The surveillance capitalism of today's tech giants has radically reshaped what it means to be human, but that doesn't mean it's invincibleby Joanna Kavenna / June 7, 2019 / Leave a comment
One morning, in a possible future. You are woken by your clothes vibrating. You ask them politely to stop. Some mornings you want to swear at your clothes, but you know that everything you say is logged by interconnected appliances and swearing may impair your verified user status. This, in turn, could affect your job prospects, credit rating and your ability to support your family.
Suppressing your emotions, you go into the kitchen, where your fridge says a hearty good morning and tells you that you are nearly out of milk. Yesterday, for some reason, it ordered a tonne of alfalfa and quinoa. A band around your wrist suggests your blood sugar is low. Also, you drank too much wine last night, the fridge adds in an admonitory tone. Protestations that it was your brother’s birthday are of no interest to this immaculate device.
Despite the concerns of your fridge you skip breakfast and hurry to your car. Unfortunately, your car tells you that it won’t start because you have failed to top up the oil, despite several warnings. You try to start the engine anyway but nothing happens. Realising that you are extremely late—which will also be logged and, oh yes, applied to your verified user status—you swear loudly. Your verified user status is adjusted down. You find yourself apologising to the car.
It doesn’t reply.
You wonder if it is offended.
This scenario sounds fictional and yet, according to Shoshana Zuboff, it is almost upon us. Zuboff is a professor emerita at Harvard Business School and the author of a previous study about the automation of work places, In the Age of the Smart Machine, written as far back as 1988. Her latest book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, is a brilliantly written, passionate and humane work that stands alongside the work of tech-savvy sceptics such as Peter Pomerantsev, Evgeny Morozov and Francesca Bria.
Her book is concerned with “the darkening of the digital dream and its rapid mutation [into] surveillance capitalism.” This version of capitalism “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data.” These…