How Digital Capitalism is Extracting Data, Controlling Our Lives, and Taking Over the World
256 pp., 5 x 8 in, none
- Published: March 17, 2020
- Published: February 21, 2020
Who benefits from smart technology? Whose interests are served when we trade our personal data for convenience and connectivity?
Smart technology is everywhere: smart umbrellas that light up when rain is in the forecast; smart cars that relieve drivers of the drudgery of driving; smart toothbrushes that send your dental hygiene details to the cloud. Nothing is safe from smartification. In Too Smart, Jathan Sadowski looks at the proliferation of smart stuff in our lives and asks whether the tradeoff—exchanging our personal data for convenience and connectivity—is worth it. Who benefits from smart technology?
Sadowski explains how data, once the purview of researchers and policy wonks, has become a form of capital. Smart technology, he argues, is driven by the dual imperatives of digital capitalism: extracting data from, and expanding control over, everything and everybody. He looks at three domains colonized by smart technologies' collection and control systems: the smart self, the smart home, and the smart city. The smart self involves more than self-tracking of steps walked and calories burned; it raises questions about what others do with our data and how they direct our behavior—whether or not we want them to. The smart home collects data about our habits that offer business a window into our domestic spaces. And the smart city, where these systems have space to grow, offers military-grade surveillance capabilities to local authorities.
Technology gets smart from our data. We may enjoy the conveniences we get in return (the refrigerator says we're out of milk!), but, Sadowski argues, smart technology advances the interests of corporate technocratic power—and will continue to do so unless we demand oversight and ownership of our data.
Despite relentless hype, the transition to a 'smart society' has only begun. Still, the power dynamics and infrastructure of this phase of capitalist technopolitics are strangling the future. Jathan Sadowski's Too Smart is the definitive work of reference and resistance—a brilliant and lucid argument for democratizing exclusionary innovation now!
Evan Selinger, Professor of Philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology; coauthor of Re-Engineering Humanity
With Too Smart, Sadowski deftly peels away layers of marketing hype and Silicon Valley dogma—like the protective plastic on a freshly unboxed smartphone—revealing the implications and dangers of the complex systems of capital, surveillance, and control that lie behind our fingerprint-smudged screens.
Tim Maughan, author of Infinite Detail
Sadowski's energetic prose combines an urgent and accessible critique of oppressive technology with a compelling blueprint for a better way forward. Too Smart's 'Ten Theses on Digital Capitalism' range from the clarifying to the revelatory. This imaginative and bracing book is a must-read for anyone interested in the political economy of surveillance capitalism, and the policies and tactics that might control and eventually supplant it.
Frank Pasquale, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Carey School of Law; author of The Black Box Society
This hype- and jargon-free warning deserves a wide welcome.