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We are living in the social and political chaos created by the digital age—what author and Harvard business professor Shoshana Zuboff predicted in her groundbreaking, epoch-defining bestseller The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Now, as we brace ourselves through pandemic-related waves of economic, social, and political instability, Zuboff presents the solution we must embrace—and soon: “We may have democracy or we may have surveillance society, but we cannot have both” (New York Times).
“Zuboff’s book is the information industry’s Silent Spring.”
— Chris Hoofnagle, University of California, Berkeley
There’s no doubt that smart devices, social networks, location services, and their ilk have made 21st-century life incredibly efficient and hyper-optimized. But as Harvard Business School emerita and scholar Shoshana Zuboff writes in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, having access to these services comes with the parceling out of our information, which is then used to both serve and manipulate us. Surveillance capitalism—a concept coined by Zuboff herself—defines the current age, in which we’ve all opted into the commodification of our personal information. As our individual choices become not only predicted, but controlled, we’re giving companies exorbitant power over the economy and society as a whole: opting to concede our privacy in exchange for increased connection and convenience.
In her latest—a New York Times Sunday Review cover story—Zuboff breaks down exactly how social media has created the epistemic chaos we’re currently living in, naming the main players and exposing the motivation behind their game. With her hallmark realism and optimism, she also outlines the three principles which will help correct course, a blueprint abound with lessons for organizations, businesses, young professionals, and students, on how to rebuild the next decade: “We are still in the early days of an information civilization … this is our opportunity to match the ingenuity and determination of our 20th-century forebears by building the foundations for a democratic digital century” (New York Times.)
Zuboff’s theorems have struck a cultural chord, with major publications of record hailing Surveillance Capitalism as “a landmark new book” (The Observer) vital to the current conversation. In 2019, she won the prestigious Axel Springer Award, given to “outstanding personalities who are particularly innovative, and who generate and change markets, influence culture and at the same time face up to their responsibility to society.” It has only been awarded four times—its other recipients being none other than Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Berners-Lee. Surveillance Capitalism was named one of TIME’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2019, one of both the New Yorker’s and Bloomberg’s Best Books of 2019, and one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2019, who called it an “extraordinarily intelligent…comprehensive work of scholarship and synthesis” that sets forth a “substantial new argument against the intrusions of Big Tech.” The Wall Street Journal described it as “a rare volume that puts a name on the problem just as it becomes critical,” and the Financial Times called it an “unmissable classic that everyone should read,” also naming it to their list of Best Books 2019: Technology. Surveillance Capitalism was also chosen by The Guardian as one of their Best Science, Nature and Ideas books of 2019, and by the Sunday Times as one of the Best Business Books of 2019.
“Everyone needs to read this book as an act of digital self-defense. With tremendous lucidity and moral courage, Zuboff demonstrates not only how our minds are being mined for data but also how they are being rapidly and radically changed in the process.”
— Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and No Logo
Zuboff was one of the first tenured women in Harvard Business School’s faculty, where she was the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration. Previously, she was a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Zuboff has also been a frequent contributor to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She shared her ideas on the future of business and society in her popular Fast Company column, “Evolving.” She has also been a featured columnist for BusinessWeek.com, with her work showcased on CNBC, Reuters International, the Today Show as well as in Fortune, Inc., Business Week, The New York Times, The Financial Times, and many other news outlets. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the top ten titles in Business & Economics of the season.
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.