Big Other: The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

Shoshana Zuboff on how we became Google’s slaves. A must-read.

Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization Update: Joscha sent in a better link: The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism

German translation: Überwachungskapitalismus

Nearly 70 years ago historian Karl Polanyi observed that the market economies of the 19th and 20th centuries depended upon three astonishing mental inventions that he called fictions. The first was that human life can be subordinated to market dynamics and be reborn as labor. Second, nature can be subordinated and reborn as real estate. Third, that exchange can be reborn as money. The very possibility of industrial capitalism depended upon the creation of these three critical fictional commodities. Life, nature, and exchange were transformed into things, that they might be profitably bought and sold. The commodity fiction, he wrote, disregarded the fact that leaving the fate of soil and people to the market would be tantamount to annihilating them.

With the new logic of accumulation that is surveillance capitalism, a fourth fictional commodity emerges as a dominant characteristic of market dynamics in the 21st century. Reality itself is undergoing the same kind of fictional meta-morphosis as did persons, nature, and exchange. Now reality is subjugated to commodification and monetization and reborn as behavior. Data about the behaviors of bodies, minds, and things take their place in a universal real-time dynamic index of smart objects within an in finite global domain of wired things. This new phenomenon produces the possibility of modifying the behaviors of persons and things for profit and control. In the logic of surveillance capitalism there are no individuals, only the world-spanning organism and all the tiniest elements within it.