A big, sprawling, and alarming case for “the darkening of the digital dream.” This will appeal to specialists; general...

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THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM

THE FIGHT FOR A HUMAN FUTURE AT THE NEW FRONTIER OF POWER

An argument that Google and other internet-based firms are creating a new form of capitalism based on the monetizing of human experience.

“Digital connection is now a means to others’ commercial ends,” writes Zuboff (Business Administration/Harvard Business School; In The Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, 1988). In a 2014 essay, the author first described the “profoundly undemocratic social force” she calls surveillance capitalism. In this exhaustive, often repetitive elaboration, the author defines the concept as “a new market form that claims human experience as a free source of raw material for hidden commercial practices.” Later in the book, she elaborates: “Every casual search, like, and click [becomes] an asset to be tracked, parsed, and monetized by some company.” This relentless search for and use of personal data is not happenstance or an inevitable result of digital technology. Rather, it is a “calculated,” little-noticed pursuit by commercial interests—acting under the guise of a utopian vision for the internet—to create “prediction products” that “anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later” and are traded in the marketplace. Invented by Google, adopted by Facebook and Microsoft, and with evidence that Amazon engages in it, the “unprecedented” market form is poised to become the “dominant” shape of capitalism, abrogating “the peoples’ right to a human future.” The shift from “serving users to surveilling them” occurred at a time of diminished government oversight and regulation and the post–9/11 emphasis on security over privacy. Based on research and interviews, the author thoughtfully examines the economic and philosophical implications of surveillance capitalism; warns that our children, in their ceaseless quest for connectivity, are harbingers of what lies ahead; and urges public outrage over the theft of our humanity. Other topics include Pokémon Go and behaviorist B.F. Skinner and his acolytes.

A big, sprawling, and alarming case for “the darkening of the digital dream.” This will appeal to specialists; general readers will wish it were much shorter.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-569-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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