“Though I want to think content is king, I’m worried platform is king,” said Jonathan Taplin, University of Southern California professor and director of USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, at Digital Book World 2016. “I think the fact that there will be five billion smartphones and mobile devices by 2020 gives content platforms extraordinary power.”
During his talk, titled “Sleeping Through a Revolution,” Taplin argued that Silicon Valley has changed the content business so that digital platforms get paid more and content producers get paid less. This has drastically changed privacy, liberty and artistry in our culture.
“We have to ask ourselves if this tech revolution has been great for everyone or if it’s only great for the few at top of a Forbes list,” he commented.
Taplin said that, over the past few decades, fields like journalism, books, music, film and television have lost money to the monopolies of Google, Amazon and Facebook. YouTube, for instance, takes 45 percent of revenue just for putting up a platform even if it only costs the company 2 percent to begin with. These changes have resulted in the loss of jobs to machines as well as the reduction of wages.
The Internet has moved away from being a decentralized network to a centralized one with no federal regulation of taxes, copyright and competition. Now, especially with new systems like Uber in place, the mentality of these platforms isn’t “who’s going to let me?” but “who’s going to stop me?”
Another issue with the influence of these platforms is privacy. Technologies are being used to surveil users, and terrorist groups like ISIS are using YouTube to access audiences.
“The consolidation of search and social media is not good for the digital revolution,” Taplin explained. “The founders of the Internet didn’t want to build a system that would survey you 24/7 and know more about you than your spouse or the NSA.”
“We’re living in world of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I believe Huxley was right,” Taplin continued. “We’re living in a coliseum culture where Donald Trump can get his Twitter followers to harass anyone who opposes him. Like Plato said, if you’re invisible, you can act badly.”
But Taplin remained hopeful that solutions can be achieved. He suggested increasing antitrust enforcement and inviting platforms like Google to get involved in turning things around. Finally, to foster artists in our zero-cost marginal economy, he proposed starting artist cooperatives.
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