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Keen On

Produced and Engineered - Jason Sanderson at

Mar 21, 2019

The most acclaimed new book about technology is by the distinguished Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff. It’s entitled THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM: THE FIGHT FOR A HUMAN FUTURE AT THE NEW FRONTIER OF POWER. But when I sat down with Zuboff in Berkeley last week, it became increasingly clear that THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM might have been subtitled:






  • “Something is not right, but we don’t know what to call it,” Shoshana Zuboff says. It’s a problem with no name, she explains, so I set out to name the elephant. And what Zuboff has done, more than anything else in the AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM, is, indeed, to name that elephant.  Like Rachel Carson in Silent Spring or Betty Friedan in the Feminine Mystique, Zuboff has unfogged our minds. She’s spent seven years simplifying. Seven years untangling the technology and language of Silicon Valley.


  • Yes, language matters, Zuboff is telling us. We need to use our words carefully – particularly in terms of fighting back against the sophisticated PR artilleries of Silicon Valley. And the idea of “fighting back” is no metaphor. We are in a war, she tells us. An information war. One defined by asymmetries of knowledge between the ubiquitous Silicon Valley platforms and ourselves.


  • So what, exactly, is surveillance capitalism? Zuboff’s description of it as the “social relations of the one-way mirror” is hauntingly exact. Created and elaborated by Google at the turn of the century and now spreading virally throughout the economy, this appropriation of our data represents what she calls the “complete destruction of privacy.” It takes away “the boundaries of our own experience”. We can no longer determine our autonomy.


  • THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM might have been subtitled THE FIGHT FOR A DEMOCRATIC FUTURE AT THE NEW FRONTIER OF POWER. That’s because Zuboff thinks that democracy is the most human of qualities and it’s the thing that is being most undermined by surveillance capitalism. This economy is, she warns, on a collision course with freedom. She’s right, of course. Especially the way in which surveillance capitalism, in its sophisticated campaigns of disinformation, undermines human agency.


  • But as Zuboff reiterates time and time again, it doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than technology, the problem is what she calls an economic logic. And while can’t have surveillance capitalism without digital, we can imagine a digital world with surveillance capitalism. But how? The solution, she argues, is collective action. The solution is democracy. So just as we organized against the great injustices of industrial capitalism in the 19th & 20th centuries, we need to organize against the equally unfair practices of 21st century surveillance capitalism. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again, Zuboff says. That, indeed, is what being human is all about.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Shoshana Zuboff, you can find out more about her here:



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Produced by Jason Sanderson - Podcast Tech