Between the Lines Book Club: Interviews with Astra Taylor

between the lines book club logoAstra Taylor is proficient in social media, filmmaking, and journalism, so it’s no surprise that the Internet is full of her talking about her book The People’s Platform in detailed interviews.  The People’s Platform this month’s book here at Between the Lines Book Club.

You can find Taylor giving videos on film and on paper.  Here are some highlights from a few of her interviews.

Six Questions”, from Harper’s Blog


I notice that you continue to use Twitter, even as you recognize the flaws in some of its business practices. How do we reconcile our enjoyment of social media even as we understand that the corporations who control them aren’t always acting in our best interests?

I can’t wholeheartedly say I enjoy Twitter, or at least I’m enjoying it less and less these days, but I don’t think there’s a contradiction. I use lots of products that are created by companies whose business practices I object to and that don’t act in my best interests, or the best interests of workers or the environment — we all do, since that’s part of living under capitalism. That said, I refuse to invest so much in any platform that I can’t quit without remorse, since you never know when there will be a significant change to the terms of service or to the service itself. Facebook’s invitation to “pay to promote” status updates was a tipping point for me and I jumped ship.

The Rumpus


Taylor: Okay, this will seem like a silly example, but look at the whole discourse around “selling out,” a concept people say is irrelevant because there’s no more distinction between mainstream and underground, inside and outside (which I don’t really believe, but that’s another issue).

Rumpus: We used to get so enraged by Nirvana. Now it’s like, whatever.

Taylor: Yeah, and I’m a little bit of that old guard. My point, though, is that if lines have indeed shifted, it’s not so much that the younger generation just doesn’t care, it’s that we have ceded more and more of our public life over to the private sector. If you grow up with advertising at school, you have come of age in a sold-out world.

“Can The Internet Be A “People’s Platform?” from The Nation


SL: Could you say a little bit about the ideal role of government in the Internet and tech?

AT: The public interest is aligning less and less with tech corporations—once seen as our allies against the old oligarchs—and more with government regulation. The scandal about collusion to keep down engineers’ wages at Google and Apple? You need antitrust laws. The terrible conditions at Amazon’s warehouses and Apple’s factories? You need strong labor laws. State and corporate surveillance? Privacy protections. Essentially what the protesters in the Bay Area have been saying is: “We want to tax Twitter. We don’t think they should get a huge break to come here and then have all the wealth that they generate used to evict people.”

What do you think?

Between the Lines Book Club: A Brief History of the Internet

between the lines book club logoThis month we’re reading The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in a Digital Age, by Astra Taylor.  In this book Taylor challenges the idea that the Internet is an open marketplace, showing how companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook push out smaller companies, and arguing that real-world inequalities exist in the Internet as well as in the “real” world.

In the 1960s, computer labs in the US and Europe began experimenting with “packet networking”.  The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was the first network to use packet switching and TCP/IP, two technologies which are vital in making the Internet work.  The number of computers linked to ARPANET and it was declared “operational” in 1975.  The network was under the control of the Department of Communications and was only to be used for government purposes.  ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990.

Remember how much flak Al Gore took for claiming to have invented the Internet?  Well, he never claimed to have created it, but he did claim to have been instrumental in moving it forward though legislation, and that’s an accurate claim.  Gore authored legislation called The High Performance Computing and and Communications Act in 1991.  The act led to the creation of infrastructure (“the information superhighway”) that made the creation of the Internet as we know it possible.

As TCP/IP technology became more common, more and more systems could connect to each other.   The 1980s saw the fledgling Internet becoming global.  The Internet also became both more public and more commercial, with the final restrictions on carrying commercial traffic ending on April 30.  Google was incorporated as a privately held company in 1998.  The transitive verb “to google” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2006.  Facebook was founded in 2004 and Amazon, the old veteran of the group, has been around (and taking all my money) since 1994.

Which brings us today, where the Internet brings you bloggers, email, and pictures of cats:

Between the Lines Book Club: A Very Short Biography of Astra Taylor, with Links!

between the lines book club logoHappy Friday from Between the Lines Book Club!  This month is all about the internet, home of spam, book reviews, porn, and cats.  So many cats.  We’re discussing The People’s Platform: Taking Back Culture and Power in the Digital Age.  Join is in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA on May 30 at 10:30 AM for coffee and live discussion!

The People’s Platform  is written by Astra Taylor, a filmmaker, journalist, and activist.  Taylor was born in Canada in 1979.  Her family moved to Arizona and then to Georgia, where her father was a professor.  Taylor and her siblings were “unschooled” and Taylor remains an Unschooling activist.  You can read about Taylor’s experiences with unschooling here.

Taylor has created two documentary films.  Zizek! is about philosopher Slavoj Zizek, a controversial figure who addresses the concept of “the real” as it relates to culture and political systems.  Her second film, The Examined Life, follows eight philosophers through New York City as they discuss their ideas.

As a writer, Taylor has published articles in numerous publications, including Ad-Busters, The Nation, and The London Review of Books.  She’s the editor of Examined Life and co-editor of Occupy! Scenes from Occupied America.  You can find links to her articles for The Nation here:  they include topics of education, debt, prison reform, and the Occupy movement.  You can find her articles for Salon here.

Between the Lines Book Club: Announcing Our Book for May 2015

between the lines book club logoThis month’s book club pick is a nonfiction by Astra Taylor, called The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in a Digital Age.  In this book, Taylor examines the way the Internet inhibits and encourages art, business, and innovation.  In the book, Taylor “challenges the notion that the Internet has brought us into an age of cultural democracy.”

Between the Lines Book Club Meets Tomorrow!

between the lines book club logoTomorrow (May 30, 2015) Between the Lines Book Club meets at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30 AM (891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864). If you are following along online, drop us a comment and let us know what you thought of this month’s pick, The People’s Platform, by Astra Taylor!

The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in a Digital Age is a book that challenges commonly held ideas about how “democratized” and “open” the Internet actually is.  Here’s a couple of quotes from the book:

“wealth and power are shifting to those who control the platforms on which all of us create, consume, and connect. The companies that provide these and related services are quickly becoming the Disneys of the digital world—monoliths hungry for quarterly profits, answerable to their shareholders not us, their users, and more influential, more ubiquitous, and more insinuated into the fabric of our everyday lives than Mickey Mouse ever was. As such they pose a whole new set of challenges to the health of our culture.”

“Those who applaud social production and networked amateurism, the colorful cacophony that is the Internet, and the creative capacities of everyday people to produce entertaining and enlightening things online, are right to marvel. There is amazing inventiveness, boundless talent and ability, and overwhelming generosity on display. Where they go wrong is thinking that the Internet is an egalitarian, let alone revolutionary, platform for our self-expression and development, that being able to shout into the digital torrent is adequate for democracy.”

“New media companies look remarkably like the old ones they aspire to replace: male, pale, and privileged.”

What do you think?  How does the Internet benefit you?  How does it hold you back?  Leave your comments below and join us tomorrow for coffee and conversation.