Find 10 minutes to read this – Shoshana Zuboff on Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance Capitalism is a striking turn of phrase. It captures in two words the centralised and systematic monitoring of your every action (digital and analogue now the two are increasingly difficult to tease apart), the algorithmic translation of your past behaviour into predictions of your future behaviour, and the buying and selling of this ‘consumer insight’.

And it conveys that you have just about as much control over this process as a sheet of steel has about being pressed into a car panel under mass-production capitalism. For the avoidance of doubt, that would be none.

One of the hi:project team members, Laura James, just pointed us all to Google as a Fortune Teller – The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, the first time I have come across the expression. (Here’s the corresponding paper in the Journal of Information Technology.) I won’t waffle on for long here because you really should click through and have a good read.

There are many prescient publications that lead us to contemplating Surveillance Capitalism today, and for some reason Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, is the one I feel compelled to drop in here. This seminal text explains the warping of media through five lenses or filters, the first two of which are (1) size, ownership, and structure of the media firms, and (2) a reliance on advertising. And to think the Web hadn’t even be invented at this point, let alone bent to such ends as we see today.

I can only find two other seemingly distinct references to Surveillance Capitalism. First, this speech by Dr Børge Bakken at the Australian National University, June 2013, on “social management” in China. And second, in this Monthly Review article from mid-2014, Surveillance Capitalism: Monopoly-Finance Capital, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the Digital Age, in which John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney explore the ‘universalization’ of surveillance across: (1) militarism / imperialism / security; (2) corporate-based marketing and the media system; and (3) the world of finance.

Now go and read Zuboff’s article!