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But this definition is growing outdated because owning the means of production is not the greatest source of capital and power any more.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.

5 thoughts on “Surveillance Capitalism, 1

  1. In theory – yes. But as long as the tech companies are unable to determine that I have actually already made the purchase and keep irritating me with continued advertising of the same things over and over again, I am not convinced about their ability to have power over people who have not given enthusiastic consent to that.
    Another example – Facebook managed to gravely misinterpret both my origins (even though I was open about them with FB) and political preferences – it has been sending me the advertisement of the Russian passport for several days recently… πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
    But maybe they are pretending not to know, and value preserving their cover more than potential financial losses due to them irritating me.


  2. I’m highly looking forward to these reviews!

    Mayor Pete talks intelligently about the automation issue here. Of course, he’s on the wrong side of it and thinks it can be a good thing, but why isn’t anyone else even talking about it? Apart from no-chancers Tim Ryan and Andrew Yang (and Yang is literally the worst person running for president.)


  3. I’m reading this now too. Her analogy that we’re the raw material being mined by companies in every possible facet of life (offline and online), in ways that we’re mostly unaware of and can’t truly consent to or opt out of, is what struck me most forcefully so far.


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