Book Review: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism – Shoshana Zuboff
It is a hefty tome, but it gives an understanding, essential to all those who engage online with social media, and the ubiquitous smartphone. Shoshana provides a scary insight into how Facebook and its ancillaries, work to condition and modify our behavior. There is no hiding place from this intrusive online power; it provides entertainment while at the same time, cleverly manipulating every human instinct of curiosity, status, and social empathy. Functioning to gather information on our every thought and action, our every friend and foe, our every like or dislike. It mines our facial recognition and voice. It already is established in smart cars and will extend to every item, smart TVs, household appliances; it will be the matrix, the internet of things. “Google is to surveillance capitalism what the Ford Motor Company was to mass-production.” The company’s pioneering model of spying on our every action has been so interwoven into the fabric of everyday life; the practice has become expected and invisible. For Zuboff, it is time to put up resistance.
All the genius and money of the internet and its tools are not focused on making the world a better place. They focus in particular, on keeping young users plastered to their smartphones, like bugs on a windshield. This synthetic hive is a devilish pact for the young – if they turn away, they are lost. They must now live in the gaze of each other, their status and instant happiness dependant on scoring an accumulation of ‘friends’ and ‘likes’.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and a host of apps are designed to exploit the human needs for belonging and acceptance, tuning behaviour with the rewards and punishments of social pressure. In terms of historical media, none of this shepherding is entirely new. It is just a more efficient type of dog that drives the sheep. The book compares the west with its herding, for commercial gain and acceleration of capital concentration. In China, the behaviour modification of the net nudges its users towards a more socially compliant collective. The book proposes regulatory extensions as the only road to contain its worst excesses. Social media and the net are modifying everyone who reads these comments. It is better to have some understanding of the waters we are swimming in, to survive.