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A few thoughts on Zuboff etc.

So the past few weeks have definitely been a struggle for all of us. I know for me personally it seems like everything has fallen by the wayside. Despite having so much time it feels like nothing is really possible any more and it’s a struggle to get through almost any task. That said, I made a push to give this reading any kind of the respect that it deserves but I fear I’m coming up short. My blog is late, certainly, and my insight lacking I am equally as sure. I do look forward to Patricia’s commentary on the reading as well as our subsequent conversation because even at the low level I existed in within this reading, I was somewhat awe-struck.

I’d like to first point to a passage on page 30, in which Zuboff quotes Antonio Machado as such: “‘Traveler, there is no road; the road is made as you go.’ This is what ‘search’ has meant: a journey of exploration and self-creation, not an instant swipe to already composed answers” (Zuboff). We have spoken of this now many times throughout the course, but I was really touched by the combination of both Zuboff’s and Machado’s language. “Search” in this context was something of a double meaning, as it is at once being used to indicate an actual search feature on a web browser, but also one’s personal search for betterment. And yet, as has been discussed in previous classes, searching has gotten so easy but so surface-level, and so ubiquitous a step that the prompt is either forgotten or not known to begin with. Here, now, there is a loss, and a lost. And we are both at the same time.

As for something of her actual discussion of surveillance capitalism, I would point to Part III of Chapter 1. To paraphrase a bit of her claim, we are trapped. We are in the midst of a Faustian mechanism in which our very nature recognizes a need to rebel, and yet that same nature’s desire for something else is holding us prisoner to that which we would rebel against. Surveillance capitalism, which exists on a different level than the machinery itself by which we function, is what drives the cogs to turn only for us uniquely, by ways of stripping us of ourselves and sold out. In a more grounded sense, I can safely say I have heard myself utter such phrases as “I have nothing to hide” many times. I do believe it’s something of a defense mechanism; and whether it’s “true” belies the particularly important detail which is that I need to feel as though I have to pronounce that at all. It’s such a reality that this sort of thing goes on, though to what full extent I still scarcely know, that I automatically attempt to play myself out, but I know it is fallacious.

As a quick example of the power I felt whilst reading this, please let me point toward another passage from the above section:

Just as industrial civilization flourished at the expense of nature and now threatens to cost us the Earth, an information civilization shaped by surveillance capitalism and its new instrumentarian power will thrive at the expense of human nature and will threaten to cost us our humanity

This passage was chilling for me. If you think about how, back 150 years ago and for so long after that, the toll taken on the Earth by industry was seen as being, if not a good thing, at least not a bad thing, the prospects for our “humanity” are a little dim. It makes one think that the general awareness to the issue, or especially its acceptance as an issue, is going to come so far down the line that the reversal of the situation may be impossible. But in keeping with the ethos of this class I will say that the technology itself, devoid of the surveillance capitalism, used mindfully and purposefully, is itself the best chance we have to right these wrongs.

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