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Concordia Public Scholar Jacob Pitre delves into the control that tech platforms exert on our future

‘I want more people to think about what alternatives could look like’
February 6, 2024
Smiling young man with short, wavy hair and a moustache, wearing a grey turtleneck sweater
Jacob Pitre: “The platform ecosystem has shaped our online experience in a way that we just have to get used to as inevitable.”

Online platforms — from Amazon to Netflix to Instagram and more — are a ubiquitous part of navigating modern life. From how we spend and make money to how we entertain ourselves and socialize, we are inextricably tied to the services that platforming companies deliver.

What does this relationship mean for personal agency and the future of technology, a future seemingly defined by what tech companies deem possible?

This question — specifically, how tech companies seek to control how we collectively imagine the future — is at the heart of the research of Concordia Public Scholar Jacob Pitre.

Like many of us, Pitre says his experiences with modern technology left him feeling alienated. He shares that he felt a deep desire to rethink an alternative online future, so much so that it changed the course of his PhD research.

Pitre arrived at Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema with a Master of Arts in Film Studies from Carleton University in Ottawa with the idea of researching cinema. Yet his growing daily frustrations with technology and its role in our lives led him to change course.

So Pitre embarked on a quest to untangle the narratives about the future created by tech companies while helping the rest of us envision alternatives.

‘There is less trust in institutions in general in society right now’

What were some of your feelings regarding digital platforms that led to your current research?

Jacob Pitre: The platform ecosystem that has developed over the last couple of decades has shaped our online experience in a way that we just have to get used to as inevitable.

I think that’s where a lot of my frustration comes from. The narrative that what we’re given is what we have to deal with. There aren’t really alternative ideas of how to organize or structure how these things work or ideas about how we engage with them.

I think that kind of inevitability is a powerful move that the platforms and companies are making. It’s part of the economy they’ve built, and it’s something the state has allowed to happen.

What are some of the specific platforms you are researching, and what narratives do they present?

JP: One example I look at is Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. It’s a space where people livestream their games, lives or whatever they want. It’s sold as a potential answer to the problem of having to work; many people make some amount of money from it.

Twitch positions itself as “Come here, be a creator, make some money.” But are you an employee? Of course, you aren’t. They would never use this language, but the company implies that this is a way to make money and live a dream.

It seems these platforms are trying to replace more traditional institutions that people rely on. Can you expand on this?

JP: There is less trust in institutions in general in society right now.

Take Disney, a business that has been around for a hundred years. Its streaming platform, Disney+, wants to be the place everyone goes for their entertainment needs, and it does this by buying up intellectual properties.

As a trusted brand, Disney is trying to sell itself as a benevolent guide for the future at a moment in which we collectively feel we are in a precarious place.

What would you like to see come out of your research?

JP: At the end of the day, I want to get more people to think about what alternatives look like when it comes to digital platforms. I think that’s important because there’s so little space for that at the moment.

I would love to see people with different ideas, perspectives and backgrounds collectively think of alternatives to the current digital platforms and make these a reality.

Maybe there are better and more democratic platforms that we could create that don’t rely on profit-driven companies.

Learn more about
Concordia’s Public Scholars Program.



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