photo & text by nacrowe
ZUCKED: WAKING UP TO THE FACEBOOK CATASTROPHE (PENGUIN, 2020) is a warning against a dystopian future currently under development whereby various SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISTS like AMAZON, GOOGLE, MICROSOFT and yes, FACEBOOK, are monitoring your online and offline activities in real time and employing behavior modification at scale.
that last part is the real kicker.
the idea that your emotions and behavior can be modified as well as everyone else collectively on the site. to the common end user of a SOCIAL MEDIA platform (TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK) there is an assumption that site is neutral, which is not true. seamless and invisible proprietary algorithms are constantly A/B-ing content to build a more complete psychological profile of the user that is in turn utilized to sell ads to advertisers. essentially the USER IS THE PRODUCT. persuasive technology such as AUTOPLAY/ENDLESS FEEDS, VARIABLE REWARDS, SOCIAL VALIDATION LOOPS and even outright PROPAGANDA is utilized to manipulate you to spend more time on the platform. as the author points out, these "web 2.0 startups focused their technology on the weakest elements of human psychology. They set out to create habits, evolved habits into addictions, and laid the ground work for giant fortunes."
the risk of such on the individual level is that PREFERENCE BUBBLES are established which consist of content and like-minded groups suggested by the algorithm and the reinforce biases and limit conflicting content, effectively creating a self-imposed STOCKHOLM SYNDROME. these PREFERENCE BUBBLES metastasize into FILTER BUBBLES which a dedicated user is often not even cognizant of, their skewed reality no turning into its own TRUMAN SHOW-esque alternative reality.
at scale on a societal level these FILTER BUBBLES are corrosive to national unity and democratic ideals. these networks incentivize extreme positions as such lead to further engagement and the real-world consequences include ethnic and political violence as well as DOMESTIC TERRORISM. it's a harsh dystopian reality we are being lead into with no real choice in the matter. as ZUCKED points out, only "the data consumers give up often accounts for 1 percent" of their total data. that means your search engine searches over time is nothing compare what the SURVEILLANCE CAPITALIST apparatus purchases off of third-parties and monitors utilizing various products throughout the web. it is fascinating and disturbing.
but let me back up for a sec.
the author, ROGER MCNAMEE, is a noted VENTURE CAPITALIST who was an advisor to MARK ZUCKERBERG in the years prior to FACEBOOK's IPO as he was being bid upon by then-competitors like YAHOO.
as much as ZUCKED focuses on the overreach of SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM and the climatic global, political, cultural and social destabilization that such has wrought, it is also equally focused on the ethos that emerged in post-2000 SILICON VALLEY that informed its trajectory.
in essence the tech community in the 2000s benefited from almost 30+ years of innovation that was tempered only by the limitations of the available technological infrastructure (bandwidth, processing power, storage, memory). in the 2000s these obstacles were effectively limitless. before these limitations meant that software developers and engineers had to be elegant, clever and efficient in how they wrote code. in the 2000s you had what is known as the "lean startup" model whereby you could present an ever evolving product and address issues as they emerge via user feedback. most emerging technologies utilized this cost effective model at the time. effectively it meant that little forethought was put into the possible future ramifications of new technologies and potential complications.
along with this new business model were the dual reinforcing ideologies of LIBERTARIANISM and NEOLIBERLAISM.
LIBERTARIANISM is the idea that there should be minimal intervention by the state in the market and private matters. this political stance promoted the idea of the good of the individual over that of the group and essentially absolved the adherent from responsibility from disruptions rooted in their greed. it also promoted a false notion of a MERITOCRACY, that leaders in the SILICON VALLEY were successful and in positions of power due to their own intellect and strategery and not (more likely) inherited wealth or connections. LIBERTARIANISM allowed many white men to promote a FALSE FEEDBACK LOOP that justified conformity and a homogenous workplace along ethnic and gender lines.
related to LIBERTARIANISM is the economic belief system known as NEOLIBERALISM (ubiquitous in both parties since REAGAN ADMINISTRATION), which advocates that markets should replace government as the rule setter of economic activity. you can probably see where this is heading. adherents to NEOLIBERALISM believe as a matter of principle that tech companies (with unmitigated economic, social, cultural, political and psychological influence and power never before seen in the history of mankind) are the sole rightful bearers of policing their own industry. for the most part (EUROPE being the exception) these SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISTS have been allowed to continue unabated from antitrust regulation.
it is a major problem.
luckily books such as this are adding to the chorus of criticism by researchers and academics that hopefully will counter commonly held LIBERTARIAN and NEOLIBERAL stances that were based on a past outdated, pre-digital model of the economy. DEREGULATION was a mistake and we are bearing the fruit of such now.
riveting book that really shook my understanding of myself and my relationship to technology and society. well worth your time to check out and read.
photo & text by nacrowe
you think you know how bad things are with nature, and then you read THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY (PICADOR, 2014) by ELIZABETH KOLBERT, WILLIAMS COLLEGE fellow and staff writer on environment for THE NEW YORKER. and now you are officially overwhelmed and depressed.
where KOLBERT excels is in her ability to provide context to the geological time scale involved in any discussions surrounding the evolution of life and extinctions. the problem is not that change hasn't happened in the past that has resulted in mass extinction, it has. the problem currently is the rate of change. life in this context does not have the time to evolve or adjust to new parameters and the implications are disastrous. it is as if the rules of nature have been one way for millions of years and then humans post-INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION have shifted the climate and environment to the point that old rules dont apply. this emerging geological age we live in now is called the ANTHROPOCENE and it is marked by GLOBAL WARMING, OCEAN ACIDIFICATION, HABITAT FRAGMENTATION, the flattening of global biodiversity through the creation of a NEW PANGEA where foreign predators are introduced via international trade and commerce among other mechanism. in the end they all result in human initiated incursions that are projected to result in an historic sixth mass extinction that will be visible for millions of years via the geological record.
that is not to say that the world wont continue. it will. new speciation and relations between organisms will emerge and continue to run unabated in a future post-human era. it is just that our presence and the collective choices of mankind have resulted, from our inception, in the death of countless species. it is really quite remarkable and it is a testament to her ability as a writer to paint these problems with such crushing force. these mechanism of extinction are all introduced with her describing a visit to a relevant locale (PERU, ICELAND, WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, BRASIL etc.) and elaborating for us about what is special about the plant and animal residents of this era and the unique parameters that brought on their evolution and specialized rituals and adaptations to the area. and then we learn how humans, usually unintentionally, have affected their ability to live. each time in a uniquely destructive manner.
arguably the most depressing thing about this book is that it isnt empowering. it is not about our individual choices that have gotten us here. this destruction is all seemingly hardwired and inevitable. it is essentially part of our nature as humans. as long as we prosper we will continue to impact the planet and these irreversible mechanism will continue to run unabated, destroying life and leaving our world that much less diverse and rich to leave to future generations. it is our creativity and ability to pass on knowledge via communication systems that have led us to live apart from nature, apart from evolution. it is our ability to innovate that led us here. in 500 million years since complex organisms rose up, this is the first mass extinction of geological scale predicated on the influence of a single species.
and that is our true legacy as humans. not art. not technology. just death.
this is an incredible book that i could not recommend any more passionately. it presents deeply disturbing and affecting ideas that linger and claw at you long after finishing the book.