Word and Image

In the beginning was the Word, right?

When I tell Klara stories – which happens many times a day – I can see her eyes glaze over because she is imagining what I’m telling her. Her brain transforms words into images. This is how a human brain becomes a human brain.

There is nothing more human than the word. Human identity is a narrative. Consciousness of the past and the future is a narrative. Turning words into images and connecting to the world through narratives is what makes us human.

If you skip the word and get a ready-made image (through YouTube videos, cartoons, etc), this enormously important capacity to create images out of words with the power of your brain is thwarted. The creative work of building images out of words is outsourced. It’s placed outside of your self. The very self-building capacity is placed outside of you. Your control over it is severely constrained.

None of this is from Zuboff’s book. This is all mine, so please don’t ask for links.

Surveillance Capitalism, 1

Folks, I’m starting to read Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism. It’s over 700 pages, so this will take a while. You know how I read theory. I read a bit, annotate, then think about it, then write. My apologies to those who aren’t interested in the book because there will be many posts on it and this will last probably for months. Escape while you can!

So here goes.

We are used to defining economic systems by who has control over the means of production. Capitalists in capitalism; the government in socialism.

But this definition is growing outdated because owning the means of production is not the greatest source of capital and power any more. There’s something far more profitable and powerful:

As long as surveillance capitalism and its behavioral futures markets are allowed to thrive, ownership of the new means of behavioral modification eclipses ownership of the means of production as the fountainhead of capitalist wealth and power in the twenty-first century.

The new concept here is “behavioral futures markets” but it’s not confusing once you get into it. Tech companies know so much about us that they can predict our behavior. It’s especially easy for them because they can manipulate behavior. So “behavioral futures markets” are a way for these companies to place bets on our future behavior. Zuboff says this is the future of capitalism and not the unwieldy, solid means of production.

Byung-Chul Han said everyone is his or her own means of production. And Zuboff points out that we all together are somebody else’s means of production because our behavior is more manipulatable, and hence bettable, than ever. Think about my earlier posts today about technology in the classroom. That’s what this is about.