who published bulletins from the Occupy movement, and her book might as well be called Occupy the Internet, although she definitely comes from the more Marxist, college-educated, theory-spouting end of the Occupy spectrum than the, you know, homeless stoner end. Taylor builds her argument calmly, with plenty of evidence, and lets you supply all the moral outrage yourself. I would tell you to do whatever it takes to get your hands on this book, but if you steal it or pirate it, you’re going to feel like shit when you get to the chapter on pirating. Future-you would encourage you to pay full price for it. Taking back power and culture starts with coughing up real money for your reading material, apparently.
Here’s a rundown of each chapter’s main theme.
1. A Peasant’s Kingdom
Almost everything on the Internet—articles, videos, comments, etc.—is already co-opted by enormous companies for profit.
2. For Love or Money
The notion that a passionate amateur artist can succeed on the Internet is a myth that stifles real artists and enriches corporations.
3. What We Want
Both directly and indirectly, advertising revenue dictates what appears on the Internet, which degrades its cultural worth.
4. Unequal Uptake
The Internet is at least as unequal as society, if not more so, in terms of the disproportionate advantages it confers on people who were advantaged to begin with.
5. The Double Anchor
The war over copyright, which is being fought by copyright-hoarding corporations on one side, and crusading pirates on the other side, is a false dichotomy that doubly endangers artists and the survival of their work.
6. Drawing a Line
The broken barrier between content and advertising has terrible consequences for our economy, our culture, and our individual selves.
Okay, that’s enough. Step away from the Internet and start reading The People’s Platform. The future needs you to.
– Brian Hurley is Books Editor at The Rumpus, Founder of Fiction Advocate, and Curator of the Critical Hit Awards and Electric Literature.