The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (ASC) - "the goal is to automate us"
Just reading an interview with the author has convinced me to buy this book. The meme "surveillance capitalism" has been out there for at least four years; but this book is a 660 page philosophical tome. It identifies that digital surveillance is simply the latest trick of capitalism to commodify and monetize "nature". (A fifteen page academic paper by the author is available here.)
This book is relevant to the discussion that Cassiodorus is developing (sorry that the link is to my response to Cassiodorus), using ideas of Jason Moore, about "cheap X". Moore initially had four "cheaps". In a popularized book with Raj Patel, he extended that list to seven "cheaps": nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives.
But, Shoshana Zuboff, the author of ASC identifies another "cheap": cheap data.
Larry Page grasped that human experience could be Google’s virgin wood, that it could be extracted at no extra cost online and at very low cost out in the real world.
She also places SC in the long line of capitalist colonization:
“digital natives” is a tragically ironic phrase. I am fascinated by the structure of colonial conquest, especially the first Spaniards who stumbled into the Caribbean islands. Historians call it the “conquest pattern”, which unfolds in three phases: legalistic measures to provide the invasion with a gloss of justification, a declaration of territorial claims, and the founding of a town to legitimate the declaration. Back then Columbus simply declared the islands as the territory of the Spanish monarchy and the pope.
The sailors could not have imagined that they were writing the first draft of a pattern that would echo across space and time to a digital 21st century. The first surveillance capitalists also conquered by declaration. They simply declared our private experience to be theirs for the taking, for translation into data for their private ownership and their proprietary knowledge. They relied on misdirection and rhetorical camouflage, with secret declarations that we could neither understand nor contest.
Google began by unilaterally declaring that the world wide web was its to take for its search engine. Surveillance capitalism originated in a second declaration that claimed our private experience for its revenues that flow from telling and selling our fortunes to other businesses. In both cases, it took without asking. Page [Larry, Google co-founder] foresaw that surplus operations would move beyond the online milieu to the real world, where data on human experience would be free for the taking. As it turns out his vision perfectly reflected the history of capitalism, marked by taking things that live outside the market sphere and declaring their new life as market commodities.
We were caught off guard by surveillance capitalism because there was no way that we could have imagined its action, any more than the early peoples of the Caribbean could have foreseen the rivers of blood that would flow from their hospitality toward the sailors who appeared out of thin air waving the banner of the Spanish monarchs. Like the Caribbean people, we faced something truly unprecedented...
Knowledge, authority and power rest with surveillance capital, for which we are merely “human natural resources”. We are the native peoples now whose claims to self-determination have vanished from the maps of our own experience.
I could go on with her demonstration that SC is nothing more than the latest phase of colonialism, but I think you get the picture.
One other thing, of great value, that she does is to denounce the "technical inevitablity" argument in stark terms:
The resources of our democratic institutions must be mobilised, including our elected officials. ..Our societies have tamed the dangerous excesses of raw capitalism before, and we must do it again...We need new paradigms born of a close understanding of surveillance capitalism’s economic imperatives and foundational mechanisms.”
For example, the idea of “data ownership” is often championed as a solution. But what is the point of owning data that should not exist in the first place? All that does is further institutionalise and legitimate data capture. It’s like negotiating how many hours a day a seven-year-old should be allowed to work, rather than contesting the fundamental legitimacy of child labour.
The interview alone has me thinking. I can't wait to get the hardback book - unless TPTB have already decided to limit its production run.