• John Ennis

Book Review - The Age of Surveillance Capitalism


This week's review is of "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power," by Shoshana Zuboff. This profound book opened my eyes to the secondary markets in predictive analytics that are powering the explosion of wealth and power within the tech sector. These markets are powered by the capture of what is sometimes referred to as "exhaust data" but what Zuboff more correctly refers to as "behavioral surplus," within an economic paradigm that Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism." Although these secondary markets are mostly concealed from public view, Zuboff convincingly argues they are having a strong and net negative effect on our lives.


The book is approximately 600 pages long, so it is an investment to read, but the mental model Zuboff provides is well worth the effort required to receive it. The unprecedented nature of surveillance capitalism means that modern society is not well-prepared to protect itself, in much the same way that 19th-century society was not well-prepared to protect itself against industrial capitalism and that 20th-century society was not well-prepared to protect itself against totalitarianism. Consequently, as many people as possible must educate themselves about what is dangerous about this new breed of capitalism so that society can course correct through regulation and legislation lest what Zuboff calls the "division of learning" between tech elites and general members of society becomes so great as to become insurmountable.


The book, though engrossing, was not an easy read, and it was probably unnecessarily long. Nonetheless, the originality of thought and the quality of analysis were both so high that the book's weaknesses are easily forgiven. My advice is to get the book on audiobook and to gradually dial up the speed to help cope with the book's length. You won't be disappointed at the effort required to finish the book - when you've completed it you'll have an entirely new lens through which to perceive what's happening in the tech sector and, more generally, in society. You won't be pleased with what you learn to see, but you'll be more aware.


Review Score: 5 stars out of 5

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