Ch 09: Surveillance Capitalism

The More I Understand, The Less I Know

So, let’s start off this blog post on a path of honesty and discovery; I was very, very lost when it came to trying to comprehend, analyze, and connect with the video and reading for this week. A fair comparison would be that I was the Flyers just getting absolutely dunked on by the Rangers. (What a game! This season is yielding such prime content for Weird NHL!) I’ve also been feeling really weighed down by the current events in the news cycle, and it is admittedly affecting me a lot more than I thought it would. So, naturally, this blog post is going to be on the shorter side of things while I still try to unravel everything, and the bulk of my focus is going to be on the written article, “Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization,” by Shoshana Zuboff, both because I followed along with this much more easily, and because it won the coin toss. Let’s plug into a classic with “Hella Good” by No Doubt, and get going! 

So, the article essentially can be broken down into three parts, if you want to view it through the same lens that I did. Part one is the introduction to the technology, capitalism, and existentialism coming together when Zuboff asks, “Who participates and how? Who decides who participates? What happens when authority fails?” These are the three questions that made the scope of Zuboff’s work make sense to me, as these questions would have a perfect overlap in a capitalism and surveillance Venn diagram. But, it was mainly the third question of what happens when authority fails that began to weigh on my mind. As someone who did a lot of reading in the Marxist arena during their undergraduate degree, I’ve always understood that no matter what, conflict will arise with the existing system, things will change, a synthesis of the old and new come about, and the cycle continues. But, what happens when that authority figure almost feels nonexistent? As a joke, rules for the Internet emerged years ago, but we all know it’s more or less a ruthless free-for-all. Yes, I know there’s still a person behind everything we think is just automated machine stuff to some degree, when it comes to data gathering, tracking, selling and whatnot, but there’s just so much dissonance that comes with accepting Hey, someone could do something about this if they really wanted to! 

The next part that Zuboff’s article came to me in is something I’m beginning to call, “Don’t Let Me Down, Data,” where Zuboff goes into detail about data, extraction, analysis, and my personal ghost in the machine from last week; data personalization. The idea of “Google knowing the answer before being asked the question” is something that I never quite felt comfortable with, but as the artice points out, I’m in good company with others on that front. Cher asked if anyone really falls in love anymore, and I’m asking if anyone really cares or wants to know what’s going on anymore. (By the way, “Hella Good” is not how I’m feeling about this article anymore!) I was also taken aback by the discussion of the “Big Other” while scrolling through the “Monitoring and Contracts” subheading; the juxtaposition of Hannah Arendt and the commonplace and expected human fallacy versus the rigid and unforgiving binary and data-rich society we are trending towards is frightening at best, and heart-stopping at worst. 

Finally, the rest of the article can be categorized as where I was officially lost in no man’s land on my first, second, and third read, and couldn’t even begin to sound out, try as I might. There’s only so far I can compartmentalize my feelings before the frustration starts to show, so here goes nothing that I tried to make into something! “Reality itself is undergoing the same kind of fictional metamorphosis as did persons, nature, and exchange. Now ‘reality’ is subjugated to commodification and monetization and reborn as ‘behavior’,” is the only quote from the last portion of the article that I was able to analyze and really grasp beyond the surface level. Essentially, I’m reading into this as being the sort of next-gen chicken vs. the egg existential question: Did we create our own reality, or did capitalism substitute in its own version for us to buy into? 

I recognize that I barely touched on the intersection of capitalism and surveillance beyond my Venn diagram comparison in the second paragraph, so let’s circle back to that very briefly. For one, there is Zuboff’s definition of surveillance capitalism as being the commodification, or the restructuring of someone’s digital data and footprints for the purpose of making money, and shielding this practice from scrutiny by having it manifest itself in innocuous ways like targeted ads, scarily specific autofill searches, etc. The danger here is hard to detect, and I feel myself needing to go for a run after trying so hard to sift through all of this. For one, there is the red herring of, “Oh, I don’t like being tracked on the Internet. That’s just creepy!” Then there’s the revolting thought of, “Wait, but how much am I worth, in particular?” When I post pretty photos of sunsets, or write my goofy six-word stories that can range from motivational to just being my feelings about the going-ons of a hockey game, what sort of monetary value is attached? And most importantly, why would I challenge convenience? It’s kind of nce to sometimes not have to worry about where to find a coupon for something because Google knows where I shop and how much I like to spend on certain things? Do I really need to care if I’m still benefiting myself in some convoluted, roundabout way? 

Also, capitalism has always been a buzz-word that leads me to think about money insecurity. I’m not sure how to tie this into surveillance capitalism without either being Captain Obvious or overly-cynical guy, but here’s what I’ve got on that front: If they collect enough data on all of us and sell it to the highest bidder, they’ll create something appealing that we won’t say no to, like a streaming service, that can really metabolize their earning and keep the spin cycle going. (I feel like this is off-target, but it’s all I’ve got.)

Maura, I’m counting on you to help me out with unraveling all of this, because the more I try to reflect and redirect myself, the less I understand and the more apathetic and agitated I find myself feeling. I leave you with this bleak sentiment and the perfectly placed “Learning to Fly.” 

Also, I had way too many six-word stories for my daily creates I was proud of this past week, so I narrowed it down to my top three + two tweets that I felt were very important, given recent events, and one goofy one to lighten things up.

I never thought I’d get inspiration from the Rangers of all teams, but holy bananas that was an amazing game!

By thesunthatruns

Sun K. is a kid who got (somewhat) lucky that their parent made an amazing Dad joke that granted them a radical username for life. While being a student of Writing Studies in Kean University's master's program and maintaining a job keeps them pretty busy, they still have plenty of time for interests and hobbies like running, napping, listening to music and podcasts, tabletop gaming, making memes, bothering their best friend, and so much more that will be shaping these blog posts! Keep up with them on Twitter @SunKScribbles.

One reply on “The More I Understand, The Less I Know”

#sixwordcomment Reflecting exactly as we hoped for

But more… you reached in wonderfully to pull the 3 Venn-able concepts and frame the definition of surveillance capitalism. Just knowing that your clicks and attention are a commodity, and that having awareness even with a feeling of “wish I did not know” is better than no awareness.

Maybe not knowing, like you can contain all this, is okay. If you are feeling, expressing, not having the full understanding is okay if you are running down that road of seeking.

There was a site a few years back that would calculate your data “value” to Facebook based somewhat on realistic estimates available for their ad revenue. It was somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 which ended up sounding cheap “that’s all I am worth?”

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