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Shoshan Zuboff on “Big Data” as Surveillance Capitalism
"VII. HOW TO CONSTRUCT A FUTURE THAT WE CAN CALL HOME

Why is it that the declaration of surveillance capitalism has met so little resistance? Searle’s reasoning is a good guide. Agreement? Yes, there were and are plenty of people who think surveillance capitalism is a reasonable business model. (We’ll have to leave why they think so to another discussion.) Authority? Yes. The tech leaders have been imbued with the authority of expertise and idolized as entrepreneurs. Persuasion? Absolutely. All the neoliberal buzzwords of entrepreneurialism, creative destruction, disruption, etc. persuaded many that these developments were right and necessary. A quid pro quo? Yes, powerfully so. The new free services of search and connection were exactly what we needed and have become essential to social participation. When Facebook went down last month, a lot of Americans called 911 (emergency services).

Was there any use of force or other means to foreclose alternatives? No military force was needed. Instead, as the new logic became the dominant business model for online companies and start-ups, it spawned millions of related institutionalized facts— ancillary and intermediary business services, professional specializations, new language, IPOs, tons of cash, network effects, unprecedented concentrations of information power. All these limit our sense that there can be any alternative. And finally, how about a lack of understanding? This is the most salient reason of all. Most people did not and could not appreciate the extent to which the new “facts” depended upon surveillance. This colossal asymmetry of understanding helps explain why Edward Snowden was necessary. Somebody had to be Ed Snowden

What kind of resistance has been offered and why has it failed to stop the spread of surveillance capitalism? Here I depart from Searle in order to introduce two distinct varieties of declaration that I think can help us understand more about how the future unfolds. I suggest that the kind of resistance that has been offered so far takes the form of what I call the “counter-declaration.” A counter-declaration is defensive. It addresses the institutional facts asserted by the declaration. The process of countering seeks to impose constraints or achieve compromise, but it does not annihilate the contested fact. In addressing those facts, it invariably increases their power. Negotiation inevitably legitimates the other. This is why many governments refuse to negotiate with terrorists. As Searle noted, even talking about something or referring to it increases its reality by treating it as a thing that is already real. It’s a classic quick-sand situation in that the more you fight it, the more it sucks you in.

What are examples of counter-declarations? Google and other Internet companies have been the targets of many privacy-related lawsuits. Some of these efforts have imposed real constraints, such as prohibiting Google Street View cars to extract personal data from computers inside homes, or the class action that resulted in Facebook’s suspension of its invasive “Beacon” program. Legal actions like these can limit certain practices for a time, but they do not topple the institutionalized facts of surveillance capitalism in the target or other companies. Encryption is another counter-declaration. When we encrypt, we acknowledge the reality of the thing we are trying to evade. Rather than undoing that reality, encryption ignites an arms race with the very thing it disputes. Privacy tools like “opt out” or “do not track” are another example. When I click on “do not track,” what I am really saying is “do not track me.” My choice does not stop the company from tracking everyone else.

I want to be clear that I am not critical of counter-declarations. They are necessary and vital. We need more of them. But the point I do want to make is that counter-declarations alone will not stop this train. They run a race that they can never win. They may lead to a balance of power, but they will not in and of themselves construct an alternative to surveillance capitalism.

What will enable us to move forward in a new way? As I see it, we will have to move on to a new kind of declaration that I am calling a “synthetic declaration.” By this I mean a declaration that synthesizes the opposing facts of declaration and counter-declaration. It arises from— and draws to it —new and deeper wellsprings of collective intentionality. It asserts an original vision. If the counter-declaration is check, the synthetic declaration is checkmate.

Does information capitalism have to be based on surveillance. No. But surveillance capitalism has emerged as a leading version of information capitalism. We need new synthetic declarations to define and support other variants of information capitalism that participate in the social order, value people, and reflect democratic principles. New synthetic declarations can provide the framework for a new kind of double movement appropriate to our time.

Are there examples? There are glimmers. The past year brought us Ed Snowden, who asserted a new reality at great personal sacrifice by claiming this to be a world in which the information he provided should be shared information. Wikileaks has also operated in this spirit. The EU Court’s decision on the right to be forgotten points in the direction of a synthetic declaration by establishing new facts for the online world. (In my view, it also faltered, perhaps inadvertently, by also establishing new facts that grant Google inappropriate new powers.

Mathias Doepfner’s open letter to Google chairperson Eric Schmidt, published in FAZ last spring, called for a synthetic declaration in the form of a unique European narrative of the digital, one that is not subjugated to the institutional facts asserted by the Internet giants.

Indeed, I think it can be said that the German people are now drawing on their unique historical experience to produce their own synthetic declaration that insists on a different kind of digital future. Note that The Economist just published an article titled “Googlephobia in Germany.” The aim of such language is to suggest that it’s neurotic and therefore irrational to oppose Google’s practices. It’s a classic counter-declaration that reveals the powerful effect of Germany’s new thinking. The real fear is that Germany might produce a synthetic declaration that opens a space for alternative forms of information capitalism to flourish.

I am mindful of a long list of demands that were damned as “neurotic” and unreasonable in America a century ago, as the contest over 20th century capitalism accelerated: labor unions, a living wage, business regulation, racial equality, womens’ right to vote, a high school education…. For anyone who thinks Germany’s concerns are “phobic,” one need only recall the revelations less than a year ago that the NSA was spying on Joaquin Almunia, the EU official who presides over the Google antitrust case. Or the recently published emails that provide fresh glimpses of the collaborative relationship between the NSA and Google. And should we mention that Google’s chairperson, Schmidt, also sits on the board of the Economist Group?

Our world sorely needs more —and more comprehensive—synthetic declarations that point us in a wholly new direction. We need new facts that assert the primacy of humanity, the dignity of the person, the bonds of democratic community strengthened by individual empowerment and knowledge, and the well being of our planet. This does not mean that we should construct utopias. Rather, it means that we should draw upon the authentic promise of the digital— the promise that we grasped before Ed Snowden entered history.

In the shadow and gloom of today’s institutional facts, it has become fashionable to mourn the passing of the democratic era. I say that democracy is the best our species has created so far, and woe to us if we abandon it now. The real road to serfdom is to be persuaded that the declarations of democracy we have inherited are no longer relevant to a digital future. These have been inscribed in our souls, and if we leave them behind— we abandon the best part of ourselves. If you doubt me, try living without them, as I have done. That is the real wasteland, and we should fear it."
soshanazuboff  via:steelemaley  2014  bigdata  declarations  internet  web  online  edwardsnowden  joaquinalmunia  hannaharendt  hamesburnham  frankschirrmacher  germany  europe  advertising  capitalism  surveillancecapitalism  surveillance  privacy  democracy  counterdeclarations  feedom  courage  law  legal  dataexhaust  data  datamining  google 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Aesthetics of Dispersed Attention: Interview with German Media Theorist Petra Löffler :: net critique by Geert Lovink
"GL: You got a fascinating chapter in your habilitation about early cinema and the scattering of attention it would be responsible for. The figure of the nosy parker that gawks interests you and you contrast it to the street roaming flaneur.

PL: Yes, the gawker is a fascinating figure, because according to my research results it is the corporation of the modern spectator who is also a member of a mass audience––the flaneur never was part of it. The gawker or gazer, like the flaneur, appeared at first in the modern metropolis with its multi-sensorial sensations and attractions. According to Walter Benjamin the flaneur disappeared at the moment, when the famous passages were broken down. They had to make room for greater boulevards that were able to steer the advanced traffic in the French metropolis. Always being part of the mass of passers-by the gawker looks at the same time for diversions, for accidents and incidents in the streets. This is to say his attention is always distracted between an awareness of what happens on the streets and navigating between people and vehicles. No wonder movie theatres were often opened at locations with a high level of traffic inviting passers-by to go inside and, for a certain period of time, becoming part of an audience. Furthermore many films of the period of Early Cinema were actualities showing the modern city-life. In these films the movie-camera was positioned at busy streets or corners in order to record movements of human and non-human agents. Gawkers often went into the view of the camera gesticulating or grimacing in front of it. That’s why the gawker has become a very popular figure mirroring the modern mass audience on the screen.

Today to view one’s own face on a screen is an everyday experience. Not only CCTV-cameras at public spaces record passers-by, often without their notice. Also popular TV-shows that require life-participation such as casting shows once more offer members of the audience the opportunity to see themselves on a screen. At the same time many people post their portraits on websites of social networks. They want to be seen by others because they want to be part of a greater audience––the network community. This is what Jean Baudrillard has called connectivity. The alliance between the drive to see and to being seen establishes a new order of seeing which differs significantly from Foucault’s panoptical vision: Today no more the few see the many (panopticon) or the many see the few (popular stars)––today, because of the multiplication and connectivity of screens in public and private spaces, the many see the many. Insofar, one can conclude, the gawker or gazer is an overall-phenomenon, a non-specific subjectivity of a distributed publicity."



"GL: I can imagine that debates during the rise of mass education, the invention of film are different from ours. But is that the case? It is all pedagogy, so it seems. We never seem to leave the classroom.

PL: The question is, leaving where? Entering the other side (likewise amusement sites or absorbing fantasies)? Why not? Changing perspectives? Yes, that’s what we have to do. But for that purpose we don’t have to leave the classroom necessarily. Rather, we should rebuilt it as a room of testing modes of thinking in very concrete ways. I’m thinking of Jacques Rancière’s suggestions, in his essay Le partage du sensible, about the power relation between teachers and pupils. Maybe today teachers can learn more (for instance soft skills) from their pupils than the other way around. We need other regimes of distribution of power, also in the classroom, a differentiation of tasks, of velocities and singularities—in short: we need micropolitics.

More seriously, your question indicates a strong relationship between pedagogy and media. There’s a reason why media theorists like Friedrich Kittler had pointed to media’s affinity to propaganda and institutions of power. I think of his important book Discourse Networks, where he has revealed the relevance of mediated writing techniques for the formation of educational institutions and for subjectivation. That’s why the question is, what are the tasks we have to learn in order to exist in the world of electronic mass media? What means ‘Bildung’ for us nowadays?

GL: There is an ‘attention war’ going on, with debates across traditional print and broadcast media about the rise in distraction, in schools, at home. On the street we see people hooked on their smart phones, multitasking, everywhere they go. What do you make of this? This is just a heightened sensibility, a fashion, or is there really something at stake? Would you classify it as petit-bourgeois anxieties? Loss of attention as a metaphor for threatening poverty and status loss of the traditional middle class in the West? How do you read the use of brain research by Nicholas Carr, Frank Schirrmacher and more recently also the German psychiatrist Manfred Spitzer who came up with a few bold statement concerning the devastating consequences of computer use for the (young) human brain. Having read your study one could say: don’t worry, nothing new under the sun. But is this the right answer?

PL: Your description addresses severe debates. Nothing less than the future of our Western culture seems to be at stake. Institutions like the educational systems are under permanent critique, concerning all levels from primary schools to universities. That’s why the Pisa studies have revealed a lot of deficits and have provoked debates on what kind of education is necessary for our children. On the one hand it’s a debate on cultural values, but on the other it’s a struggle on power relations. We are living in a society of control, and how to become a subject and how this subject is related to other subjects in mediated environments are important questions.

A great uncertainty is emerged. That’s why formulas that promise easy solutions are highly welcomed. Neurological concepts are often based on one-sided models concerning the relationship between body and mind, and they often leave out the role of social and environmental factors. From historians of science such as Canguilhem and Foucault one can learn that psychiatrist models of brain defects and mental anomalies not only mirror social anxieties, but also produce knowledge about what is defined as normal. And it is up to us as observers of such discourses to name those anxieties today. Nonetheless, I would not signify distraction as a metaphor. It is in fact a concrete phase of the body, a state of the mind. It’s real. You cannot deal with it when you call it a disability or a disease and just pop pills or switch off your electronic devices."
via:litherland  attention  distraction  2013  petralöffer  geertlovink  walterbenjamin  flaneur  gawkers  cities  internet  audience  diaphanesverlag  montaigne  albertkümmel  siegfriedkracauer  frankfurterschule  kant  tibot  psychology  daydreaming  media  mediaarchaeology  richardshusterman  film  micropolitics  friederichkittler  education  subjectivation  massmedia  bildung  nicholascarr  sherryturkle  frankschirrmacher  culture  values  culturalvalues  brain  bernardstiegler  socialmedia  marketing  entertainment  propaganda  deepreading  petersloterdijk  mindfulness  self-control  mediatheory  theory  theodoradorno  weimar  history  philosophy  reading  writing  data  perception  siegfriedzielinski  wolfgangernst  bernhardsiegert  erhardschüttpelz  francoberardi  andrewkeen  jaronlanier  howardrheingold  foucault  micheldemontaigne  michelfoucault 
october 2013 by robertogreco

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