David BECK analyzes technological issues from a political, economic and management perspective.

From digital globalism to capitalism technologicus

David BECK Academic - Society, Politics & Techology

The digital revolution, triggered by the massive adoption of information technologies and the global interconnection of information and communication systems, has accelerated dramatically over the past two decades. It has brought about a profound upheaval in the social, economic and political practices of human societies, even greater than the ruptures engendered by the invention of writing and printing.

Digital globalization

Digital transformation affects every aspect of society, and has given rise to a new space for communication and information sharing: cyberspace. Its characteristic feature is that it frees itself from traditional borders between states – be they territorial or political – and overturns the notion of space-time. Cyberspace has become a space of struggle and power relations. Digital platforms are based on technologies and an organizational logic founded on re-intermediation and data-ification, transforming users into agents of production and consumption.

Let’s transpose to the digital space the concepts on which the independence of a state is built: population, territories, power and political legitimacy.

  • The data on display is the reflection of goods and people in digital space. This data is captured by the tools we use. The quid pro quo for the services we enjoy without paying in cash is in digital form, in data.
  • It’s often said that digital technology has abolished territory, that there are no longer any borders with the notions of cloud computing. Data is on earth, on a territory where laws apply.
  • In the physical world, the notion of power refers to economic, military and cultural power.[1]. In the digital world, power is represented by the computing and storage capacities of infrastructures. It also includes the people who know how to design and operate digital tools.
  • States are built around election and membership. In the digital world, membership is embodied in the acceptance of cookies and general conditions of use. These formalities of consent can be likened to a form of voluntary submission.

Technological capitalism

Global capitalism is the fourth and current epoch of capitalism. What distinguishes it from earlier eras of mercantile capitalism, classical capitalism and national corporate capitalism is that the system, previously administered by and within nations, now transcends nations and is therefore transnational or global in scope.

Globalization is an ongoing process involving interconnected changes in the economic, cultural, social and political spheres of society. These fundamental aspects of globalization are fueled by technological development, the worldwide integration of communication technologies and the global distribution of media.[2] This globalization is epitomized by the Anglo-Saxon countries, where the influence of Protestant ethics – and especially Puritanism – on the development of the capitalist spirit is pervasive.

A form of capitalism has emerged, sometimes described as “cultural”, sometimes as “cognitive”, but which is above all the devastating organization of an industrial populism that takes advantage of every technological evolution to turn the seat of the mind into a mere reflex organ: a brain reduced to the level of a collection of neurons, a brain without consciousness.

Bernard Stiegler, Reenchanting the world. The value esprit contre le populisme industriel, 2008

The emergence of multinational digital platforms, particularly in the U.S., organizing the interaction of a multiplicity of companies and consumers, is giving unprecedented impetus to the construction of a new ecosystem driven by a constant flow of information innovations.

Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism describes how global technology companies such as Google and Facebook have persuaded us to give up our privacy in the name of convenience; how personal information (data) collected by these companies has been used by others not only to predict our behavior, but also to influence and modify it; and how this has had disastrous consequences for democracy and freedom.

Long before the emergence of the Internet, anything that could be translated into information would be – exchanges, events, objects – and data flows were used wherever possible for surveillance and control. The digital revolution turned into a rogue mutation marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge and power unprecedented in human history. Google has admitted to scanning private correspondence on its Gmail network for personal information. Facebook’s business model has been based on capturing and accessing personal information.

Big tech sells certainty to commercial customers who would like to know with certainty what we are doing. They want to know how much they can get from us in an exchange. It’s a movement based on predictive algorithms, mathematical calculations of human behavior and automatic emotion recognition techniques. These companies want to know how we’re going to behave, so they know how best to intervene in our behavior. The best way to make predictions desirable to their customers is to ensure that they come true. This is behavior modification.

In 2012 and 2013, Facebook conducted large-scale contagion experiments to see if they could affect emotions and behaviors in the real world, without users being aware of it. Some have also proposed that choice architecture – “nudges” and “coaxes” – can be beneficial to society, provided they are used wisely. Behavioral economists have legitimized nudge. These companies claim human experience as raw material to be translated into behavioral data.

Shoshana Zuboff defines “surveillance capitalism” as a “new economic order” and “an expropriation of essential human rights that is best understood as a coup d’état from above”. Different types of platform can coexist and delineate contrasting reconfigurations of the modern world: market-led platform capitalism in the USA, a panoptic control society in China, while ideally the European Union aims to convert information into a global commons, monitored by citizens.

[1] soft power

[2] https://www.greelane.com/fr/science-technologie-math%C3%A9matiques/sciences-sociales/globalization-definition-3026071

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