In The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, Astra Taylor discusses how the Internet’s inevitable effects have misled us. The “digital transformation has been hailed as the great cultural leveler, putting the tools of creation in everyone’s hands” (2). On the Internet, however, all people do not have the same “megaphone to blast their messages and to be heard” (4). Online, some speak louder than others due to “wealth and the consolidation, centralization and commercialism” of the digital domain (5). The Internet does not truly close the gap between the rich and the poor. Much like traditional ways of government and society, the wealth and power on the Internet has shifted to those who “control the platforms on which all of us create, consume and connect” (9).
It is interesting to look at the ways we use social media to express ourselves on a day-to-day basis. From sharing photos on Instagram and Snapchat to updating our status and newsfeeds on Facebook and Twitter, social media outlets allow us “to make our online presence” (18). As Taylor mentions in the book, however, our use of social media everyday continues to allow those who control these platforms to continue to make money. As media scholar Trebor Scholz stated, “participation in social media is the oil of the digital economy” (18). Not only do these media companies continue to make money, they begin to control what we see online based off of our interactions with different people, things that interest us and in some cases, our personal information. It is scary to think that algorithms and built-in technology has allowed these companies to trace our personal information to decide what information is visible to us on the web. Is this really a true way of democracy on the web? Seeing advertisements from different companies based off a previous connection I made or a site that I visited on the web gets outrageous at times. For example, after looking at some shoes or a tie on Amazon, the website provided me a list of suggested items that I should consider getting as well. It can get overwhelming at times when you are looking for a specific item and all you see is a list of suggested items that are not beneficial. In another example, after listening to a song on YouTube by a specific artist, the site will recommend channels for you filled with certain songs from different artists. For me, YouTube is not as bad as Amazon.
All in all, I hate that the algorithms in this networked era can pretty much judge what you might want to buy, see or listen to as if these are the only things that you have an interest in. As times goes on, it is important that media platforms and companies find ways to truly define and allow customers to express themselves in the way that they choose to be. After all, technology alone “cannot deliver cultural transformation” (10). As Taylor states in the book, we need to “find other ways and principles that better equip us to comprehend and confront the market’s role in shaping our media system” (38).
Technology has also altered the format in how we receive and understand information. Some of us, like myself, have grown up in an era with the idea of creating and sharing content instead of reading the newspaper or viewing online and digital platforms to receive the news. As Taylor states in the book, my generation has “reduced the news to whatever we want to know in the moment” (77). In addition to this, I think about how I spent four years of my life in undergrad to receive a Bachelor’s degree in mass communication and journalism, not curating and aggregating the news. I did not decide to come to graduate school to seek my Master’ s in mass communication only to get a job “shortening the work of others, collecting links from across the Web, cutting and condensing material into bite-size chunks” (103). While I do not want to be what “one media blogger called working in the salt mines of the aggregator” in the book, the digital space is filled with opportunities of this nature. As William Leach mentioned in his book The Land of Desire, these short blurbs of information quench our desires to be informed on the latest news and information around the world.
“Our communications system is at a crossroads, one way leading to a commercialized world where we are treated as targeted customers, the second way, a true cultural commons where we are nurtured as citizens and creators” (232). To create a media environment where democracy can thrive, we need to devise progressive policy that takes into account the entire context in which art, journalism and information are created, distributed, discovered, and preserved, online and off” (232).