‘Zuck is a Cuck’ is today’s moment of wisdom from the man who liberated the public square in the name of the freedom of speech. The truth seems that we are all chumps to accept this as the status quo. Is moving to another platform the liberation one is truly seeking? Is there not a better future...
‘Enshittification’ is the word of moment. First coined by Cory Doctorow last year, it sums up everything that is going wrong with Web 2.0, or in other words, the platforms that we most often use when going online. Our experience has been reduced from the sublime to the excremental. The platforms are incrementally degrading the quality of their experience as they attempt to drag our attention with adverts and sponsored content. We joined to make friends and build community, we ended up scrolling through weight loss miracles, teeth whitening technology and special offers on NFTs. Doctorow points out that ‘Enshittification truly is how platforms die.’
Enshittification is all part of The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation. It’s the broken promise – betrayal even - of the digital republic. We were once ‘on facebook’, together, now we are users; and users are those that are used. There is another word that propels Doctorow in his urgent, and angry new book: interoperability. There’s no disguising the awkwardness of the word itself, but it is going to become one of the essential ideas of our understanding of what is actually going on, and what we can do about it. Remember where you heard it first.
Let’s break it down. Here is Doctorow’s law:
Anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn't give you the key, they're not doing it for your benefit.
Since the platforms started, they promised community. But as they saw that they could profit from keeping people inside their kingdoms, they started to build walls around the domain. Today, we think in silos and live in walled gardens. This was not just a technological project, but a legal one – it involved as many attorneys as coders. The terms and conditions make it more difficult to move from one platform to another. It make repair and remixing impossible: you get what you are given and cannot adapt or improve the service. It makes it harder for third parties to enter and build new tech that offer something new. It is why you are still on Twitter despite knowing in your heart that it is a dumpster fire that is bad for your mental health.
But Doctorow is not here just to diagnose the problem – we understand Surveillance Capitalism too well; he is here with a ‘shovel-ready’ solution. He wants to break Big Tech. Not by going through the old ways of doing things- after all, it took 69 years to break up AT&T through anti-Trust legislation. It is time to break those walls down; and interoperability is the solution. It is time to force Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter to recognise that our memories, thoughts, photos and contacts are our’s, not theirs. And we can do with them what we want, without fear of penalties. That we can leave, remix, and reconfigure without permission. There is not time to wait for the courts, or for congress. We do it now, for ourselves.
And Doctorow is the person for the job. Few people have scoped the digital frontier for longer, or with more insight. He is obviously well-known as an award winning science fiction novelist. But he has also been involved with the ground breaking blog, Boing Boing, worked with the Electronic Freedom Foundation [EFF], and lectures and campaigns globally for the end of Digital Rights Management [DRM], and the future of open source data. [Read his moving blog to this collection of work of Aaron Swartz] In 2020, he was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. He is a MIT Media Lab Research Affiliate, is a Visiting Professor of Computer Science at Open University, a Visiting Professor of Practice at the University of North Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group.
Read this book and see that the future is in your hands. The platforms may today have trillion-dollar valuations and seem the size of nation states, but they are, in fact, weak in the face of direct, and collective, action. Don’t hesitate: Interoperate!
Leo Hollis, Editorial Director
London, August 2023
The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation by Cory Doctorow is one of our September Verso Book Club reading selections! See more about the Verso Book Club here.
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