Shoshana Zuboff is the author of three books, each of which signaled the start of a new epoch in technological society. In the late 1980s her decade-in-the-making In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power became an instant classic that foresaw how computers would revolutionize the modern workplace. At the dawn of the twenty-first century her influential The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism (with James Maxmin), written before the invention of the iPod or Uber, predicted the rise of digitally-mediated products and services tailored to the individual. It warned of the individual and societal risks if companies failed to alter their approach to capitalism. Now her masterwork, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, synthesizes years of research and thinking in order to reveal a world in which technology users are neither customers, employees, nor products. Instead they are the raw material for new procedures of manufacturing and sales that define an entirely new economic order: a surveillance economy. She is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and a former Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.
Abstract: In her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, scholar and sociologist Shoshana Zuboff posits a detailed examination of the unprecedented power of surveillance capitalism, by which our personal information, monetized and exploited by big tech companies, is then used to predict and shape our behaviors. In this frank and necessarily lucid talk, Zuboff defines the terms of surveillance capitalism as a new economic system, pioneered at Google and later Facebook, in much the same way that mass-production and managerial capitalism were pioneered at Ford and General Motors a century before. Zuboff speaks urgently to our need to protect ourselves in this unprecedented age, and not try to resist or strike in the ways we did a century ago. Google, Amazon and now fallen behemoths like Cambridge-Analytica aren’t going anywhere, but as Zuboff expansively demonstrates, we can create countermeasures to stave off the monopolistic workings of these companies. We have the power to demand more from these seemingly all-powerful corporations. If they want what we provide (data), they in turn will have to change their usage tactics. The citizen desire and the leverage is here, Zuboff argues—and it’s in the companies’ best interests to change. Rather than facing the subject with worry or paranoia, Zuboff argues for us to pay attention, resist habituation, and come up with novel, innovative responses to the issue of surveillance capitalism, as novel a system as we are likely to know.