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Re: <nettime> Shoshana Zuboff > The Secrets of Surveillance
Brian Holmes on Sat, 12 Mar 2016 09:16:33 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Shoshana Zuboff > The Secrets of Surveillance


This is a great article because it identifies a new variety of
capitalism and demands a response. But Shoshana Zuboff should take
three more steps to give her argument the scope it needs.

First, it's false to claim that surveillance capitalism "corrupts
the unity of supply and demand that has for centuries, however
imperfectly, tethered capitalism to the genuine needs of its
populations and societies." The essence of the commodity has always
been to shape both the desire and the behavior of the user in its
image, and that process was rendered scientific and raised to national
and even global scales by Keynesian Fordism. A vast regime of consumer
surveillance and statistical modeling was ready for the real-time
loops of the networked society. That's why I sometimes talk about
"Neilsenism" (after the TV ratings system) as the crucial adjunct of
Fordist industrial production. It's not the same as Google, not at all
- but it laid the foundations for what we are experiencing today.

Second, consumer monitoring and behavior prediction is not the last
or even the first word of the well-named surveillance capitalism.
Decades before Google ever twinkled in a silicon eye, the derivatives
markets had taken form as a way for investment capital to monitor and
bet on entire commercial and industrial sectors, thereby exerting
a crucial influence over their development. You don't even have to
change Zuboff's language to describe derivatives:

"Key to this formula, however, is the fact that this new market
exchange was not an exchange with users but rather with other
companies who understood how to make money from bets on users'
future behavior. In this new context, users were no longer an
end-in-themselves. Instead they became a means to profits in a new
kind of marketplace in which users are neither buyers nor sellers nor
products. Users are the source of free raw material that feeds a new
kind of manufacturing process."

We all saw this meta process in action in 2005-08, when Collateralized
Debt Obligations were "manufactured" as fast as the real estate
companies could process their famous NINJA and liar loans. Endless
tracks of useless houses were built while trillions of dollars
worth of Credit Default Swaps were grafted onto the CDOs, and
Google had nothing to do with it. Even the buyers of the houses
(the "users") were only raw material to feed the financialization
process. Surveillance capitalism has been gestating throughout the
period of Neoliberal Informationalism and its reach has always been
as transnational as finance itself. Zuboff is totally right to ask
what this system is going to become today, when (and if) it reaches
maturity.

Third, dignity is an Enlightenment keyword and the values of autonomy,
integrity and self-respect do matter for hundreds of millions of
people. But surveillance capitalism is not just "undignified." It
has extended, accelerated and intensified the Fordist regime on
which it built, and its unwanted negative consequences in terms of
climate change are proving deadly to the entire terrestrial ecology.
Having your self-reflexive consciousness reduced to the status of a
Matrix-dweller in a bio-electric stim-soup is undignified, for sure.
But this has made the planetary middles classes into unwitting, or
better, semi-witting accomplices to the crime of slow ecological
murder, which is not even slow anymore. Individual dignity has
to become transnational and trans-species solidarity, which is a
political affect of a very different order.

The question of the present is, what kind of newly turbo-charged
political economy will emerge from the depression that began in 2008?
That depession is now ending in the US, by the way, the entrepreneurs
here are chafing at the bit. The ABC corporation, formerly known as
Google, wants to turns its methods into the universal grammar of
earthly existence, unifying global finance and Five Eyes surveillance
with the sub-individual pulse of your endocrine system. Ford and GM
are the models, tha's right, and just as those corporations of the
1910s and 20s only had their real effect after the long crisis of
the Depression and the War, so ABC is looking to emerge as a monster
from the crysalis of the current planetary crisis. Whatever its
limitations, Zuboff's forthcoming book is going to be a good soapbox
to stand on while protesting this metamorphosis.

I'm using my platform to call for more than just dignity, however. I'm
calling for a new technopolitics that can rework the very foundations
of surveillance capitalism.

here's to that future, Brian



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