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Heavy Machinery

by Mike Pepi

Digital platforms remake our connection to the everyday, and have assumed an outsize role in aesthetic and political mediation. With these new players come new critiques. Yet platforms seem to be more than just new institutions; something else is there. How do we respond?



The term “platform” has always described some type of mediation. Today the term connotes a mediation over digital networks. The platform began its ascent just as a few key material conditions appeared. With the low cost of transmission and storage of information, as well as the mass marketization of the consumer internet, the promise of networked communication made the platform an organizational mode worthy of emulation. Benjamin Bratton defines platforms as highly technical forms that do not plan themselves, but allow plans to be realized upon them. In theory, they are designed to be light, flexible, and temporary. The opposite is true of the institution, which, though various in its appearance, is predicated on permanence, structure, and consistency. Massive corporate actors like Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon feel like institutions — economically, they are larger than many nations. But despite their prominence, they are just larger accumulations of many platforms operating according to the organizing principles of computer networks. These digital networks are asynchronous, establishing a “many-to-many” presence unlike any institution before. The asynchronous platform is, formally, modular and decentralized — any one part can be swapped out with little changed to the larger whole. But an institution will arrive with a fixed set of ideas imprinted upon its structure. Institutions change, but when the pieces move a wake is left.

Added by Édouard U.
Updated 5 months ago

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