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Saturday, February 23, 2019

An Introduction to ‘Surveillance Capitalism’

It’s a familiar theme now—the threat of Google and Facebook to our common life. And most of us know enough to pace our screen time, to not get caught up in Twitter wars, and so forth. The problem goes so much deeper, according to Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard Business School professor emerita and author of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. After noting “the funk” Silicon Valley was in early on, reviewer Nicholas Carr writes,
Silicon Valley’s Phoenix-like resurrection is a story of ingenuity and initiative. It is also a story of callousness, predation, and deceit. Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff argues in her new book that the Valley’s wealth and power are predicated on an insidious, essentially pathological form of private enterprise—what she calls “surveillance capitalism.” Pioneered by Google, perfected by Facebook, and now spreading throughout the economy, surveillance capitalism uses human life as its raw material. Our everyday experiences, distilled into data, have become a privately owned business asset used to predict and mold our behavior, whether we’re shopping or socializing, working or voting.
But Carr (author of the now well-known internet critique The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains) also acknowledges that
In the choices we make as consumers and private citizens, we have always traded some of our autonomy to gain other rewards. Many people, it seems clear, experience surveillance capitalism less as a prison, where their agency is restricted in a noxious way, than as an all-inclusive resort, where their agency is restricted in a pleasing way.
And thus the paradox of one aspect of our contemporary life.
Two Cheers for Cosmopolitanism
Over the last few months, I’ve linked to articles that defend a healthy nationalism, that is, that it is right and just to give priority to one’s community and nation when thinking about international issues. Such nationalism is biblically defensible in my view, but the Christian can never leave it there. We are called, after all, to go to the uttermost parts of the earth to tell people about Jesus Christ. And we are called, it seems to me, to welcome people from the far corners of the earth to our neighborhoods, partly out of hospitality and partly for evangelistic reasons. For the Christian it is not nationalism or cosmopolitanism, but both/and. In the interests of fair play, here is a fine apology for the cosmopolitan impulse.
Looking for Real Muslims
I’ve been involved in many interfaith dialogues over the years. And when I’m with Muslims, for example, who begin the conversation by saying that all religions are different paths to the same end, I lose interest immediately. On the other hand, the most meaningful and energetic conversations I’ve had are with Muslims who think I’m going to Jahannam, that is, hell. I mean, why bother to be a Muslim, or Christian for that matter, if it doesn’t really make any difference in the end?
At any rate, I thought about this when reading this fine review of Eboo Patel’s Out of Many Faiths. As the review notes, in his effort to help Muslims find common ground with Americans, he gives away too much. Anyway, read more here to see if you agree.
The Night Sky Down Under—Really Under
Okay, we need a break from words. And a time to dream, in this case, of what it would be like to experience night on Antarctica. If this doesn’t help you exclaim with the psalmist, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” well there is no hope for you!
Grace and peace,

Mark GalliMark Galli
Mark Galli
Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

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