a break down of Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

ok you may have heard the term “Surveillance Capitalism” dropped in the last year and increasingly in the last months as Netflix dropped its new dramatic documentary The Social Dilemma and my girl Shoshana Zuboff who coined this term in her new influential monster of a book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight For A Human Future At The Frontier of Power shows up all over the news and social webs to talk about her new framework to describe a huge amalgam of our latest technical concerns. “big data”, digital advertising, social bubbles, mental health effects of social media, monopoly, privacy, and what is making our fav tech giants bajillionaires during this shitty pandemic - she wraps it all up in the concept of surveillance capitalism.

but what the heck is it? i am like, future, surveillance, and capitalism in the same book title? a hesitant sigh from syd.

oh but take a deep breath, my good friend. Shoshana is here to help, not spew useless fear into our souls. Zuboff provides a framework for thinking about problems such as maintaining our ability to make our own decisions about our future, taking down mass economic inequalities, creating safety for those who have the most to lose at the hand of private and government surveillance, and maintaining our ability to hold uncertainty as a right. Zuboff comes across as slightly alarmist, but not without countering with good reason and hope for the future.

this is intended to serve either as an overview of her book so you don’t have too read ALL 500 pages and you can still take her concepts into your kickass world or as a supplement to help make sense of all the new terms and how they fit together.

Surveillance Capitalism is…

(quoted from preface)

concept map

Key Terms

behavioral surplus

“information that is a by-product of user interactions” (68) — how people interact as measured by varying technologies or how people interact on the varying technologies

big other

“ubiquitous sensate, networked, computational infrastructure” (20); think of the Big Other as all the technologies (smart vacuums, Google tools, smart watches, etc…) that connect us to the internet and surveillance capitalists

division of learning in society

a means of social order that results from our new economic models; an information civilization where people, processes, and things are turned into information; brings up questions about who knows?, who decides?, and who decides who decides? __

extraction imperative

drive to get as much behavioral surplus from as many places as possible; pushes surveillance capitalists from creating behavioral data from the physical/daily life ⇒ body ⇒ self

instrumentarian power

name Zuboff gives to the new form of power wielded by surveillance capitalists; technological systems that exist for the “purposes of modification, prediction, monetization and control” (352)

radical indifference

an attitude that surveillance capitalists take toward the human behavior they turn into data and how they modify behavior; an attitude that surveillance capitalists are not responsible for what people do on their platforms; an fundamentally amoral and asocial attitude


“‘smart’ is a euphemism for rendition: intelligence that is designed to render some tiny corner of lived experience as behavioral data” (238)

right to future tense

“individuals ability to imagine, intend, promise, and construct a future” (20); “the right to act free of the influence of illegitimate forces that operate outside our awareness to influence, modify, and condition our behavior” (195)

right to sanctuary

“human need for a space of inviolable refuge” (21)

means of behavior modification

“intervening in our experience to shape our behavior in ways that favor surveillance capitalists’ commercial outcomes” (19); thru means like real-time rate hikes, financial penalties, curfews, engine lockdowns, rewards (215)

Published on Nov 02, 2020