2 Stars · Reviews

Review: Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin

9E71DDE9-7E46-4914-89CD-F3751F5C70E1(This book was gifted to me by the publisher.)

I’m so glad to be finally finished with the book and writing a review. The weekend was extremely hectic for me, and this book was a little bit of a harder read for me, so by the time I found myself finishing it — its almost Friday!!

Regardless, I have a couple things to say, but first off – here is the synopsis:

A stinging polemic that traces the destructive monopolization of the Internet by Google, Facebook and Amazon, and that proposes a new future for musicians, journalists, authors and filmmakers in the digital age.

Move Fast and Break Things is the riveting account of a small group of libertarian entrepreneurs who in the 1990s began to hijack the original decentralized vision of the Internet, in the process creating three monopoly firms–Facebook, Amazon, and Google–that now determine the future of the music, film, television, publishing and news industries.

Jonathan Taplin offers a succinct and powerful history of how online life began to be shaped around the values of the men who founded these companies, including Peter Thiel and Larry Page: overlooking piracy of books, music, and film while hiding behind opaque business practices and subordinating the privacy of individual users in order to create the surveillance-marketing monoculture in which we now live.

The enormous profits that have come with this concentration of power tell their own story. Since 2001, newspaper and music revenues have fallen by 70 percent; book publishing, film, and television profits have also fallen dramatically. Revenues at Google in this same period grew from $400 million to $74.5 billion. Today, Google’s YouTube controls 60 percent of all streaming-audio business but pay for only 11 percent of the total streaming-audio revenues artists receive. More creative content is being consumed than ever before, but less revenue is flowing to the creators and owners of that content.

The stakes here go far beyond the livelihood of any one musician or journalist. As Taplin observes, the fact that more and more Americans receive their news, as well as music and other forms of entertainment, from a small group of companies poses a real threat to democracy. Move Fast and Break Things offers a vital, forward-thinking prescription for how artists can reclaim their audiences using knowledge of the past and a determination to work together. Using his own half-century career as a music and film producer and early pioneer of streaming video online, Taplin offers new ways to think about the design of the World Wide Web and specifically the way we live with the firms that dominate it.

If reading the synopsis for Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy makes you feel nauseous, or scared, or a little bit of both, don’t worry. I felt the same way. And I probably had every right to feel that way. I don’t know what made me feel so drawn to reading what is, in essence, a textbook on the business of Amazon, Google and Facebook.

Much like reading a textbook, there were times I almost fell asleep. Anyone who follows me on Instagram probably saw my twenty five stories where I whined about how I had zero focus, etc. Fun fact: when I am really really into a book, I don’t usually lose focus. Another textbook-like feature of this read was the face that it was very terminology heavy. Maybe everyone else knows what antitrust law means, but not me. I had to google things so many times that I kind of just gave up googling the words I didn’t know. (Yes, I do notice the irony of using Google to google a word from an anti-Google book). The hardest part to read was the first part in particular, where Taplin outlined the history of the firms and of the internet. There was just so much information jam-packed into the first half of the book that I could only read a few pages at a time before I felt like I was studying for a business midterm.

One other thing that peeved me quite a bit was the whining feel of Taplin throughout. So many times, he complained from the side of artists, that they weren’t making any money because of the tech businesses. He complained about piracy laws, about antitrust laws, about monopsonizing art… (also not sure if thats a word or not)… but not once did I hear about the good things that social media and technology have done for art. Sure, maybe the YouTubers of today may not be the art that you dream of in a renaissance, but they are the art that this generation finds appealing. Furthermore, with social media, people who had no chance of “getting discovered” without connections are making music, and art, today. One needs to look no further than The Weeknd or XXXTentacion, who used SoundCloud to rise up through obscurity.

Despite all the things I did not enjoy about the book, parts were informative to me as a person. Taplin raised good questions about social media. At one point, I posted on Snapchat a line from the book, “Is your friend who spends three hours a day on Snapchat really free?” with the caption “triggered”. I joked, but the truth of it is that these media applications we use truly can be addictive. I love my bookstagram community, but I do sometimes log off for a day if I feel myself getting on too often. It’s all about the balance.

My absolute favorite thing about Move Fast and Break Things were the quotes that the book was absolutely chock full of. Taplin gathered many thought-provoking, truth-seeking quotes, and I wanted to underline each and every one of them. Even if I did not learn anything from the book, I at least found some quotes to look up, and some new books and papers to read.

So perhaps this wasn’t the best choice for me. Perhaps a business background would have helped. While I did not enjoy the book, I know that there are people out there who would love to read this. This is a book for people who understand law and business. I’ll just stick to my usual thrillers and historical fiction novels, and maybe one day, I’ll break away from the mold and give this book another go. Also, I should probably ask around for books to read on business before I do. Any suggestions for my way-in-the-future-when-I-have-forgotten-how-much-I-fell-asleep-during-this-one TBR?

13 thoughts on “Review: Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin

  1. I think this is one of those books I would buy with no intention of reading because it has a pretty cover and would make me look smart if people saw it on my bookshelf.


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