An Interview With Dr. Jonathan Taplin

When it comes to adjusting quickly to user-desired changes, companies like Google and Amazon are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. In his book Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, USC Professor Jonathan Taplin details how these companies have usurped supreme positions of relevance in our hyper-connected society.

Professor Taplin is director emeritus of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC, was a tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band, and produced film for Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, and Gus Van Sant. He is an expert in digital media entertainment, sits on the California Broadband Task Force, and is part of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Council on Technology and Innovation.

Here is my interview with Jonathan about Move Fast and Break Things:

Armen: You mentioned how Facebook absorbed its audience’s content and data through their desire to be liked and not be bored. Does Facebook’s growth look to have been fueled by internal fears and self-esteem issues that people have of being left out or left behind? Would Facebook have grown as quickly with an emotionally-fulfilled world population?

Jonathan Taplin: People acknowledge that they use Facebook to fight boredom. But the bigger question is whether our incessant use of social media is actually creating attention disorders. The fact that the average teen checks their phone 200 times a day tells you that something has changed. Whether that condition can be repaired may be a major question for the near future.

Armen: Your chapter on monopolies showed that digital monopolies have completely outdone the physical monopolies of the past, through network effects, scale, and including a larger population. Is there any type of natural way to segment behemoths like Amazon or Google, or is this the way that evolution converges into selected dominant traits (or corporations)?

Jonathan Taplin: The network effect of the Internet creates winner takes all businesses in a way that is different from the physical retail economy. You have no need for a second search engine, social network or e-commerce provider. But of course, as “software is eating the world”, this may mean that much of the physical retail economy gets consumed.

Armen: I enjoyed how you described some of the YouTube and related internet content creators. In the way that Walmart undercut regular stores in pricing, did the large social media conglomerates undercut each other’s depth of content by pandering to the lowest common denominator of share-able media, or is it the broad audience of people who resonate with it what led to an abundance of what I call “level-one” content?

Jonathan Taplin: My guess is that the Pew Die Pie, cat video popularity will fade with time. The game will be played around competition for professionally made content. Too much content will be created for an audience that is not growing. Then the bubble will burst.

Armen: On the topic of moving fast and breaking things, with your experience as tour manager for Bob Dylan and The Band, what might the music landscape look like today if things like Napster, LimeWire, and the social companies had not caught the industry by surprise? Does the speed of technological change go too quickly for laws and society to prevent stealing of content, data, and value?

Jonathan Taplin: I’m actually pretty optimistic about the current trajectory of the music business. If YouTube could be a constructive rather than destructive player, then the streaming economy can continue to grow. Of course that is a big assumption, but I sense that even YouTube knows they have to change.

Armen: As you are on the LA County Council on Technology and Innovation, do you see these large companies(Google, Facebook) slowing on innovation since they hold comfortable positions of dominance, and locally, is Los Angeles penalized in some way by not being San Francisco with its multiple tech company headquarters?

Jonathan Taplin: LA is doing fine. It’s not totally dependent on venture capital to thrive. It has also been much smarter about urban growth. The AVERAGE home price in San Francisco is almost one million dollars. That is not sustainable if you want to have a young growing labor base.

Appreciations to Jonathan for taking part. I share much of his viewpoints about the technological revolution and the current state of our society. You can check out his book on Amazon at Move Fast and Break Things.

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