a reckoning for tech and the humans that work with tech

TechReckoning Book Club

Welcome to the TechReckoning Book Club. We'll cover books about technology, and how technology is affecting the humans that work directly with it as well as our culture and humanity in general.

Our first book is The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff. This is a big, thick, and potentially depressing book, so it'll be good to discuss it together.

We'll start discussing the book in chapters via email in March, 2019. It's a long book, so we might be at it for a while.

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Reviews

O.K., Google, How Much Money Have I Made For You Today?, Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

So many people take care to calibrate their privacy settings just so, sharing certain things with friends and keeping other things hidden, while their data still gets collected and shared among apps for possible monetization now or later. Google and Facebook might not call to mind the belching smoke stacks and child laborers of the Industrial Revolution, but Zuboff argues that they’re run by people who have turned out to be just as ruthless and profit-seeking as any Gilded Age tycoon. Instead of mining the natural landscape, surveillance capitalists extract their raw material from human experience.

Thieves of Experience: How Google and Facebook Corrupted Capitalism, Nicholas Carr, LA Review of Books

Consider the terms-of-service agreements that govern the division of rights and the delegation of ownership online. Non-negotiable, subject to emendation and extension at the company’s whim, and requiring only a casual click to bind the user, TOS agreements are parodies of contracts, yet they have been granted legal legitimacy by the courts. Law professors, writes Zuboff, “call these ‘contracts of adhesion’ because they impose take-it-or-leave-it conditions on users that stick to them whether they like it or not.” Fundamentally undemocratic, the ubiquitous agreements helped Google and other firms commandeer personal data as if by fiat.

“A Fundamentally Illegitimate Choice": Shoshana Zuboff on the Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Sam Biddle, The Intercept

A long time ago, I think it was 2007, I was already researching this topic and I was at a conference with a bunch of Google people. Over lunch I was sitting with some other Google executives and I asked the question, “How do I opt out of Google Earth?” All of a sudden, the whole room goes silent. Marissa Mayer, [a Google vice president at the time], was sitting at a different table, but she turned around and looked at me and said “Shoshana, do you really want to get in the way of organizing and making accessible the world’s information?” It took me a few minutes to realize she was reciting the Google mission statement.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism Review - we are the pawns, James Bridle, The Guardian

Consider the apparently benign game Pokémon Go, both a ridiculous and a transparent example of the link between behavioural surplus and physical control. While its initial players lauded the game for its incitement to head outside into the “real world”, they in fact stumbled straight into an entirely fabricated reality, one based on years of conditioning human motivation through reward systems, and designed to herd its users towards commercial opportunities. Within days of the game’s launch in 2016, its creators revealed that attractive virtual locations were for sale to the highest bidder, inking profitable deals with McDonald’s, Starbucks and others to direct Pokémon hunters to their front doors.

 

Not everybody likes the book. The critics say that it's long and academically overwritten, and it fails to address the bigger issues with capitalism. Other academics quibble with her understanding of certain prior work, but I don't know enough about the argument to say one way or the other.

 

Our first book is The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.
Our first book is The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.