What Peaks Through

Shoshana Zuboff
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

[525 pages plus notes]

It is a whopper and for most of the book it is a relentless description of power and greed and danger.

There are a few glimmers. This recognition of frailty, an “unrelenting hunger” offers a hint of other ways of satisfying needs.

p. 255

This process can be accomplished successfully only in the presence of our unrelenting hunger for recognition, appreciation, and most of all, support. [process = rendition of personal behavioural data]

And we are left to understand that it may be that very hunger that will gum the works ..

And much much later we get the shopping list:


The capacity for self-determination is understood as an essential foundation for many of the behaviors that we associate with critical capabilities such as empathy, volition, reflection, personal development, authenticity, integrity, learning, goal accomplishments, impulse control, creativity, and the sustenance of intimate enduring relationships. [Note — critical in the sense of vital, not necessarily critical in the sense of analytical]

There is a hint of a dialectic in the way personal relationships are mediated by social infrastructure. But, unless one remembers that mention of “hunger” so many pages back, a certain circularity is inscribed with little hope of exit when it comes to the logic of surveillance capitalism:

p. 444

Self-determination and autonomous moral judgment, generally regarded as the bulwark of civilization, are recast as a threat to collective well-being. Social pressure, well-known to psychologists for its dangerous production of obedience and conformity, is elevated to the highest good as the means to extinguish the unpredictable influences of autonomous thought and moral judgment.

There is a tension between the individual and the group (see hunger above) that needs to be unpacked in a fashion that doesn’t merely set “individualism” (in its typically American variant) against conformism (easily confused with “collectivism”) in the addressing of the predatory practices of the economic juggernauts.

I wonder if in this exercise of calling out the emperor there is room to cultivate the irony of collective action rooted in autonomy.

This is a book in search of a companion. It is a tactical naming. It wants a story of strategy. A recipe book to address the hunger? And we know that every recipe is given its own touch by the cook.

And so for day 2799

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One Response to What Peaks Through

  1. The book begins with an analysis of a system of exploitation based on turning data into profits, and argues that the new mode of production makes the motor of capitalism shift from products to information, a point well established by previous literature. Given this analysis, it astonishing that the last section of the book returns to a defense of individual rights, without stopping to question whether the ‘hive’ forms of organization that Zuboff finds in the logics of surveillance capital may have been a cooptation of radical kinds of social organizing arranged against a different model of exploitation.

    Sareeta Amrute — Sounding the Flat Alarm (Review of Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism)


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