The “Humanity Factor” of Platforms

When we were discussing our team illustrations, I noticed that all of the boards explaining how platforms work featured stick-figure people. While the people figured into the equation in different ways depending on the team’s artistic interpretation, those little stick figures were all directly involved with the use of the platform. I’m pointing this out not because this assignment was supposed to showcase our drawing skills, but it highlights something that we all identified in our explanations of platforms – that in order to be means of connection or consumerism or presentation, there has to be some involvement on our part. Twitter as a social media platform allows our voices and our hashtags to find a community. Amazon as a shopping platform connects businesses and entrepreneurs with prospective markets. While could argue that platforms are about presenting ideas and products, the true value of platforms is about bringing people closer together.

This “humanity factor” of platforms is the most important aspect – and that’s why saying that platforms encourage desocialization is difficult to comprehend. Platforms are inherently social – as powerful ecosystems, they’re designed to develop and incorporate new planks in order to connect individuals to things greater than themselves, whether that means products, causes, or audiences. They are public spaces in which we interact on some level with the world. And in the formation of public spaces, whether it is a conscious or subconscious action, we create identities in these spaces that have social meanings. And so public spaces become racialized and gendered.

While some web platforms allow and encourage anonymity, that doesn’t necessarily eliminate socialization. We talked about Google two weeks ago as collecting and aggregating data on us to create a digital self and to place emphasis on “you.” As much as we wish we could claim anonymity on the Internet, it’s just not true. This racialization and gendering process occurs despite anonymity, because as we interact with social platforms, we still recreate some form the self to foster symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships.

Amazon may seem just like a multifaceted business, with its Amazon Instant Video beside the Kindle Store and Direct Publishing next to Imdb, but it’s lazy thinking to believe that’s all Amazon is. In its attempts to create a singularity, Amazon is also creating a public space that operates along specific guidelines and social norms. By carefully cultivating planks that will benefit the evolution of the business, Amazon has constructed a place on which the “humanity factor” has to interact within these social norms.

Platforms filter our Internet experience as consumers, producers, and as voices in a digital environment. The so-called Gang of Four needs our participation as a user base to function and thrive as they monopolize the Internet. But we have to consider what it means for our humanity when we are utilizing Web 2.0 platforms. As stated in Gillepsie’s “The politics of ‘platforms’,” ‘platforms’ are ‘platforms’ because they afford us an opportunity to communicate, interact or sell (Gillespie 351). We have to be careful that the self that surfs the Internet is a self that we want to represent us, and is not just the result of platform influence.

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