Benjamin H. Bratton: The Black Stack

12 October 2019

It is important as well to recognize that “platforms” are not only a technical architecture; they are also an institutional form. They centralize (like states), scaffolding the terms of participation according to rigid but universal protocols, even as they decentralize (like markets), coordinating economies not through the superimposition of fixed plans but through interoperable and emergent interaction. Next to states and markets, platforms are a third form, coordinating through fixed protocols while scattering free-range Users watched over in loving, if also disconcertingly omniscient, grace. In the platform-as-totality, drawing the interfaces of everyday life into one another, the maximal state and the minimal state, Red Plenty and Google Gosplan, start to look weirdly similar. Our own subjective enrollment in this is less as citizens of a polis or as homo economicus within a market, but rather as Users of a platform. As I see it, the work of geopolitical theory is to develop a proper history, typology, and program for such platforms. These would not be a shorthand for Cloud Feudalism (nor for the network politics of the “multitude”) but models for the organization of durable alter-totalities which command the force of law, if not necessarily its forms and formality. Our understanding of the political economy of platforms demands its own Hobbes, Marx, Hayek, and Keynes.

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