Surveillance Capitalism – Definition:
- A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales;
- A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioral modification;
- A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioral modification;
- A rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge, and power unprecendeted in human history;
- The foundational framework of a surveillance economy;
- As significant a threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth;
- The origin of a new instrumentarian power that asserts dominance over society and presents startling challenges to market democracy;
- A movement that aims to impose a new collective order based on total certainty;
- An expropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above: an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty.
In the previous blogs we learned about different styles of behaviorism psychology, its various uses, behavioral and social engineering, and we also reviewed up and coming technologies and trends to watch as it hits commercial markets. We also spoke about threats to our privacy through various legislation such as Bill C51 and its amendment bill, attitudes about surveillance and privacy through our social media, the internet of thing (IoT), neuroscience, nanotechnology, the five eyes and social credit. I’m not sure how long it will take to dissect this enormous topic since surveillance capitalism is embedded in many aspects of our lives and its being going on for so long. There’s large amounts of data to review, it’ll probably be a whole subheading with many entries under this topic. However in our conversation today, I will attempt to provide an introduction about the subject by enjoining all the pieces together showing a collage of what our future might look like under an ‘all-seeing’, ‘all knowing eye’. What will it mean for us in our quest for equality and freedom? Is equality, privacy and freedom worth fight for? or is it a losing battle? Do you think we can win or are we just avoiding the inevitable? What do we gain in return?
“Surveillance capitalism is not an accident of overzealous technologists,” writes Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power “but rather a rogue capitalism that learned to cunningly exploit its historical conditions to ensure and defend its success.” In essence, surveillance capitalism has been in effect since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, quietly working its way to prominence somewhat in a non-obtrusive way where we don’t see our values and human rights slowly eroding. Perhaps that was the point all along and the very notion of human rights were intended in some small way to give us a sense of false security. To make us believe that we are independent and free with agency but in reality human rights itself has created another prison filling our minds with illusions of grandeur. For example, why doesn’t the UN have some sort of disciplinary powers to protect the rights of others, instead it employs the art of persuasion? Sometimes it works and most of the time it doesn’t but does it matter because we’ve already bought into the illusion of the pervasive theory called ‘human rights’. With each technological advancement adds another gear, another screw, into the surveillance machine as we hand pieces of ourselves over to the system in exchange for some short lived pleasure (i.e. Facebook). Somehow we have traded the concept of human rights with notions such as “convenience” or the fact that many of its services are “free”.
“There is widespread concern about surveillance by both government and business:
• 91% of adults agreed that consumers had lost control over their personal information;
• 80% of social network users are concerned about third parties accessing their data;
• 80% of adults agreed that Americans should be concerned about government surveillance.” ~Pew Research
Surveillance capitalism departs from the history of market capitalism in three startling ways. First, it insists on the privilege of unfettered freedom and knowledge. Second, it abandons long-standing organic reciprocities with people. Third, the specter of life in the hive betrays a collectivist societal vision sustained by radical indifference and its material expression in Big Other [not Brother]. “Is surveillance capitalism merely “capitalism”?” asks Zuboff
The Next Human Nature
A great deal of time, energy and resources have been invested into understanding the machinations of human nature and human behavior. For it is in the understanding of what lies beneath our motivations that provides the key to exploit and control the human mind. Don’t you find it odd that while many try to vilify and dis-empower the psychic industry – the foretelling of futures – whether it be with runes, tarot cards, astrology (the reading of stars) or reading tea leaves, yet they invest billions of dollars in predictive technology which in essence does the same thing? This explains point #7 in the definition about ‘needing to know with total certainty’. Predicting our next action, predicting our motivations, predicting our next purchase or lifestyle choices. What makes the two fields different is that with predictive technology there are mathematical equations to explain the predictions and it’s based on observing human behavior and decision-making. We are trying to be like Gods copying all the mysteries of life which are meant to stay as mysteries so we can focus on our faith, yet we’ve replicated an artificial magic to control and to exploit whereas God’s mysteries are meant to keep us alive and as free agents. This all-seeing eye of God I’m referring to who sees all of his creatures below and knows intimately about everything is the Biblical God YHWH the God of the Israelite – with surveillance capitalism we are copying YHWH’s talents and abilities [as recorded in the Bible], in affect creating an artificial all-seeing God. Yes, we are moving into an era of artificial intelligence, artificial living, and an artificial way of being.
“Privacy is not a religion. If you want to give away your information, be my guest, as long as YOU make the decision to do that. Context is key. What’s sensitive to me may be meaningless to you and vice versa… At social gatherings, even my doctors won’t admit they’re my doctors! That’s how much they protect my privacy. That is truly wonderful! They go to great lengths to protect your personal health information.” ~Ann Couvakian
“A growing body of evidence testifies to the psychic toll of life in the hive, where surveillance capital’s behavioral engineering expertise collides with the centuries-in-the-making human impulse towards self-constructions. Researchers are already providing answers to two key questions: What are the psychological processes that dominate the hive? What are the individual and societal consequences of these processes? According to the 302 most significant quantitative research studies on the relationships between social media use and mental health (most of them produced since 2013), the psychological process that most defines the Facebook experience is what psychologists call “social comparison”. It is usually considered a natural and virtually automatic process that operates outside of awareness, “effectively forced upon the individual by his social environment” as we apply evaluative criteria tacitly internalized from our society, community, group, family, and friends.
As one research review summarizes, “Almost at the moment of exposure, an initial holistic assessment of the similarity between the target and the self is made. As we go through life being exposed to other people, we naturally compare ourselves along the lines of similarity and contrast – I am like you. I am different from you – subliminal perceptions that translate into judgments – I am better than you. You are better than I. Sounds a little bit like the biblical story of Cain and Able. Yet it it’s completely and utterly missing the whole point – we are not supposed to compare ourselves to each other, the moment you find yourself doing that you are completely missing the point of the meaning of your life. You are in essence making the someone else the meaning of your life. That’s not how you are meant to live and its sad that while the focus in on the “other” you miss all the beauty and grandeur that your life has to offer to make it whole and meaningful.
You gain nothing in return.
Remember MySpace? Everybody just had to have a MySpace account especially if you were an artist and/or a performer of some sort. It was the introduction of social media, introducing yourself to users on this wonderful new invention called the World Wide Web, where one can “surf” from one page to another. Curiously, we don’t use that term anymore ‘surfing the world wide web’ but it certainly gave you a visual in an attempt to explain how this new technology works in layman’s terms. For me it was all of a blur happening so quickly because once I finally got on to MySpace it was yesterday’s news because Facebook was bursting on to the scene.
For much of human history, humans lived in close knit communities, ‘enclaves and were typically surrounded by like-minded individuals. Social comparison did not provide much in revelation when you’re living in a community of shared values. I think that’s why the traveling circus provided such entertainment because people were able to see others who are very different from themselves and the performers themselves were able to travel from city to city observing new communities and other ways of living. Perhaps that might explain the romanticism of the ‘traveling circus’ or running away to join the circus- the circus provided a spectacle of the ‘other’, animal and human alike. Then we have vaudeville theater, movies but that in a way was pure story-telling, we wanted to see fair and square how others lived (no acting). The invention of the television brought just what we wanted because unlike radio where you’ll only hear the ‘other’s’ story, with TV you get to see and hear different social constructions that are different from your own. Yes, with TV you can truly make the comparison of “I am better than you [vice versa], you are better than I, I am different than you, I am like you [etc.] The inventions of the twentieth century did ‘increase the intensity and negativity of social comparisons.’ Zuboff noted that “One study found an increase in criminal larceny as television diffused across society, awakening an awareness of and desire for consumer goods….increased exposure to television programs depicting affluence led to ‘the overestimation of others’ wealth and more dissatisfaction with one’s own life.”
With social media though we have jumped a few notches.
“The intensity, density, and pervasiveness of social comparison processes, especially for the youngest among us, who are “almost constantly online” at a time of life when one’s own identity, voice and moral agency are a work in progress. the psychological tsunami of social comparison triggered by the social media experience is considered unprecendented. If television created more life dissatisfaction,” Zuboff asks “what happens in the infinite spaces of social media?” You see, unlike the circus, vaudeville or even the movies where you sit in an auditorium for a couple of hours and then you go home back to your own life and community. With the circus you can spend a whole day or a couple of days but the circus does eventually pack up and move on to another town and you’re back to your own life. With television and social media, however, these instruments of social comparisons, are in your house all day and every day for you to turn on at will and spend as long as you want watching and comparing yourself to others. That’s not healthy. It deprives us of real-life encounters in which we can share ourselves ‘establishing some threads of communality’. The difference with social media and television is that with television we observe only what the television show or producer(s) choose to share with us. With social media it more active in the sense that we get to share our selves as an active engagement and self presentation characterized by “profile inflation” in which biographical data; photos and updates are crafted t appear ever more marvelous in anticipation of the stakes for popularity, self worth, and happiness.” I am better than you [vice versa], you are better than I, I am different than you, I am like you [etc.]. Another difference is television gives you people who are actors, in social media you not only present yourself but you get to see people you personally know in whole new light fresh for new comparisons.
“Profile inflation triggers more negative self-evaluation among individuals as people compare themselves to others, which then leads to more profile inflation, especially among larger networks that include more “distant friends”. As one study concluded, “Expanding one’s social network by adding a number of distant friends through Facebook may be detrimental by stimulating negative emotions for users.” One consequence of the new density of social comparison triggers and their negative feedback loop is a psychological condition known as FOMO (“fear of missing out”). Its a form of social anxiety defined as “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that…your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.”
— and then you get “unfriended” = FOMO = negative self-evaluation. Why did you do that? What’s wrong with me? Now, I can’t see how I am better than you [vice versa], you are better than I, I am different than you, I am like you [etc.].
“When you have an increase in terrorist incidents like San Bernadino, Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, and in Manchester, the pendulum spins right back to: Forget about privacy – we need security. Of course we need security – but not to the exclusion of privacy!
I always say that Privacy is all about control – personal control relating to the uses of your own data. It’s not about secrecy. It drives me crazy when people say ‘Well, if you have nothing to hide, what’s the problem?’ The problem is that’s NOT what freedom is about. Freedom means YOU get to decide, as a law-abiding citizen, what data you want to disclose and to whom — to the government, to companies, to your employer.” ~ Ann Cavoukian
The Glass Life
Zuboff notes “Chinese artist Ai WeiWei’s 2017 installation “Hansel & Gretel” created a powerful experience in which participants viscerally confront the surveillance implications of their own innocent picture taking, Instagramming, tweeting, tagging and posting. Our artists, like our young people, are canaries in the coal mine….Glass life is intolerable, but so is fitting our faces with masts and draping our bodies in digitally resistant fabrics to thwart the ubiquitous lawless machines.” Our right to privacy is to protect ourselves from the intolerable gawking of the ‘glass life’ – that’s circus life, and where are most of them today? Gone. “The greatest danger is that we come to feel at home in glass life or in the prospect of hiding from it. Both alternatives rob us of the life-sustaining inwardness, born in sanctuary, that finally distinguishes us from the machines. This is the well from which we draw the capacities to promise and to love, without which both the private bonds of intimacy and the public bonds of society wither and die.”
“We like to say that we grew up with the Internet, thus we think that the Internet is all grown up. But it’s not. What is intimacy without privacy? What is a democracy without privacy?…Technology makes people stupid. It can blind you to what your underlying values are and need to be. Are we really willing to give away our constitutional and civil liberties that we fought so hard for? People shed blood for this, to not live in a surveillance society. We looked at the Stasi and said, ‘That’s not us.”~ Writingya
I particularly enjoy the point that Zuboff directs our attention to questioning the inherited earth and society that we leave for the next generation because of our inability to quench our curiosity. “We are leaving behind the burden of a burning planet. If this wasn’t enough, consider that we are also adding the burden with surveillance capitalism’s invasion and conquest of human nature. It demands the forfeiting of our sanctuaries and their right for a prosperous future for the sake of surveillance capitalism’s wealth and power. “Paradiso calls it a revolution, and Pentland says it is the death of individuality…There are dissenters among us, to be sure, but the declaration of life without walls has thus far failed to trigger a mass withdrawal of agreement.” cautions Zuboff, ” This is in part the result of our dependency and in part because we do not yet appreciate the breadth and depth of what the architects have in store, let alone the consequences that this “revolution” might entail.”
Surveillance capitalism is so pervasive, hidden in plain sight for so long that we have some how become accustomed to the all-seeing of of the Big Other [AI], its now normalized, we are numb, and despite knowing that our rights are being eroded, we act as if we don’t care. “We become deaf to the lullaby of walls” and we won’t care until it’s either too late or Big Other has actively interfered with your life in a negative way that impacts either your finances, reputation, privacy, autonomy or something else – you need direct impact before people begin to wake up. remember in a previous entry I defined spirituality as the process of “Waking up!“. We need to wake up folks and deal with the monstrous machine and tame the shrew before it gets out of hand and a near impossibility for the next generation to handle. “Nonetheless,” concludes Zuboff “each deletion of the possibility of sanctuary leaves a void that is seamlessly and soundlessly filled by the new conditions of instrumentarian [power that is continuously felt and exerted through our infrastructure] power.”