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Elvia Wilk is a writer and editor living in New York and Berlin, covering art, architecture, urbanism, and technology. She contributes to publications like Frieze, Artforum, e-flux, die Zeit, the Architectural Review, and Metropolis. She's currently a contributing editor at e-flux Journal and Rhizome.
What's a "platform”?
You might most readily associate the term with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But more broadly it's become a way of understanding the current economic system at large, via the idea of “platform capitalism.” In a platform capitalist system, the business owners who offer infrastructures (platforms) reap the rewards, whereas the workers who offer their services through such platforms are endlessly bled dry. Think of Uber, who only actually owns the intellectual property and brand name of their software, but doesn't own the actual cars—and doesn't have to offer the workers who drive the cars the benefits of a regular non-platform employer.
In this LARB essay, Leif Weatherby writes of such a system:
“The situation resembles feudalism more than a bit."
But are platforms an actual shift in economics comparable to something like the industrial revolution, or just an element of the same system we've always had?
To find out, Weatherby reviews recently published books that try to understand the phenomenon. The literature he quotes from is varied in discipline, from pop psychology to architecture analysis, but he manages to draw a few cogent theses from the array—for instance, that we have to stop thinking of online platforms as “vapor superimposed on a fundamentally sound social-economic structure that will remain when it disperses,” and rather a new substrate for exchange and existence.