In her new book, Shoshanna Zuboff argues that, in order to be realistic, “it is necessary to distinguish between capitalism and surveillance capitalism.”
Surveillance capitalism, she says, is a new kind of power structure, resulting from an elite coup d’etat against regular-old corporate capitalism. Here is how Zuboff defines the break:
When a firm collects behavioral data with permission and solely as a means to service or product improvement, it is committing capitalism, but not surveillance capitalism.
The question this raises is when it was that major businesses started collecting behavioral data without permission in order to do something other than objectively improve their products.
The answer, of course, is: Exactly as soon as they could — meaning a long time before the AMGAF (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook) complex came into existence.
By 1923, Frederick Winslow Taylor‘s acolytes were giving corporate planners lectures on the need to apply Taylor’s methods to the task of “sales engineering.”
According to corporate management’s at-the-time self-reporting, by the 1950s, the idea had reached fruition, triggering what is now known, in standard business history, as the “marketing revolution.”
The engine of that revolution? Boilerplate corporate capitalism, a.k.a. profit-seeking under the new-and-improved, entirely normal-capitalist conditions made possible by the Corporate Revolution of the 1880s.
Both ever-expanding data scraping and treatment of products as sales-maximizing, behavior-conditioning stimuli were elementary marketing priorities from Day One of the Marketing Era. Both pre-date, clearly and massively, the inevitable emergence of AMGAF.
Funny, then, that in this book’s 531 pages, Zuboff does not discuss big business marketing! I mean, the word “marketing” does not appear in the book’s index!
Hence, despite the many useful arguments and facts Zuboff provides in this work, the thing is a giant red herring, an effort to make hair-splitting look like brain surgery.
Big business marketing is really a rather amazing institution. The main engine of national and global culture and a plain and direct outgrowth of our socio-economic order, it is somehow so ideologically well-insulated that almost nobody can bring themselves to mention, let alone analyze, it.