What I Don’t Like in Zuboff’s Book

What I don’t like about Zuboff’s book is the disconnect between the opening pages and the rest. She starts out very strongly with an analysis of how surveillance capitalism helps us feel the way we really want to and we don’t question it in return.

But then she abandons this argument and adopts an easier narrative of how we are being oppressed by evil capitalists but we can change things any time we want.

The problem is that we don’t want. There are brilliant analyses of the evils neoliberalism out there but nary anybody goes in the direction of looking at its enormously seductive and huge benefits. The only person who went in this direction that I know of is Jim McGuigan.

This isn’t a situation of clearly defined victims and victimizers. The people who are most despoiled of their privacy by surveillance capitalism are the winners, not the losers, of the neoliberal economy. Do you know how much the Roomba and the Sleep Mattress cost? How many people in the world even have houses that require a Roomba vacuum or need a bunch of Echo dots for all the rooms?

There’s something more going on here than clear-cut exploitation of poor, victimized billions by a dozen of evildoers at Google. Zuboff has bought into the facile narrative of the 1% of winners against the 99% of equally victimized losers. But the story is a lot more complicated.

Surveillance Capitalism, 14

But the worst thing Zuboff described is the so-called Internet of Things. That shit is creepy, folks.

Did you know that the Sleep Numbers bed’s app records everything you do in the blasted bed, including the audio of your activities in it? The Roomba vacuum not only maps your house and sells the maps to everybody in sight but also now comes with a camera to record everything in your house. And puts it on sale. And the Nest, God, that’s a Frankenstein-level creep show.

The creators of these products have recognized that consumers (or who we think consumers are, namely, us) have no desire for these products. They openly say that the Internet of Things has to be pushed on consumers. The profits don’t come from selling these products to us. The profits come from selling information about us to somebody we don’t know about and from placing bets on our future behavior.