As you might surmise from the books listed above this is not going to be a light blog post. Zuboff’s book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism really describes the zeitgeist and era that we are in, where mega corporations collect, tabulate, and monetize the information we provide for them on the social networking platforms. It deconstructs the Big Other, as she calls it, and paints a picture of how we are being increasingly enslaved to this new form of capitalism where every breath we take is recorded, collectivized, analyzed, and re-served to us in the form of targeted advertising. What’s so bad about this if it provides us the free services it does, like Facebook group video chat, selfies-galore on Instagram, and the amazing worldwide communication apparatus that is WhatsApp?
I think the problem relates to the other book reviewed in this post, The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells which describes our warming planet as so threatening, the group Extinction Rebellion in the UK might be right: we are fighting for our very survival. So how does the dominant economic paradigm Zuboff explains jive with the end of civilization as we know it? I think it has to do with another term we might use for capitalism, that is, exploitative capitalism, which is, as explained in the past in this blog, moving all spigots to the top. We are indeed already living in a latter day Elysium with the 1% cloistered in paradises like in the Hamptons in New York, or Singapore in the East, or Dubai in the Mid-East.
A recent anecdote by David Foster-Wallace himself points at the acceleration of the threat: there has been more carbon added to the atmosphere by humanity since Al Gore’s first An Inconvenient Truth than cumulatively through all of human civilization combined. With global actors like Greta Thunberg in Sweden and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US pushing us to act against these horrific facts it is a wonder that the tech world can remain business as usual, and in this destructive paradigm as Zuboff says we are in.
I feel, as Umair Haque does, that we are on the very precipice of human civilization. Where we must change all that there is to look at last to an optimistic limitless future. A real, as Haque calls it—adolescence—we must past through to survive Wallace-Wells’ abyss.
And the change that must happen is equally relevant to the realities of surveillance capitalism and big tech in general. We must look to places like the Fediverse and open source technology to really move the global tech infrastructure forward in line with commensurate changes to our carbon footprint. An average non-tech person might not realize how much we have become slaves to the current techno-systems that they might not be able to connect the dots from Wallace Well’s work to Zuboff’s work but for me it can’t be clear enough: instead of letting our economic system scrape the bottom of the barrel for economic growth, we must embrace Peter Diamandis‘ ideas of exponential growth and abundance to change the zeitgeist, the paradigm—the what have you, from one of deconstruction to one of construction, to as, exposited in the recent third book I read Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution: Design our next step of evolution pro-actively, with direction, on purpose.
It seems to me the only way we are going to get out of this mess.