New digital technologies make our life more comfortable every day. We travel much easier than we used to, we go shopping without leaving our homes, we find answers to our questions more efficiently through search tips and online guidance. There is, however, the dark side of these developments. While being served by digital companies we are being spied by them too.
Capitalism as a socio-economic system is highly adaptive. It grows by increasing division of labor and bringing in new technological solutions. It grows also by making more and more things subject to market dynamics, in other words commodifying them. Land was not a commodity a long time ago. Then it became. Labor was not a commodity either. It became such too. Even child labor became a commodity in capitalism. We managed to fight back and reclaim the joys of childhood for the young. In our time what is being commodified is personal information. There are companies specializing in selling predictions about our future behavior. It turns out that personalization (glorified by contemporary marketing gurus) is the enemy of privacy. Would we be able to restore our autonomy?
It is a hard question to answer. You may want to read Harvard Professor Shosha Zuboff’s new book entitled The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power to be able to grapple with this question. It is brilliantly written and helps us understand what is being done to us and how we may respond. Digital technologies are not our concern. It is the way they are used by the rich and powerful that ought to worry is. There is nothing inevitable in the use of technology. Society should decide how to use it, not profit-seeking companies should sneakily explain us that how the technology develops is an inexorable process.
Jean-Paul Sartre once said that freedom is what you do with what has been done to you. It is to be seen whetehr you are free people indeed!
Here is the opening lines of Zuboff’s book:
Surveil-lance Cap-i-tal-ism, n.
1. A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction, and sales; 2. A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioral modification; 3. A rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge, and power unprecedented in human history; 4. The foundational framework of a surveillance economy; 5. As significant a threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth; 6. The origin of a new instrumentarian power that asserts dominance over society and presents startling challenges to market democracy; 7. A movement that aims to impose a new collective order based on total certainty; 8. An expropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above: an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty.