Name of the Book: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power
Author: Shoshana Zuboff
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Place of Publication: New York
Year of Publication: 2019
Reviewed by: J.N. Manokaran
Totalitarian control was desire of many Caesars, Pharaohs, Emperors, Kings; ideologies like Nazism, Fascism and even communism; and religions. Free Will is God’s marvelous gift to humans. All efforts were made to snatch this or surrender this Free Will to individuals or State or cults, sects and religions. In Garden of Eden, Satan seduced Adam and Eve to misuse their Free Will.
The Digital revolution has paved way for Surveillance Capitalism with Totalitarian trend, vision and agenda. This book is an eye-opener to understand the hidden agenda and essence of Surveillance Capitalism. Shoshana Zuboff, the author has done a rigorous academic study and has presented the challenge of digital media that seeks to control, alter and dominate behavior, which could put Free Will of humans at stake.
Whole world is moving towards digitalization, hyper networked that has redefined lifestyles, business, banking, production, marketing, entertainment, advertisement, education, publishing…etc. It is no more information workplace but information society. However, according to the author it has birthed ‘whole new territories of anxiety, danger, and violence as the sense of a predictable future slips away.’
The author gives an historical example how Tainos of Caribbean invited Spanish soldiers the explorers who came to plunder: “Unable to imagine their own destruction, they reckoned that those strange creatures were gods and welcomed them with intricate rituals of hospitality.” Digital world is being embraced by all, without realizing the danger of surveillance capitalism. Dependence on technology made us to forget that running away from forces of capitalism ended us up in Surveillance capitalism, which is ‘rogue capitalism’ of digital milieu.
When we use digital media, offered free, all of us leave our human experience as ‘behavioral data.’ Of course some of them are used for product or service improvement, while rest are declared as ‘behavioral surplus’, (termed as ‘digital exhaust’ and ‘digital breadcrumbs’) fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence,’ to be inferred, presumed and deduced; fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these predictions are behavioral futures markets. Behavioral surplus are our voices, personalities, and emotions. “Every casual search, like, and click was claimed as an asset to be tracked, parsed, and monetized by some company.” The behavioral surplus, data science, material infrastructure, computational power, algorithmic systems, and automated platforms helps targeted advertisements which bring ‘click-through’ revenues.
The author writes that the industrial civilization devasted environment; information civilization will thrive at the expense of human nature and at the cost of humanity.
The age of Surveillance capitalism has four parts: 1) Disregard for the boundaries of private human experience and moral integrity of the autonomous individual. Surveillance capitals assume ‘right to invade at will’. 2) Migration of Surveillance capitalism from the online environment to the real world. 3) Instrumentarianism with materialization tries to bring total certainty using logic of Surveillance capitalism. 4) Shift of focus from real world to social world.
Division of Labor was the mark of Industrial society. However, many were able to get university education, travel, improve standard of life, and raised standard of work. Digital era brings in ‘Division of Learning,’ according to author. “As people, processes, and things are reinvented as information, the division of learning in society becomes the ascendant principle of social ordering in our time.”
Digitalization claimed that it could rescue valued assets from institutions; for example: music was rescued, and Apple bypassed physical production: ‘packaging, inventory, storage, marketing, transportation, distribution, and physical retailing.’ Google and Facebook: rescuing information and people from the old institutional and providing to all who want, whenever they want to search or connect.
Google maintains search histories that is made available to intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. Privacy ‘was the price one must pay for the abundant rewards of information, connection, and other digital goods when, where, and how you want them. Information that would normally age and be forgotten remains forever young as digital identity. In Spain, the right to be forgotten’ was demanded by Spanish citizens in 2011. The Luxembourg Court: flow of information matters, but not as much, ultimately, as the safeguarding of dignity, privacy and data protection in the European rights regime. “Online Eraser” law in California (1 January 2015) can erase or request removal of content posted by a minor.
It is an interesting observation about economy as social evolution. First, Human life reborn as labour. Second, Nature reborn as land and real estate. Third, exchange could be reborn as money. Fourth: experiential realities of human beings whose bodies, thoughts and feelings.
House shelters daydreaming protects dreamer and allows to dream in peace – integration for the thoughts, memories, and dreams of mankind. “Home is our school of intimacy, where we first learn to be human.” It has hiding places, doors, keys, mystery and independence. However, Big Other wants wall to come down. The universe takes residence in our walls. There is no sentinels of sanctuary. First, people went to Google to do search. Second, “Search needed people to learn from, and people needed Search to learn from.” Third, Google searches you.
Instrumentarianism: Instrumentarian power knows and shapes human behavior toward others’ ends, aims to organize, herd, and tune society to achieve a similar social confluence. In huge cathedrals in Europe, Christ Pantokrator – stared down at congregation – no exit from this line of sight. It is no exit from an intolerable world, Big Other, and from the surveillance capitalists.
Surveillance capitalism is to not only to satisfy demand but also to create demand. Online world is world’s largest ungoverned place. The simple reason is: Technological companies move forward faster than government. Such companies are Ignoring, evading, contesting, reshaping, or otherwise vanquishing laws that threaten free behavioral surplus. In neoliberal ideology, all regulations are burdensome.
The author is concerned about a New harm: the sanctity of the individual. “Push and pull, suggest, nudge, cajole, shame, seduce: Google wants to be your copilot for life itself.” Automagic, Cortana is intended to inspire awestruck and grateful surrender. Surveillance Is the bitter price of free services such as Google’s Search and Facebook’s social network. Software-as-a-service has become Surveillance as a service. “The more that is known about a person, the easier it is to control him.” Because of digital omniscience, they nudge, tune, herd, manipulate and modify behavior. New generation wearable fabric that can detect and decipher gestures as subtle as the twitch of your finger. Rendition of phone content, body, organs, blood, eyes, posture…etc. Personality analysis using behavioral surplus is done to increase prediction and sell more.
Free will remains our ultimate sanctuary. “What happens to my will to will myself into the first person when the surrounding market cosmos disguises itself as my mirror, shape-shifting, according to what it has decided I feel or felt or will feel: ignoring, goading, chiding, cheering, or punishing me?” Games are designed to make people to go out and do something. Like Pokemon: ‘Gamification’ as an approach to behavioral engineering.’ One’s personality, identity, awareness and capacity for self-determining behavior could be crushed, eliminated and replaced by external control – induced by new sense of panic and vulnerability. Three approaches to economies of action: tuning, herding and conditioning. Individualism is a threat to Instrumentarian society. According to behaviourist: “A person does not act upon the world, the world acts upon him.”
Surveillance capitalism’s vast capabilities to produce Instrumentarian power, replacing the engineering of souls with the engineering of behavior. “If there is sin, it is the sin of autonomy; the audacity to reject the flows that herd us all toward predictability. Friction is the only evil. Obstruction in law, action, or rhetoric is simply reactionary. The norm is submission to the supposed iron laws of technological inevitability that brook no impediment.” Behavioral surplus is used for behavioral modification. Big Other’s purpose: disarm, disorient and bewilder.
Recast society as Instrumentarian hive mind is the agenda. People were the most important asset in 20th century. Now people must become part of Big Other’s purview, lest they fall prey to ‘incorrect’ behavior.
Surveillance capitalist have ‘God-view’ observing from above with cameras, wearable gadgets …etc. Surveillance capitalism’s antidemocratic and antiegalitarian juggernaut is best described as a market-driven coup from above.”
“God know the future, but we move forward, take risks, and bind ourselves so others despite the fact that we can’t know everything about the present, let alone the future.” However, the author reminds the responsibility to correct wrong is for each generation. Break the spell of enthrallment, helplessness, resignation and numbing.
This book clearly explains how the Digital world could affect human behavior and how surveillance capitalists could try to modify human behavior to benefit them. God’s gift of Free Will cannot be snatched from humans but they could be deceived or seduced or intimidated to surrender to Big Other. Those who have surrendered to Lord Jesus Christ need not surrender to Big Other. The choice is ours. It is not possible to serve both Lord Jesus Christ and postmodern mammon of Big Other; we have to make a responsible, moral, intelligent and spiritual choice.