Lecture: Astra Taylor, The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

December 2, 2014
3:00 PM
Mann Assembly Room, Paterno Library

The DCMI speaker series in Critical Media and Digital Studies features speakers invited to visit Penn State. Its goal is to present critical, rather than merely celebratory perspectives on the study of digital culture and media; to explore emerging perspectives on the politics of the technology industry, software engineering ethics, and the legislative regulation of data collection and analysis; and to integrate with the study of digital culture and media the study of social class, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, disability, and postcoloniality, as well as non-Western cultural perspectives.

On December 2, 2014, Astra Taylor joined us to speak about her book The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (Metropolitan Books, 2014; Picador, 2015).

Event flyer

From the Preface of The People’s Platform:

I am not trying to deny the transformative nature of the Internet, but rather to recognize that we’ve lived with it long enough to ask tough questions. Thankfully, this is already beginning to happen. Over the course of writing this book, the public conversation about the Internet and the technology industry has shifted significantly. There have been revelations about the existence of a sprawling international surveillance infrastructure, uncompetitive business and exploitative labor practices, and shady political lobbying initiatives, all of which have made major technology firms the subjects of increasing scrutiny from academics, commentators, activists, and even government officials in the United States and abroad.

People are beginning to recognize that Silicon Valley platitudes about “changing the world” and maxims like “don’t be evil” are not enough to ensure that some of the biggest corporations on Earth will behave well.

Description, from publisher’s Web site

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.

Author bio, from publisher’s Web site

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.

Other resources


Publisher’s Web site for The People’s Platform

Read the Preface online

Geert Lovink and Astra Taylor, “Beyond digital discontent: A conversation with Astra Taylor,” Eurozine, May 30, 2014

Sarah Leonard, “Can the Internet Be a ‘People’s Platform’? A Q&A With Astra Taylor,” The Nation, June 4, 2014

Rose Dwyer, “Six Questions: Astra Taylor discusses the potential and peril of the Internet as a tool for cultural democracy,” Harper’s, August 7, 2014

Astra Taylor, “Hope and Ka-ching: Workers of the world, apply here,” The Baffler 25, 2014

Review by Evgeny Morozov, Bookforum, April/May 2014

Review by Zachary Loeb, boundary 2: The b2 review, May 27, 2014

Astra Taylor Web site

Astra Taylor on Twitter