Don’t look at us: Mark Zuckerberg started it.
Last week, The Guardian published a piece entitled Facebook and Google: most powerful and secretive empires we’ve ever known, and, considering the power and reach of the platforms, they’re not merely tech companies: more accurately, they are perhaps two of the most powerful nation-states in the world at the moment and given how ubiquitous they are in our lives, they arguably wield more power/have a larger reach than any corporation or government that the world has seen, to date. As Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles state in the piece, “We call them platforms, networks or gatekeepers. But these labels hardly fit. The appropriate metaphor eludes us; even if we describe them as vast empires, they are unlike any we’ve ever known. Far from being discrete points of departure, merely supporting the action or minding the gates, they have become something much more significant. They have become the medium through which we experience and understand the world.
“As their users, we are like the blinkered young fish in the parable memorably retold by David Foster Wallace. When asked, “How’s the water?” we swipe blank: “What the hell is water?”