Platforms are a technology and infrastructure that can play a fundamental role in the needed transformation of economic and social ecosystems.
Most conversations today, from government to academia to technology to the public sphere, focus on the polarizing effects of platforms. They tend to describe platforms as exploitative or liberatory. But these dynamics aren’t natural or endemic to platform structures per se. The systems, arrangements, and values in which platforms are immersed shape platform logics and effects. We live in a society, this society shapes us, we shape this society, and so on. Platforms synchronize complexity, organizing provisions and politics, communications information and transformation, by hook and by crook. We need to stop seeing platforms as enemies or saviours and consider them for what they are actually capable of and what they might do.
Platforms mediate the connections and circulation between people and things, combining top-down constraint and control with bottom-up emergence and adaptation. Platforms are infrastructures which allow things to generate and accelerate by streamlining and standardizing interconnections. National rail systems in the 18th and 19th century were a demonstrative industrial platform and public service, creating conduits between production and people and places, coordinating massive networks of things in transition. Digital platforms today have built upon and in between these platforms’ infrastructures, coordinating interaction and transaction at global scale. Because platforms rely on network effects (the more people use a platform, the more appealing it is for more people to use it), they are “natural monopolies” becoming evermore entrenched into the fabric of our lives and economies. Platforms are built to leverage the unique capacities of scale.
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