While the digital era has ushered in significant changes to the way we communicate, the triumphalist message emerging from Silicon Valley and other tech strongholds tends to shunt aside serious discussion about the repercussions of the fast-evolving electronic landscape.
With The People’s Platform, Winnipeg-born writer and documentarian Astra Taylor provides a thoughtful corrective about the nature of a medium that has promoted itself as the great equalizer. Taylor delves deep into a world often assumed incomprehensible to anyone but the archetypal techno-geek. She expertly surveys a broad range of research and opinion, and her conclusions will shake the complacency of anyone who thinks their computer’s firewalls will protect personal privacy and keep them free of the hidden corporate hand surreptitiously shaping their search results.
Just as corporations capitalized on 1960s youth culture by adapting the language of revolution, Internet monopolies and their biggest boosters employ a language of liberation to mask less-than-savoury practices that accelerate inequality, from farming out production facilities to low-wage offshore sites to promoting the culture of the unpaid intern. In fact, as Taylor illustrates, the genius of the Web has been to create a whole class of contributors who, by expressing themselves through blogs, videos, chat rooms, and Facebook pages, actually provide for free the very content that Internet companies package and sell to advertisers.
Along the way, Taylor explores everything from the evolving nature of copyright and the myths of Web access (more than a third of Americans lack broadband) to online misogyny and the manner in which so much digital content continues to rely on traditional media platforms like newspapers and radio. She also notes the irony that the companies behind this communications “revolution” replicate the corporate structures that many original tech visionaries said they would avoid (Google, for example, vowed at its outset to be ad-free).
Taylor closes with a manifesto calling for the return of democratic transparency to the Net. She says any such transformation will not happen overnight, but will, like all social change, require organization, education, and activism – the very kinds of collaborative involvement with which the Internet is often credited, but which, in reality, it all too often squelches.