|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] 1984 again
The Surveillance Threat Is Not What Orwell Imagined
Orwell's 1984 was published on June 8, 1949.
Orwell's 1984 was published on June 8, 1949.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
By Shoshana Zuboff June 6, 2019
Zuboff is the author most recently of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.
George Orwell repeatedly delayed crucial medical care to complete 1984,
the book still synonymous with our worst fears of a totalitarian future
— published 70 years ago this month. Half a year after his novel’s
debut, he was dead. Because he believed everything was at stake, he
forfeited everything, including a young son, a devoted sister, a wife of
three months and a grateful public that canonized his prescient and
pressing novel. But today we are haunted by a question: Did George
Orwell die in vain?
Orwell sought to awaken British and U.S. societies to the totalitarian
dangers that threatened democracy even after the Nazi defeat. In letters
before and after his novel’s completion, Orwell urged “constant
criticism,” warning that any “immunity” to totalitarianism must not be
taken for granted: “Totalitarianism, if not fought against, could
Since 1984’s publication, we have assumed with Orwell that the dangers
of mass surveillance and social control could only originate in the
state. We were wrong. This error has left us unprotected from an equally
pernicious but profoundly different threat to freedom and democracy.
For 19 years, private companies practicing an unprecedented economic
logic that I call surveillance capitalism have hijacked the Internet and
its digital technologies. Invented at Google beginning in 2000, this new
economics covertly claims private human experience as free raw material
for translation into behavioral data. Some data are used to improve
services, but the rest are turned into computational products that
predict your behavior. These predictions are traded in a new futures
market, where surveillance capitalists sell certainty to businesses
determined to know what we will do next. This logic was first applied to
finding which ads online will attract our interest, but similar
practices now reside in nearly every sector — insurance, retail, health,
education, finance and more — where personal experience is secretly
captured and computed for behavioral predictions. By now it is no
exaggeration to say that the Internet is owned and operated by private
In the competition for certainty, surveillance capitalists learned that
the most predictive data come not just from monitoring but also from
modifying and directing behavior. For example, by 2013, Facebook had
learned how to engineer subliminal cues on its pages to shape users’
real-world actions and feelings. Later, these methods were combined with
real-time emotional analyses, allowing marketers to cue behavior at the
moment of maximum vulnerability. These inventions were celebrated for
being both effective and undetectable. Cambridge Analytica later
demonstrated that the same methods could be employed to shape political
rather than commercial behavior.
Augmented reality game Pokémon Go, developed at Google and released in
2016 by a Google spinoff, took the challenge of mass behavioral
modification to a new level. Business customers from McDonalds to
Starbucks paid for “footfall” to their establishments on a “cost per
visit” basis, just as online advertisers pay for “cost per click.” The
game engineers learned how to herd people through their towns and cities
to destinations that contribute profits, all of it without game players’
Democracy slept while surveillance capitalism flourished. As a result,
surveillance capitalists now wield a uniquely 21st century quality of
power, as unprecedented as totalitarianism was nearly a century ago. I
call it instrumentarian power, because it works its will through the
ubiquitous architecture of digital instrumentation. Rather than an
intimate Big Brother that uses murder and terror to possess each soul
from the inside out, these digital networks are a Big Other: impersonal
systems trained to monitor and shape our actions remotely, unimpeded by law.
Instrumentarian power delivers our futures to surveillance capitalism’s
interests, yet because this new power does not claim our bodies through
violence and fear, we undervalue its effects and lower our guard.
Instrumentarian power does not want to break us; it simply wants to
automate us. To this end, it exiles us from our own behavior. It does
not care what we think, feel or do, as long as we think, feel and do
things in ways that are accessible to Big Other’s billions of sensate,
computational, actuating eyes and ears.
Instrumentarian power challenges democracy. Big Other knows everything,
while its operations remain hidden, eliminating our right to resist.
This undermines human autonomy and self-determination, without which
democracy cannot survive. Instrumentarian power creates unprecedented
asymmetries of knowledge, once associated with pre-modern times. Big
Other’s knowledge is about us, but it is not used for us. Big Other
knows everything about us, while we know almost nothing about it. This
imbalance of power is not illegal, because we do not yet have laws to
control it, but it is fundamentally anti-democratic.
Surveillance capitalists claim that their methods are inevitable
consequences of digital technologies. This is false. It’s easy to
imagine the digital future without surveillance capitalism, but
impossible to imagine surveillance capitalism without digital technologies.
Seven decades later, we can honor Orwell’s death by refusing to cede the
digital future. Orwell despised “the instinct to bow down before the
conqueror of the moment.” Courage, he insisted, demands that we assert
our moral bearings, even against forces that appear invincible. Like
Orwell, think critically and criticize. Do not take freedom for granted.
Fight for the one idea in the long human story that asserts the people’s
right to rule themselves. Orwell reckoned it was worth dying for.
So many immigrant groups have swept through our town
that Brooklyn, like Atlantis, reaches mythological
proportions in the mind of the world - RI Safir 1998
DRM is THEFT - We are the STAKEHOLDERS - RI Safir 2002
http://www.nylxs.com - Leadership Development in Free Software
Being so tracked is for FARM ANIMALS and extermination camps,
but incompatible with living as a free human being. -RI Safir 2013
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