A retired Harvard Business School professor explores the challenges to humanity posed by the unprecedented form of power created in the digital age by corporations eager to predict and control our behavior.
... a doorstop of a book, an intensively researched, engagingly written chronicle of surveillance capitalism’s origins and its deleterious prospects for our society ... [The book's contents] may sound a little heady, like perhaps an overseasoned stew of po-mo economic jargon, but Zuboff will have you asking for another helping long before the book’s end ... Zuboff’s capacious book has room for minority opinions and other forms of dissent. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism may lack a straightforward political program — Zuboff comes across as a liberal, albeit not one who slots neatly on the left-right axis — but it is loaded with useful economic, technological and anthropological analysis ... orks of technology criticism are often expected to provide a few hundred pages of doomsaying before providing a concise final chapter in which the Gordian knot of our problems is neatly and improbably cut. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, with its near-700-page footprint, is thankfully not that kind of book.
It’s a testament to how extraordinarily intelligent her book is that by the time I was compared to an elephant carcass, I resisted the urge to toss it across the room ... Zuboff... has a dramatic streak that could come off as simply grandiose if she didn’t so painstakingly make her case ... Zuboff can get overheated with her metaphors; an extended passage with tech executives as Spanish conquistadors and the rest of us as indigenous peoples is frankly ridiculous, even if I can understand how Zuboff thought the phrase 'rivers of blood' would get her urgency across ... Absorbing Zuboff’s methodical determination, the way she pieces together sundry examples into this comprehensive work of scholarship and synthesis, requires patience, but the rewards are considerable — a heightened sense of awareness, and a deeper appreciation of what’s at stake.
Zuboff...was one of a cohort of thinkers to argue that a new era—some called it 'post-industrial,' others 'post-Fordist'—was upon us. It is from within that analysis—and the initial positive expectations it engendered—that Zuboff’s current critique of surveillance capitalism has emerged. It’s also why her latest tome often ventures, in content and language alike, into the turf of the melodramatic ... There’s little doubt that Zuboff’s Copernican revolution is a step backward in our understanding of the dynamics of the digital economy. But even erroneous analytical frameworks can produce beneficial social effects ... Recast as a warning against 'surveillance dataism,' the book holds up quite well. Anti-data-ist prophecy allows Zuboff to deflect accusations of tautology by downplaying explanations related to capitalist imperatives. Instead, she can claim that 'instrumentarian power' actually consolidates a broader political logic—perhaps, of Foucault’s 'governmentality'—which turns capitalist firms into mere pawns in the game of disciplining human behavior.