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Move Fast and Break Things

How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy

By Jonathan Taplin
15-minute read
Audio available
Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin

Move Fast and Break Things (2017) takes a look at the grim reality of how giant tech companies are harming society in ways both big and small. By dodging taxes, they’re keeping money from government programs that have been behind some of our greatest innovations, and in their desperate hunt for data and profits, they’re invading our privacy while fleecing the creators of art and high-quality entertainment. Author Jonathan Taplin offers some light at the end of this dark tunnel, suggesting there may be better ways of negotiating with this technology.

  • Anyone concerned about the ethics of modern technology
  • Creative types interested in the economics of art
  • Socially conscious artists interested in alternative distribution methods

Jonathan Taplin is an American writer and film producer. Since 2004 he’s been a teacher at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He began his career as a concert producer for legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan and The Band, which led to producing movies such as Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. He is also the author of the 2010 book Outlaw Blues: Adventures in the Counter-Culture Wars.

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Move Fast and Break Things

How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy

By Jonathan Taplin
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin
Synopsis

Move Fast and Break Things (2017) takes a look at the grim reality of how giant tech companies are harming society in ways both big and small. By dodging taxes, they’re keeping money from government programs that have been behind some of our greatest innovations, and in their desperate hunt for data and profits, they’re invading our privacy while fleecing the creators of art and high-quality entertainment. Author Jonathan Taplin offers some light at the end of this dark tunnel, suggesting there may be better ways of negotiating with this technology.

Key idea 1 of 9

Some of our biggest technological advances were supported by the government.

What is it that brings technology and innovation to the world? Is it always some smart, creative and profit-seeking entrepreneur toiling away in their garage?

Sometimes it’s government funding and the public sector that comes up with innovation.

Take the internet, for example; the technology that brought this indispensable tool to life was created in 1968 by an American engineer named Doug Engelbart. That year, Engelbart unveiled his NLS system –  or “oN-Line System” – which incorporated windows, graphics, video conferencing, the mouse, word processing, and a collaborative real-time editor.

But Engelbart didn’t do this all on his own. He was funded by DARPA, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which was established in the US to develop innovative projects with the potential for future military use.

Engelbart’s NLS became the foundation for ARPANET – the very first online network for sending and receiving data – making it an early version of the internet. ARPANET was also the first to use the TCP/IP protocol suite, also created thanks to DARPA funding. TCP/IP is still used today as the standard template for packaging and sending data, enabling all connected computers on a network to understand one another.

A lot of the foundational technology we use today wasn’t motivated by profit, but rather through government-sponsored incentives, with Bell Labs being another example of this.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, many communications companies were competing for business with their own systems, leading to an unruly, tangled mess of cables strung along the streets of many US cities.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed Bell System and Western Union to consolidate and absorb the smaller companies into one unified system. The FCC had one important stipulation: communication rates would be regulated, and a certain amount of profits had to be spent on research and innovation that would benefit society.

In 1925 Bell Labs was founded with the express intent of developing that innovation. It went on to invent the transistor, the microchip, cell telephones and countless other technologies we use everyday, thanks to government programs made possible by tax dollars.

So how did we come to believe that it’s the free market and the profit-driven tech industry that’s good for innovation, while governments are considered an intrusive force that’s bad for business? Let’s find out...

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