I finished reading Surveillance Capitalism, which I had been carrying with me since I picked it up last month at booksinc.net in Mountain View, ironically the home of Google.
Zuboff’s 691 pages do much more than introducing the concept of Surveillance Capitalism: it’s an analytical framework that rather magisterially dissects its origins (at Google) and its modus operandi.
The book is also an ode to analogue humanity, to our “right to the future tense” which it sees under threat from the behaviour modification logic of this new capitalist model.
It’s prophesies about such future are spine-chilling: a world in which we live our lives in the delusional freedom of “the first text” whilst our lives are being lived for us according to the “shadow text” composed by machines who harvest each and every data point about us via our phones, our computers and all the digital paraphernalia we surround ourselves with.
The greatness of the book, apart from the truly terrific choice of words throughout, comes from the intellectual tools and analytical framework it gives readers to help understand how industrial capitalism is morphing into surveillance capitalism. Reading this book feels like you’re given a new set of glasses.
Its minor weakness is that the narrative seems to be largely based on an anti-libertarian intellectual background that places too much hope in the State.
As a result, for all its merits in analysing the evils of corporate surveillance capitalism in which advertisers are the most prominent bidders for our “future tense”, the true horror will come once these behaviour modification tools are used by political bidders (cfr. Cambridge Analytica) or states (cfr. China).
Such extrapolation can only herald Fascism 2.0, in which our futures will be manipulated by political puppet masters with their hands on the algorithms and big date currently at the service of purely commercial ends.
This usurpation could be so unforeseen it may surprise us with the same suddenness as the rise of Mussolini and Hitler.
In this light, Zuboff’s book is also a 691-pages long pamphlet of sorts, warning of humanity’s fate if we accept surveillance capitalism as inevitable and urging readers to “be the friction”: remain indignant and revolt.