October 22, 2020

Surveillance Capitalism: Money is Watching You | Babelia


Facebook will get to know all the books, all the movies, all the songs that you, the reader of these lines, have consumed in your life, long or short. The information available to the IT company will be used to deduce which bar you will go to when you arrive in a strange city, a bar where the bartender will already have his favorite drink prepared. This is predicted by the creator and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, one of the richest people in the world, who founded it in 2004. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is not far behind: “If you give us more information about yourselves, your friends, we can improve the quality of our searches. We don’t need you to type anything. We know where you are, we know where you have been. We can know more or less what you are thinking ”.

The surveillance capitalism. He 1984 Orwell’s remains old.

It is as if a shark has been swimming silently in circles under the water of the sea, just below the surface on which boring everyday life was unfolding, and has suddenly jumped up with its gleaming skin, finally in full view , to get a good bite of fresh meat. Over time, that shark has revealed to be a new variant of capitalism, unknown until very recently, a variant that multiplies with extraordinary rapidity and that has set dominance as its goal, hegemony over other capitalisms (commercial, industrial, financial …), Through the knowledge and monetization of our little existence. An unprecedented form of capitalism has elbowed its way, almost without warning, into history.

Money watches over you

Surveillance capitalism is, as defined Shoshana zuboff, Emeritus Professor at Harvard Business School and author of the monumental book The era of surveillance capitalism, the unilateral claim, by a select group of companies from Silicon Valley, of private human experience as raw material for its translation into data. These data are computed and packaged (in the same way as the famous mortgages subprime, origin of the Great Recession of 2008) as prediction products and sold in the futures markets of people’s behavior. Services on-line free, the app They cost nothing, they are just a bait, not a gift made by half a dozen magnanimous companies created by young entrepreneurs, almost all Americans, funny and friendly, not at all like the great tie-up tycoons of the past who posed smoking a cigar.

Through these basic digital services begins the extraction of data from the lives of each of the citizens who use the Internet, the accumulation of their behaviors (how they dress, what movies they watch, what food they gobble, the books they read, sports who practice, if they are active or retired …), which will be baked to put on a tray a feast of predictions ready to be transformed into dollars. Many of these citizens, unaware of this hidden reality, happy with the technological innovation that makes their lives more comfortable, have inadvertently opened the doors of their homes and their most intimate shelters to these monopolies that suck our information and with it shape our future. The German philosopher of Korean origin Byung-Chul Han sums it up in this accurate sentence: “I think I’m reading a ebook, but it’s actually the ebook the one who reads to me ”.

Do you tell your spouse that today you want to eat crispy duck packets with hoisin sauce and soon after, almost instantly, various messages from Chinese restaurants appear on your mobile phone that can provide them? Do you organize the annual family trip to St. Petersburg and Moscow, and you are showered with offers on travel, accommodation and shopping you can do? Do you look on your computer, tablet or mobile phone at an advertisement for denim shirts you like and advertisements on the web pages Who visits usually fills up with pants, parkas, caps, sneakers of the same style? This is the result of surveillance capitalism. Evgeny Morozov, a technology-savvy Belarusian essayist, who has written a lengthy (and sometimes ruthless) critique of Zuboff’s book which itself is almost another book (The new clothes of capitalism), says in it: we are being deceived twice; first, when we deliver our data in exchange for relatively trivial services and, second, when that data is then used to personalize and structure our world in a way that is neither transparent nor desirable. Any hint of personal sovereignty is lost.

The new tyranny does not need coups. It is based on our great dependence on technology

Human experience as a free raw material for a series of often hidden business practices of mining, prediction and sales. This is the new and growing surveillance capitalism, which poses enormous contradictions to the “market democracy” in which we were installed. What will this fundamental change mean for us, for our descendants, for our imperfect democracies, for “the very possibility of a human future in a digital world”? (Zuboff). To develop these antinomies, the author relies on the concept of “tyranny” used by Hannah Arendt; tyranny as a perversion of egalitarianism, because it treats everyone else as equally insignificant beings: “The tyrant rules according to his will and self-interest (…) as one against all, and the all whom he oppresses are all equal, that is, they lack power ”. The tyranny of surveillance capitalism does not require classic coups, nor the whip of the despot, nor the Nazi death camps, nor the disappeared, nor the gulags of totalitarianism. It is a kind of bloodless blow, apparently painless and parasitic, but that reaches the bottom of what it intends, the massive dependence on the obsessions that it injects into us.

This is an important book. The era of surveillance capitalism it is a multifaceted text. It is behavioral economics, but also psychology, technology, or — essentially — political thought. He has to find his readers in the interstices of those professions and not be marginalized by social scientists accustomed to unipolar disciplines. It is an intense call to attention to the possibility of a permanent and top-down coup d’état, not as a specific overthrow of the State, but rather as a sink for personal sovereignty (and by accumulation, of the entire citizenry) and as a very powerful force in the dangerous drift towards “deconsolidation” and the lack of quality of democracy, which currently threatens liberal political systems. Their activities represent a challenge to the elementary right to the time that we have ahead, which includes the capacity of the citizen to imagine, pretend, promise and build a future.

The era of surveillance capitalism. Shoshana Zuboff. Translation by Albino Santos. Paidós, 2020. 910 pages. 38 euros. It is published on September 29.

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