Manifesto for A Surveilled Society

As society has evolved, so has human nature with it. Social participation has a new essential component - the Internet, saturated with commerce that is now subordinate to surveillance capitalism. The moguls behind this know everything there is to know about us, claiming all aspects of human experience as raw-material supplies, achieved under the banner of ‘personalisation’. Meanwhile their operations of observation are designed to be unknowable to us.

The dream to know everything there is to know about a human started with the best of intentions. Hell-bent on empowering citizens with a world of convenience, machines were made that learned the behaviours of its users, creating immense new stores of knowledge and therefore new power - but for whom? The digital dream darkened, and rapidly mutated into a voracious and utterly novel commercial project that drove it to expand, not just into the online realm, but the offline as well. The same algorithms that expropriate your online browsing, likes, and clicks are trained on your run in the park, breakfast conversation, or hunt for a parking space.

But still, it wasn’t enough to know. Knowledge is desirable, but not profitable. No, true power came from predicting the future; intervening in the state of play in order to nudge, coax, tune, and herd behaviour toward profitable outcomes, until one day the machine no longer just knows us, but shapes us. It is no longer enough to automate the information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us.

And so, we are trapped, unable to escape this bold market project, whose tentacles reach from the gentle herding of innocent Pokémon Go players to eat, drink, and purchase in the restaurants, fast-food chains and shops that pay to play in its behavioural futures markets, to the ruthless expropriation of surplus from Facebook profiles for the purposes of shaping individual behaviour, whether it’s buying pimple cream at 5:45pm on a Friday, clicking “yes” on an offer of new running shoes as the endorphins race through your brain after your long Sunday morning run, or voting next week.

Integral to running of this surveillance capitalist system is our dependency; our want of the convenience in exchange for allowing unspecified parties unlimited access to our personal experiences. And we accept it, inured as we are to the realities of being tracked, parsed, mined, and modified. While we rationalise it with claims of “I have nothing to hide”, little do we recognise the threat posed to our abilities as individuals to imagine, intend, promise and construct a future. In order to entertain the very possibility of a human future in a digital world, we must choose whether we wish to be empowered - or enthralled.