Last week The New York Public Library (NYPL), in cooperation with the Authors Guild, presented a discussion between Guild council member Jonathan Taplin and Guild member Franklin Foer entitled “Our Cornered Culture.” Facilitated by Paul Holdengräber, the host of LIVE from The NYPL, the authors spoke about the unprecedented power and influence that the major internet platforms Google, Facebook, and Amazon exert on our political, economic, and cultural lives today. Both authors have new books that explore the concentration of control, consumer data, and wealth held by these apparently unbreakable monopolies; and both have lobbied on these issues in Washington with the Authors Guild, including visits with members and staffers, in Jonathan’s case, and meetings with the DOJ and the FTC in Franklin’s.
In an enthralling exchange, the authors discussed their perceptions of how our society has succumbed to the “automation and homogenization of social, political, and intellectual life” brought about by the major tech behemoths, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. Both Jonathan and Franklin present frightening portraits of how these companies have wrested so much power in such a short time and warn of the urgent need to regulate them and/or break them up to save our democracy. As Franklin explained at the event, these are exactly the kind of private monopolies that Jefferson and other Founding Fathers were determined to prevent.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading these authors’ recent books on the topic, in World Without Mind, Franklin traces the ideological and intellectual development of the internet, “exposing the dark underpinnings of our most idealistic dreams for technology.” In Jonathan’s book Move Fast and Break Things, he asks how big tech came to corner culture and undermine democracy. He explores the unprecedented influence the megaplatforms have over creative content and the way we live, and traces the shift in wealth from the content sector to the tech sector.
The event was also an opportunity to announce a new collaboration between the Authors Guild and The NYPL: a series of public forums scheduled to start in 2018. The programs will address issues of ownership and authorship of creative works from a unique angle and how they are monetized and protected against the threats that have proliferated in the digital age. We are very excited about this series and look forward to sharing further details in the coming months.