Man is ‘proud of his honesty and at the prospect of being continually spied on, controlled, and stalked he responds to the whole world: I have nothing to hide.
If asked, he can say that he is superior to an animal because he is free, he has an individual experience and he has purposes in life. On the other hand, he can see surveillance capitalism deliberately targeting all those elements of his human nature without any concern for being reduced to an animal.
Aside from the impact on his spending, the disadvantages of dealing with insurance companies with knowledge asymmetry, or the loss of political control, what man has to lose with surveillance capitalism is something much greater: his metaphysical essence, his being a teleological animal.
As a teleological animal, man has the following characteristics:
1. Sovereignty of his own experience
2. Sovereignty of the creation of his own needs
3. Sovereignty over his self-interest
Each of them is jeopardized by surveillance capitalism.
1) Loss of sovereignty of one’s own experience.
Individual experience has always been to the advantage of its owner and for this reason, every dominant culture has tried to draw on the personal experience of its dominated. The Christian culture asked the believer to confess his sins in order to atone for them. It was a form of submission, but voluntariness kept the confessed in a position of strength or at least limited weakness.
When with humanism man has placed himself at the center of the universe, psychoanalysis has tried to extract information from the individual to improve man’s relationship with himself and the others. This form of extracting the individual’s experience was even less invasive than confession because basically the individual was moved by the old ‘know thyself updated for therapeutic purposes and treatment was not imposed.
In surveillance capitalism, personal experience becomes a territory of conquest for algorithms capable of transforming a man’s life into a set of data through which to better understand humans in his needs, desires, and actions.
The most remote and inaccessible sanctuary of the individual, his personal experience, becomes a space of ‘free’ access and ‘free’ conquest.
2) Loss of sovereignty over the creation of needs
Man has managed to externalize the satisfaction of needs since the beginning of his human history through technique and technology, but the creation of his own needs was inaccessible until recently. The attempts of antiquity to manipulate the creation of needs were based on the rhetorical arts. Much later, capitalism found in marketing a way to attack the core of human nature, but just superficially. With surveillance capitalism, another stage is reached. The externalization of the creation of needs is completed threatening the anthropological truth of human beings. The needs of an individual are stimulated, manipulated, created by a powerful system of choice architecture.
Observation, control and data processing are able to obtain from humans more information and better knowledge about them than they can have about themselves. This knowledge is aimed at changing the goals they pursue. In 2010, because of a single election-day Facebook message around 340,000 extra voters took part in the US Congressional elections.
The world of ends stops being determined by the owner of a personal experience to become shaped by those who can buy that experience. The need is not created by a cycle of creation and satisfaction consistent with evolutionary laws, but by a manipulative device of the market.
3) Loss of sovereignty over self-interest
In recent centuries, personal interest, as an extension of the self-preservation instinct, center of emanation of human will, and regulating principle of economy and society, has gained a central philosophical position. According to Adam Smith “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. we address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages “.
Since surveillance capitalism considers self-interest a barrier that protects the individual, it engages a battle of interests with it. The constant rummaging of algorithms through personal experience in search of information does not improve the life of the user, if not accidentally. The information is taken from the user and used in the interest of third parties. The manipulation of self-interest leads to the overturning of the principle of classical capitalism. It is no longer self-interest that, through the invisible hand, leads to the good for the society, but the supposed good for the society, namely to benefit the surveillance capitalist that shapes individual self-interest.
The use of Google, Facebook, Amazon, involves a continuous extraction of information from the users. Such information is used to suggest to the user what to buy, where to go, what to do, with an increasing probability of influencing actions, not in the interest of the user, but in the interest of those who buy the data. The personal experience of an individual is no longer for the benefit of those who own it, but for those who are able to extract it, buy it, and use it for their own purposes.
A man deprived of his personal experience as the foundation of sovereignty over himself, stolen off the sovereignty over the creation of his own needs and finally of his self-interest, is destined to become something else, to change anthropologically and metaphysically.