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Back then Columbus simply declared the islands as the territory of the Spanish monarchy and the pope. The sailors could not have imagined that they were writing the first draft of a pattern that would echo across space and time to a digital 21st century. The first surveillance capitalists also conquered by declaration.

It’s Okay to Talk to Me When I’m Trying to Read

They simply declared our private experience to be theirs for the taking, for translation into data for their private ownership and their proprietary knowledge. They relied on misdirection and rhetorical camouflage, with secret declarations that we could neither understand nor contest. Google began by unilaterally declaring that the world wide web was its to take for its search engine.

Surveillance capitalism originated in a second declaration that claimed our private experience for its revenues that flow from telling and selling our fortunes to other businesses. In both cases, it took without asking. Page [Larry, Google co-founder] foresaw that surplus operations would move beyond the online milieu to the real world, where data on human experience would be free for the taking. As it turns out his vision perfectly reflected the history of capitalism, marked by taking things that live outside the market sphere and declaring their new life as market commodities.

We were caught off guard by surveillance capitalism because there was no way that we could have imagined its action, any more than the early peoples of the Caribbean could have foreseen the rivers of blood that would flow from their hospitality toward the sailors who appeared out of thin air waving the banner of the Spanish monarchs. Like the Caribbean people, we faced something truly unprecedented. Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free. This duality set information technology apart from earlier generations of technology: information technology produces new knowledge territories by virtue of its informating capability, always turning the world into information.

The result is that these new knowledge territories become the subject of political conflict. Now the same dilemmas of knowledge, authority and power have surged over the walls of our offices, shops and factories to flood each one of us… and our societies. Surveillance capitalists were the first movers in this new world.

They declared their right to know, to decide who knows, and to decide who decides. JN: So the big story is not really the technology per se but the fact that it has spawned a new variant of capitalism that is enabled by the technology? We have no formal control over these processes because we are not essential to the new market action.

Instead we are exiles from our own behaviour, denied access to or control over knowledge derived from its dispossession by others for others. We are the native peoples now whose claims to self-determination have vanished from the maps of our own experience. While it is impossible to imagine surveillance capitalism without the digital, it is easy to imagine the digital without surveillance capitalism. The point cannot be emphasised enough: surveillance capitalism is not technology. Digital technologies can take many forms and have many effects, depending upon the social and economic logics that bring them to life.

Surveillance capitalism relies on algorithms and sensors, machine intelligence and platforms, but it is not the same as any of those. SZ: Surveillance capitalism moves from a focus on individual users to a focus on populations, like cities, and eventually on society as a whole. Think of the capital that can be attracted to futures markets in which population predictions evolve to approximate certainty.

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Alexa, Should We Trust You?

This has been a learning curve for surveillance capitalists, driven by competition over prediction products. First they learned that the more surplus the better the prediction, which led to economies of scale in supply efforts. Then they learned that the more varied the surplus the higher its predictive value. This new drive toward economies of scope sent them from the desktop to mobile, out into the world: your drive, run, shopping, search for a parking space, your blood and face, and always… location, location, location.

The evolution did not stop there. It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination. It has no foundation in democratic or moral legitimacy, as it usurps decision rights and erodes the processes of individual autonomy that are essential to the function of a democratic society. The message here is simple: Once I was mine.

Now I am theirs. SZ: During the past two decades surveillance capitalists have had a pretty free run, with hardly any interference from laws and regulations. Democracy has slept while surveillance capitalists amassed unprecedented concentrations of knowledge and power. We enter the 21st century marked by this stark inequality in the division of learning: they know more about us than we know about ourselves or than we know about them.

These new forms of social inequality are inherently antidemocratic. First, surveillance capitalists no longer rely on people as consumers. Instead, supply and demand orients the surveillance capitalist firm to businesses intent on anticipating the behaviour of populations, groups and individuals. Second, by historical standards the large surveillance capitalists employ relatively few people compared with their unprecedented computational resources. General Motors employed more people during the height of the Great Depression than either Google or Facebook employs at their heights of market capitalisation.

Finally, surveillance capitalism depends upon undermining individual self-determination, autonomy and decision rights for the sake of an unobstructed flow of behavioural data to feed markets that are about us but not for us. This antidemocratic and anti-egalitarian juggernaut is best described as a market-driven coup from above: an overthrow of the people concealed as the technological Trojan horse of digital technology.

On the strength of its annexation of human experience, this coup achieves exclusive concentrations of knowledge and power that sustain privileged influence over the division of learning in society. It is a form of tyranny that feeds on people but is not of the people.


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JN: Our societies seem transfixed by all this: we are like rabbits paralysed in the headlights of an oncoming car. This does not mean, however, that we are foolish, lazy, or hapless.

Signs your phone may have been compromised

On the contrary, in my book I explore numerous reasons that explain how surveillance capitalists got away with creating the strategies that keep us paralysed. These include the historical, political and economic conditions that allowed them to succeed. Other significant reasons are the need for inclusion, identification with tech leaders and their projects, social persuasion dynamics, and a sense of inevitability, helplessness and resignation.

The result is that the choice mechanisms we have traditionally associated with the private realm are eroded or vitiated.

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There can be no exit from processes that are intentionally designed to bypass individual awareness and produce ignorance, especially when these are the very same processes upon which we must depend for effective daily life. So our participation is best explained in terms of necessity, dependency, the foreclosure of alternatives, and enforced ignorance. SZ: The tech leaders desperately want us to believe that technology is the inevitable force here, and their hands are tied. But there is a rich history of digital applications before surveillance capitalism that really were empowering and consistent with democratic values.

Technology is the puppet, but surveillance capitalism is the puppet master. Surveillance capitalism is a human-made phenomenon and it is in the realm of politics that it must be confronted. The resources of our democratic institutions must be mobilised, including our elected officials. GDPR [a recent EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU] is a good start, and time will tell if we can build on that sufficiently to help found and enforce a new paradigm of information capitalism. Our societies have tamed the dangerous excesses of raw capitalism before, and we must do it again.

It causes us to forget that our deepest longing is to be generous, to connect, to love each other. Taz certainly knew that truth. The three of us made Halloween cookies on Wednesday. Taz, of course, set the two of us up nearly 18 months ago. Her heart was wide open to everyone. I never once heard her judge another person or gossip or utter a negative word. Every time I saw her, I literally had to catch my breath.

Cosmic Curiosities with Neil deGrasse Tyson

She was that beautiful—inside and out. The Course is about changing perceptions. Instead of identifying with the ego, which is an illusory construct for dealing with the temporary world, it teaches us to embrace our immortal self, which sounds all airy-fairy, but is actually the true nature of reality. My focus these days is on this bigger cosmic reality. Stayed tuned for a really cool guest post by a friend who has developed a magical relationship with his father who, if you believe the old school reality, died many years ago.

Her legacy is still my most important commitment. The Foundation that honors her vision Create relentlessly, love fiercely and do quiet, kind things for the underdog means everything to me. The picture on this post was featured on the Sunday front page of the Topeka Capital-Journal after Taz and I created this book she drew the front cover on recycled grocery bags for Earth Day She was 9.

E-Squared featured the Jenny Craig experiment about changing your thoughts about your body. And the Course is very clear that it is our mind, not our body, that steers the ship. I wanted to share a personal observation of anecdotal evidence around weight loss. I discovered this long before I discovered your books, so wanted to tag a thought on to the experiment you offered around blessing our food. I think you mentioned in one of your books that our bodies have around 30 trillion cells.