Saving tech, bookstores, and the world - for humans
Jan 31, 2019

A bit of good news from my neighborhood, Manhattan's Upper West Side, comes from a small independent bookstore. Facing rising rents and a decline in book-buying, the 35-year-old Westsider Books announced a few weeks ago that it would close shop. But then customers posted a crowdfunding campaign and raised over $50,000, the amount the owner had said the store needed to survive. The store won't close after all. (Here's a post and a video with details.)

If asked what saved Westsider Books, some people might point to the Internet. How else, without online crowdfunding platforms, would customers have so quickly been able to fundraise to keep the store open? But then the Internet - or rather the monopoly platforms that have taken it over - helped cause the problem in the first place. If you want to know what New Yorkers do these days instead of read books as they used to, get on any subway train and see if anyone looks up from their handheld slot machines.

The Web was different in the early days. I've said this before, I know, but it bears repeating: we started with an open platform, with neutral protocols, an actual platform that people could create on. Not the locked-down prison, or slaughterhouse, that we have today.

Can we recover some of that founding spirit, that "creative good" that animated so many founders (myself included) to launch something new online? I've been searching for good news on my radio show and occasionally see a glimmer.

Douglas Rushkoff offers hope: in his new book Team Human, and on his podcast of the same name, he advocates for genuine human connection as a kind of resistance to today's deadening, tech-soaked environment.

Listen to my interview with Douglas about Team Human. (From my Jan. 28 Techtonic show, also available via podcast.)

We need more of these glimmers of hope, as the monopolies are locking down every corner of the Net, the economy, and society. If enough of us embrace Team Human, or the "creative good," or some other version of that founding idea, we might resuscitate the online world. It worked for Westsider Books.