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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

a book by Shoshana Zuboff

(our site's book review)

Surveillance Capitalism Is on the Verge of Dominating the Social Order and Shaping the Digital Future

The Amazon blurb says that The challenges to humanity posed by the digital future, the first detailed examination of the unprecedented form of power called "surveillance capitalism," and the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control our behavior.

In this masterwork of original thinking and research, Shoshana Zuboff provides startling insights into the phenomenon that she has named surveillance capitalism. The stakes could not be higher: a global architecture of behavior modification threatens human nature in the twenty-first century just as industrial capitalism disfigured the natural world in the twentieth.

Surveillance capitalism curses us with a global architecture of behavior modification that threatens human nature
Surveillance capitalism curses us with a global architecture of behavior modification that threatens human nature

Zuboff vividly brings to life the consequences as surveillance capitalism advances from Silicon Valley into every economic sector. Vast wealth and power are accumulated in ominous new "behavioral futures markets," where predictions about our behavior are bought and sold, and the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new "means of behavioral modification."

The threat has shifted from a totalitarian Big Brother state to a ubiquitous digital architecture: a "Big Other" operating in the interests of surveillance capital. Here is the crucible of an unprecedented form of power marked by extreme concentrations of knowledge and free from democratic oversight. Zuboff's comprehensive and moving analysis lays bare the threats to twenty-first century society: a controlled "hive" of total connection that seduces with promises of total certainty for maximum profit--at the expense of democracy, freedom, and our human future.

With little resistance from law or society, surveillance capitalism is on the verge of dominating the social order and shaping the digital future--if we let it.


Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, Microsoft, IBM and Apple Are the New Gods of AI and Are Short-Changing Our Futures to Reap Immediate Financial Gain

With little resistance from law or society, surveillance capitalism is on the verge of dominating the social order and shaping the digital future--if we let it
With little resistance from law or society, surveillance capitalism is on the verge of dominating the social order and shaping the digital future--if we let it

In Big Brother: The Orwellian Nightmare Come True Mark Dice shows you the scary documentation that Big Brother is watching you, and is more powerful than you could imagine. And details the perils of AI used against us. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba, Microsoft, IBM and Apple--are the new gods of AI and are short-changing our futures to reap immediate financial gain. Of course, with U.S. debt at 22 trillion bucks, one could respond: what future?.

As Zuboff says, "Digital connection is now a means to others’ commercial ends. At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience."

Surveillance capitalism is parasitic—it revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but instead of labor surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience
Surveillance capitalism is parasitic—it revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but instead of labor surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience

Surveillance Capitalism Disregards Social Norms and Nullifies the Elemental Rights Associated with Individual Autonomy That Are Essential to a Democratic Society

As Zuboff says, [This situation] "disposes us to rationalize the situation in resigned cynicism, create excuses that operate like defense mechanisms ('I have nothing to hide'), or find other ways to stick our heads in the sand, choosing ignorance out of frustration and helplessness. In this way, surveillance capitalism imposes a fundamentally illegitimate choice that twenty-first-century individuals should not have to make, and its normalization leaves us singing in our chains."

Surveillance capitalism imposes a fundamentally illegitimate choice that twenty-first-century individuals should not have to make, and its normalization leaves us singing in our chains
Surveillance capitalism imposes a fundamentally illegitimate choice that twenty-first-century individuals should not have to make, and its normalization leaves us singing in our chains

As Zuboff says, "surveillance capitalism is a rogue force driven by novel economic imperatives that disregard social norms and nullify the elemental rights associated with individual autonomy that are essential to the very possibility of a democratic society."


Other Books That Do a Better Job Than This One of Dealing with the Problem of the Democracy's Erosion


Our Monstrous Security Apparatus's (FBI, NSA, DHS) Recently Acquired Mass-Surveillance Tools Suck at Finding Terrorists but Excel at Population Intimidation as in 1984

The government prefers we don't notice what is really going on, so it distracts us so that instead of seeing through all their facades, we are instead chasing shiny objects
The government prefers we don't notice what is really going on, so it distracts us so that instead of seeing through all their facades, we are instead chasing shiny objects

Google (who knows what you’re thinking because it saves your private searches), Facebook (who can know what you’re thinking because it has our data all over its site), and the data collection and data mining of the companies our data is sold to are all conspiring to get to know us better than we know ourselves. Why? Even though it has been shown that data mining techniques are ineffective at finding terrorists, they are very helpful in intimidating and controlling whole societies. Our monstrous security apparatus's (FBI, NSA, DHS) recently acquired mass-surveillance tools are not cut out for the job of finding terrorists but rather population intimidation like in 1984.

We're being turned into consumer junkies—zombies going for a fix; government and Big Data collude in this horrific enterprise
We're being turned into consumer junkies—zombies going for a fix; government and Big Data collude in this horrific enterprise

" . . . rereading Orwell, one is reminded of what Orwell got right about this kind of brute authoritarianism—and that was essentially that it rests on lies told so often, and so repeatedly, that fighting the lie becomes not simply more dangerous but more exhausting than repeating it. Orwell saw, to his credit, that the act of falsifying reality is only secondarily a way of changing perceptions. It is, above all, a way of asserting power. . . . People aren’t meant to believe [a Trump lie]; they’re meant to be intimidated by it." (Source: Orwell’s “1984” and Trump’s America, Adam Gopnik, New Yorker)

TV has become the monster that sucks our brains from our skulls as it dumbs us down and teaches us to be loyal consumers of mostly unhealthy products we do not need
TV has become the monster that sucks our brains from our skulls as it dumbs us down and teaches us to be loyal consumers of mostly unhealthy products we do not need

Compare Orwell's 1984 to the realities we are seeing today in 2019. Read this book to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to protect yourself from Big Brother. For a comprehensive summary of the 4 ways you can protect yourself from digital surveillance, read Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World or see a huffingtonpost.com article by Bruce Schneier: Data and Goliath: Four Ways You Can Protect Yourself From Digital Surveillance.


Big Brother Is Sucking the Data and Privacy and Life from Our Veins while Pretending They Only Want to Give Us Free Search, Social Networking, and Information

Like vampires in a house of horrors, Big Brother is sucking the data and privacy and life from our veins while pretending they just want to give us free search, social networking, and information, but while actually charging a very steep price indeed
Like vampires in a house of horrors, Big Brother is sucking the data and privacy and life from our veins while pretending they just want to give us free search, social networking, and information, but while actually charging a very steep price indeed


By 2008, the idea of communications privacy in the United States had literally become a joke—our Big Brother government watches your every move
By 2008, the idea of communications privacy in the United States had literally become a joke—our Big Brother government watches your every move


Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!
Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!

The author does not mince words about how industrial civilization flourished at the expense of nature and now threatens to cost us the Earth, but now information civilization shaped by surveillance capitalism will thrive at the expense of human nature and will threaten to cost us our humanity. She warns us not to view the unprecedented fact of surveillance capitalism through the lenses of the past, as if the new experience was merely an extension of the past. We rely on categories such as “monopoly” or “privacy” to question surveillance capitalist practices, but—however accurate—they are simply not sufficient.

We are not alone in falling prey to the technology illusion—it is an enduring theme of social thought, as old as the Trojan horse, says Zuboff
We are not alone in falling prey to the technology illusion—it is an enduring theme of social thought, as old as the Trojan horse, says Zuboff


As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down
As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down

Other Books That Do a Better Job Than This One of Dealing with the Problem of the Digital Behemoths


Surveillance Capitalism Imposes a Collectivist Vision of Life in the Hive

Two-faced progress: it enslaves as it frees, exploits as it empowers, oppresses as it inspires
Two-faced progress: it enslaves as it frees, exploits as it empowers, oppresses as it inspires


The effort to confront the unprecedented begins with the recognition that we hunt the puppet master, not the puppet
The effort to confront the unprecedented begins with the recognition that we hunt the puppet master, not the puppet

Surveillance capitalism, unlike other capitalist structures that involve both give and take instead of suctioning up everything in sight and selling it, imposes a totalizing collectivist vision of life in the hive. Don't want to be reduced to a drone, or a bee-man (or human bee-ing)? Quit using the Internet, Google, Facebook, computers, phones, tablets, etc. No? Then line up in front of the hive—full of the buzzing of social networking activity—and await your orders.

Surveillance capitalism, unlike other capitalist structures that involve both give and take instead of suctioning up everything in sight and selling it, imposes a totalizing collectivist vision of life in the hive
Surveillance capitalism, unlike other capitalist structures that involve both give and take instead of suctioning up everything in sight and selling it, imposes a totalizing collectivist vision of life in the hive

Zuboff Correctly Cites the Curse of Neoliberalism as One of the Keys to Our Problems

This is a good book warning of the downside of using the Internet, Google, Facebook, computers, phones, tablets, etc. However, it often wanders into the sin of using extraordinarily impenetrable language, and seriously needs a better editor. But if you skim over these verbal marshes you will find quite a few gems and insights. She happily includes neoliberal economics and the extreme inequality that it produced as part of the overall malady. Noam Chomsky knows way more about this than Zuboff, but it was good to see it included in her to-do list of problems.

Reagan's lie was that prosperity would trickle down to all, but neoliberal economics turned out to produce being trickled on, not trickled to
Reagan's lie was that prosperity would trickle down to all, but neoliberal economics turned out to produce being trickled on, not trickled to


The idea that neoliberalism's benefits will eventually trickle down to the have-nots was a covertly mean-spirited scam from day one. The have-nots did not get trickled TO—they got trickled ON
The idea that neoliberalism's benefits will eventually trickle down to the have-nots was a covertly mean-spirited scam from day one. The have-nots did not get trickled TO—they got trickled ON

Free market policies that are Neoliberalism at its worst are not the answer, in spite of the great public relations efforts which have propagandized this into the public consciousness. And the idea that neoliberalism's benefits will eventually trickle down to the have-nots was a covertly mean-spirited scam from day one. The have-nots did not get trickled TO—they got trickled ON. See Trickle-down economics. If we add the scourge of surveillance capitalism to the scourge of neoliberalism, we get a populace caught squirming between a rock and a hard place. As Zuboff says, the neoliberal economic paradigm aimed to reverse, subdue, impede, and even destroy the individual urge toward psychological self-determination and moral agency. All this due to a profit motive illustrating greed gone mad. If psychological self-determination is reversed, we get sheep being sheared rather than adults choosing how to run their lives.

If psychological self-determination is reversed thanks to the neoliberal economic paradigm, we get sheep being sheared rather than adults choosing how to run their lives
If psychological self-determination is reversed thanks to the neoliberal economic paradigm, we get sheep being sheared rather than adults choosing how to run their lives

By 2014 nearly half of the US population lived in functional poverty . . . A 2012 US Department of Agriculture survey showed that close to 49 million people lived in 'food-insecure' households. All this came about as the result of the two-sided neoliberalism, one side of which enriched the rich fabulously, and the other side of which left the citizens scrambling for food, jobs, security, housing, and hope. In a nutshell, the Haves were mercilessly shaking down the Have-nots, certain that they deserved all this wealth and just as certain that the Have-nots did not deserve it. Class warfare was in full swing. And the extreme neoliberal free-market agenda was at the expense of democracy, fairness, and the social, cultural, and national good. Many scholars have taken to describing these new conditions as neofeudalism, marked by the consolidation of elite wealth and power far beyond the control of ordinary people and the mechanisms of democratic consent

Many scholars have taken to describing these new neoliberal conditions as neofeudalism, marked by the consolidation of elite wealth and power
Many scholars have taken to describing these new neoliberal conditions as neofeudalism, marked by the consolidation of elite wealth and power


The Haves are mercilessly shaking down the Have-nots, certain that they deserve all this wealth and just as certain that the Have-nots do not deserve it—class warfare was in full swing
The Haves are mercilessly shaking down the Have-nots, certain that they deserve all this wealth and just as certain that the Have-nots do not deserve it—class warfare was in full swing

The Best Explanation of What Is Occurring Comes Not from Zuboff but from Noam Chomsky

The best explanation of what is occurring comes not from Zuboff but from Noam Chomsky in his brilliant Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, the best book of the 21st century. This is one of the most important books (and documentary films) ever written, and it comes at a critical time in American history. It is a coherent narrative of the corruption of our American socio-economic-political systems. In addition to being a requiem, the book and film is also a post mortem, containing descriptions of the strategies and tactics that have transformed the United States of America into an unfair oligarchy full of inequality, tax-evading wealthy people and corporations, and a shadow government that runs things while grinning political stooges pretend to run things.

The ladder of class mobility is rigged by the wealthy so the nonrich can never become rich
The ladder of class mobility is rigged by the wealthy so the nonrich can never become rich

Interviewed rioters (when people can no longer bear the injustice, humiliation, and extreme inequality) had a “sense of being invisible.” Rioting changed that. It was a cry for help.

Interviewed rioters—people that can no longer bear the injustice, humiliation, and extreme inequality—had a sense of being invisible
Interviewed rioters—people that can no longer bear the injustice, humiliation, and extreme inequality—had a sense of being invisible

Occupy Wall Street was allowed as long as the protestors weren't really allowed to occupy or disrupt Wall Street, which would be blasphemy to the rich and powerful elites, and as long as protestors could be conveniently shuffled off to a convenient private park—out of sight, out of mind. These 99% were citizens who could no longer bear the injustice, humiliation, and extreme inequality of being victims of the neoliberal scam that pushed all wealth upwards to the rich 1%.

Wall Street Protest: Occupy Wall Street
Wall Street Protest: Occupy Wall Street—Copyright © 2011 by Louis Lanzano


'You know, Archibald, my bladder is a tad too full—do these windows open? I'd like to send my regards to those pesky OWS protesters'
'You know, Archibald, my bladder is a tad too full—do these windows open? I'd like to send my regards to those pesky OWS protesters'

Many Reviewers Liked The Age of Surveillance Capitalism but Many Slammed Its Extraordinarily Impenetrable Language

"The security dictates of the post-9/11 world meant that US administrations have given a largely free pass to the tech companies to develop surveillance capitalism, while the Chinese leadership has jumped on it as a powerful means of entrenching control. The main focus of Zuboff’s analysis, and the primary target of her attack, is Google. . . . In Zuboff’s view, Google’s original mission of making all the world’s information accessible mutated into a ruthless imperative to make money by exploiting and modifying human behaviour, by serving up ads to users just at the moment they are the most susceptible to persuasion and generating wants they did not know they had. [self-driving car, anyone?] . . . 'There was a time when you searched Google, but now Google searches you,' she writes. . . . Where Zuboff strays into still more controversial ground is in her analysis of power. Surveillance capitalists are not only able to monetise our data but can also use it to predict our behaviour and thereby modify it." (Source: Should we think of Big Tech as Big Brother?, John Thornhill, Financial Times)

The threat has shifted from a totalitarian Big Brother state to a ubiquitous digital architecture: a 'Big Other' operating in the interests of surveillance capital
The threat has shifted from a totalitarian Big Brother state to a ubiquitous digital architecture: a 'Big Other' operating in the interests of surveillance capital

"The threat has shifted from a totalitarian Big Brother state to a ubiquitous digital architecture: a 'Big Other' operating in the interests of surveillance capital. Here is the crucible of an unprecedented form of power marked by extreme concentrations of knowledge and free from democratic oversight. Zuboff’s comprehensive and moving analysis lays bare the threats to twenty-first century society: a controlled 'hive' of total connection that seduces with promises of total certainty for maximum profit—at the expense of democracy, freedom, and our human future." (Source: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs Books)

"Zuboff's expansive, erudite, deeply-researched exploration of digital futures elucidates the norms and hidden terminal goals of information-intensive industries. Zuboff's book is the information industry's Silent Spring."—Chris Hoofnagle, University of California, Berkeley

While insisting that their technology is too complex to be legislated, there are companies that have poured billions into lobbying against oversight
While insisting that their technology is too complex to be legislated, there are companies that have poured billions into lobbying against oversight

"While insisting that their technology is too complex to be legislated, there are companies that have poured billions into lobbying against oversight, and while building empires on publicly funded data and the details of our private lives they have repeatedly rejected established norms of societal responsibility and accountability. And what is crucially different about this new form of exploitation and exceptionalism is that beyond merely strip-mining our intimate inner lives, it seeks to shape, direct and control them. Their operations transpose the total control over production pioneered by industrial capitalism to every aspect of everyday life. . . . It will be a long, slow and difficult process to extricate ourselves from the toxic products of both industrial and surveillance capitalism, but its cause is assisted by the weighty analysis provided by books such as this." (Source: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff review – we are the pawns, James Bridle, the Guardian)

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power is cursed with "extraordinarily impenetrable language"—laments Professor Diane Coyle of The Enlightened Economist who stopped reading in disgust before getting very far. Some parts are clear and straightforward. Others—not so much . . .

We recommend that one skim-reads the book, looking for the meat, and skipping over the gravy. Life's too short to become immersed and gasping for air in someone else's pool of pompous pretentiousness. We have one word of advice for Zuboff: EDITOR!
We recommend that one skim-reads the book, looking for the meat, and skipping over the gravy. Life's too short to become immersed and gasping for air in someone else's pool of pompous pretentiousness. We have one word of advice for Zuboff: EDITOR!

We agree that Zuboff writes to impress, not to educate or inform. By overintellectualizing, much of the potential impact of the book may just be lost as it degenerates from an unread coffee table book left out to impress impressionable guests to a paperweight left out to hold down stacks of paper in a breezy room. According to Patrick Allan, A study led by Daniel M. Oppenheimer at Princeton University, and published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that using long, academic-sounding words instead of simple, more easily-understood words makes people think you’re less intelligent. The study’s participants found that the more they could actually understand what was being communicated, the more intelligent they considered the message. (Source: Using Big Words Doesn’t Always Make You Sound Smarter, Patrick Allan, Lifehacker)

"I was really looking forward to reading this book but I read about 100 pages and put it down in frustration. It perhaps needs a better and more forceful editor," says one Amazon reviewer. Another says "I suspect the positive reviewers didn’t actually read this thing. I keep picking it up, but I just can’t get through the writing. It’s incoherent and rambling. Sentences go on so long, I lose track of what she’s saying." Many others found it mercilessly verbose and repetitive and like she couldn't decide if she was writing an educational book or a novel.

And it isn't merely the big words. It's the awkward sentences, awkward ways of using words, overly long sentences. When someone uses more words than are necessary to get her point across, especially if her tone is pompous or grandiose, she is guilty of "magniloquence." Fun if you're the sender of such pretentiousness, not so fun if you have to read it or hear it. One wants to holler at Zuboff "now tell us what you mean!" Anyway, we recommend that one skim-reads the book, looking for the meat, and skipping over the gravy. Life's too short to become immersed and gasping for air in someone else's pool of pompous pretentiousness. We have one word of advice for Zuboff: EDITOR!