Technological change is not neutral. Silicon Valley, the hotspot for the global tech industry tells an ideological story where people with strong entrepreneurialism, backed by venture capital will lead the world into a tech-dominated future of prosperity. Value is created in the playful offices of the young entrepreneurs and we all get a share of it. By accepting fees, advertising, surveillance and a merge of work and leisure, we are given access to the wonders of the Internet.
But the narrative has its flaws. The Silicon Valley narrative overlooks the need for new tech companies to be propped up by venture capital, which it only does due to low levels of return elsewhere. Nor does it mention that despite working harder and being “entrepreneurial” by working extra hours for a gig platform, you will be worse off than a worker before the 2008 crash. And the cheap labour of workers extracting minerals and assembling the hardware necessary are not at all in the picture. To conclude; Silicon Valley has baked a different pie and while it tastes nice, we are given a smaller part.
This issue, to challenge the Silicon Valley narrative and propose alternatives is what ties together the texts in the anthology Ours to Hack and to Own. Editors Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider calls it a “guidebook for a fairer kind of Internet”.
Four out of the five most valued companies in the world are Internet companies. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are the Goliaths of centralised ownership and control, capable of making even the world’s most powerful governments compromise regulations only to get any tax revenue at all. Since 2008 less and less of global income is going to working people, private debt is exploding and precarious employment is becoming the norm. Internet corporations are able to hoard fortunes by offering access in the absence of ownership and a wage in the absence of a stable wage.
But do we have to accept centralised ownership in exchange for access? Could we not own the Internet ourselves?
The contributors to Ours to Hack and to Own outline strategies, methods, theory and perspectives for an Internet of decentralised ownership. With backgrounds in cooperatives, tech businesses, unions, community organisation, online labour, public policy, law and academia to name a few, the collection of texts offers a varied and thorough source of ideas and perspectives for this new and broad cooperative movement. Each part is a short insight into the greater trends of the online capitalist economy or a handful of tips for online cooperativists who want to start a new cooperative.
Reading from bind to bind one is almost blinded by the variety of arguments made and the lists of trends or tips contributors wish to stress. Therefore, if you are working on a specific project, like launching a cooperative, find the specific texts that are useful to you. Otherwise this is a book to read slowly, perhaps a couple of texts at a time to have time to reflect on the ideas put forward.
But Ours to Hack and to Own supplies something that is currently scarce; a positive vision of our collective future and how to get there. As editor Nathan Schneider writes in an introductory chapter, instead of “trying (and failing) to say ‘no’ to the likes of Uber, platform cooperatives are something public institutions can say ‘yes’ to”. Platform cooperativism is a realistic, positive alternative to the future offered by Silicon Valley of privatisation and precarity.
When some tech companies dominate the world markets, more money is made on ownership than on work, and ownership inequality is greater than wage inequality, how do we not reverse the trend to bygone days, but take control over it? Ours to Hack and to Own offers 40 perspectives, small and large on how to cooperativise tech and say good-bye to absentee owners.
Jonas Algers is a 3rd year Goldsmiths student in PPE.