And just one more thought about surveillance capitalism, and then we are off to church.
The problem isn’t even that we are spied on, and there is no more privacy and no consent. We have all accepted that already.
The problem is that after spying comes behavioral modification. As Zuboff says, we are being despoiled of our future. Our future is being stolen from us. Because if we don’t decide what we do, if our behaviors are not a result of the free will, we don’t have what can be meaningfully called future.
The NYTimes published a propaganda piece on behalf of surveillance capitalists. It’s titled “Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise.”
For those who can’t access the article, it’s full of unhinged, slobbering praise for everything that the Big Tech does, including the spying. And people who aren’t ecstatic about it are positioned as poor idiots bamboozled by – who else? – evil Russians. They are probably Trump supporters and are all kinds of icky.
These ignorant evildoers are opposed to
a new world of interconnected, futuristic technologies that would reach into consumers’ homes, aid national security and spark innovative industries. Already, medical firms are linking up devices wirelessly to create new kinds of health treatments.
See how seamlessly the idea of reaching into your home is linked to national security and health? Want to be healthy and safe? Let us spy on you. Don’t want to? Ah, you are an evil Putinoid Trumpie!
I hate most analogies because people tend to make really forced ones but Zuboff uses them brilliantly to explain what surveillance capitalists are doing.
She talks about the discovery of the New World by Spanish conquerors. They would disembark, mumble the legal formula of the Requerimiento (which is the equivalent of those privacy notices nobody reads or understands), and then take everything while we sit there, incapable of comprehending what’s happening because it doesn’t fit anything in our understanding of the world.
Another analogy is that of turtles in the Galapagos Islands who were made to ingest trackers so that scientists could observe and eventually control their behavior.
What’s really interesting is that the engineers of this new reality actually use the language of fluidity to describe what they do.
“We want to liquefy the world,” one of these CEOs said. I don’t suspect him of being a reader of Zygmunt Bauman’s work, so the use of the terminology might be unwitting yet telling.