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“The People’s Platform” by Astra Taylor @astradisastra

May 10, 2014

Fascinating and must-read book by the documentary film maker and academic Astra Taylor.  We’ll be posting some excerpts from key concepts.

The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age takes an unflinching look at the Gospel According to Silicon Valley, including Google and its mouthpiece Lessig.  Taylor cuts through Lessig’s justification of massive commoditization of everything the network touches with the humor of Fake Jeff Jarvis and intellectual rigor.

A…willful obliviousness to the problems of open systems undercuts the claims of new-media thinkers that openness has buried the “old debates.” While Lawrence Lessig convincingly makes the case that bloated intellectual property laws—the controlling nature of copyright—often stifle creative innovation from below, his enthusiasm for the free circulation of information blinds him to the increasing commodification of our expressive lives and the economic disparity built into the system he passionately upholds.

“You can tell a great deal about the character of a person by asking him to pick the great companies of an era,” Lessig declares in Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, and whether they root for the “successful dinosaurs” or the “hungry upstarts.” Technology, he continued, has “radically shifted” the balance of power in favor of the latter. Proof? “The dropouts of the late 1990s (mainly from Stanford) beat the dropouts of the middle 1970s (from Harvard). Google and Yahoo! were nothing when Microsoft was said to dominate.” This, it seems, is what it means to have moved beyond the dichotomy of market and state into the realm of openness—that we must cheerlead the newly powerful from the sidelines for no better reason than that they are new.

Even if the players weren’t from Stanford and Harvard (two institutions where Lessig has held prominent appointments [and substantial academic funding from Google]), the statement would still be unsettling. Who could possibly construe a contest between the dropouts of these elite and storied institutions as one between underdogs and an oppressor? And why should we cheer Amazon over local bookstores, Apple over independent record labels, or Netflix over art house cinemas, on the basis of their founding date or their means of delivery? The dinosaurs and upstarts have more in common than Lessig cares to admit.

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