Rushkoff (Theory and Digital Economics/CUNY, Queens; Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, 2013, etc.) looks behind marketing hype to examine the nexus of digital technology and the economy.
Taking issue with those who extol the virtues of the intermediary role of platforms like taxi-service replacement Uber or hotel alternative Airbnb, the author relentlessly peels back layers of confusion and obfuscation and reveals how these successful businesses have been brought into existence on the back of the government's original investment in the Internet. In Rushkoff's view, online businesses—whether the older, established ones like Amazon, Netflix, and Paypal or newer startups—are best seen as extensions of the advertising and marketing industries. He contends that it is the users of these companies that constitute their major “product,” and their “likes,” reposts, and “favorites” became vastly important (books and movie rentals are just means to the end). User preferences and data become grist for the mill of big data companies, who execute complex analytical work-ups for their customers. These digital platforms have consistently wreaked havoc across broad sectors of the market—one of the earliest and most obvious examples is what Amazon did to the book business. “Monopolistic commerce platforms are not true peer-to-peer systems,” writes the author, “and they are anything but freeing.” The results are often job loss, declining living standards, and depreciated assets. As Rushkoff shrewdly notes, “the job of the company is to extract value from local communities and pay it to investors. Its customer base, as well as its employee population, ultimately grows poorer.” The author then extrapolates further: “you can only extract value from a region or market segment for so long before it has nothing left to pay with.” Rushkoff hopes that the software creating the problems can also help organize a shift toward more equitable solutions.
A powerful exposé of an underdiscussed downside to the digital revolution.