Book review

Surveillance Capitalism: A Review

Are we giving way too much information on the internet? Is technology automating us, to the extent that it now has control and influence over what we buy, see, feel and think? Are we heading toward a new era of “capitalism” where our demands are manicured in ways that we have never before realised and imagined?

This is a fantastic book that captures the dilemma that we are facing in this age of internet and artificial intelligence: how do we keep out information vital to us against being used, mined or tracked by a new variety of capitalism, surveillance capitalism? This book captures the near hopelessness of our effort in keeping out vital information from being publicly consumed. It even suggests that we are into a “Faustian” compact with technology “because it is nearly impossible to tear ourselves away despite the fact that what we must give, in return will destroy life as we know it.”

This book talks about the “Age of Surveillance Capitalism.” Surveillance Capitalism is defined as one that “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data”. With surveillance capitalism, our experience – what we read, what, where and how we spend, what we eat and how we spend our lives – are being captured voluntarily or involuntarily. While these “experiences” are collected to improve our experience – the books to be recommended, the shoes to buy, the restaurants to eat etc – they are also used not just to predict products and services but to anticipate what we will do “now, soon, and later.” Worst, the data harvested from us are now being traded in ” behaviour futures market” for behavioural predictions. Signing up for free membership for a purchase of sports product not only allow technology to capture our email but also our particulars and preferences that could end up being used to predict, nudge, cajole us to experience future products and services. Surveillance capitalists, the author says, ” have discovered that the most-predictive behavioural data come from intervening in the state of play in order to nudge, coax, tune and herd behaviour toward profitable outcome.” Indeed, surveillance capitalism has increasingly modified our behaviour. The googles, facebooks, whatsapp, TikTok, Instagram, online stores etc. have amassed massive data that not only predict our behaviour and help us seek for goods and service but increasingly modify and shape our ideas and behaviour.

This book is informative. It provides a grim reminder of how seemingly hopeless an effort to cut ourselves off technology: we are feeding too much information online that increasingly we have little control. This is because while we want to resist technology’s “bold incursions” , we also need technology for social participation and to make for more effective and efficient lives.

Surveillance capitalism is unprecedented. But how do we deal with its growing and relentless grip on our lives? The author is hopeful that just like in the past, morality and the indomitable human spirit of seeking trust and justice will bring an end to surveillance capitalism. Just like how America’s “gilded age” came to an end, the author is confident that the age of surveillance capitalism will come to an end when we say “no more” to the injustice, invincibility and wanton acts of excesses that surveillance capitalism brings. This is a must read.

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