Beyond their instrumental value for prosperity, we need public spaces and institutions to weave and maintain our social fabric. In physical communities, parks and libraries aren’t just places for exercise or book-borrowing — they also create social connections, a sense of community identity, and a venue in which differences and inequalities can be surfaced and addressed. Public spaces provide access to essential resources for people who couldn’t otherwise access them — whether it’s an outdoor workout station, basketball court, or books in a library — but they are some of the few spaces in a community where we get a glimpse of each other’s lives and help us see ourselves as part of a pluralistic but cohesive society.
These kinds of public spaces mostly don’t exist online. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch each offer some aspects of these experiences. But ultimately, they’re all organized around the need for growth and revenue — incentives which are in tension with the critical community functions these institutions also serve, and with the heavy staffing models they require. A library organized around growth and revenue would be … well, Amazon.