In this short video, Zoe Sherman talks about two kinds of surveillance carried out by private actors. One kind is almost inescapable and encompasses all of us but is veiled in the hopes that we won’t notice that we are being surveilled. The other kind is primarily directed at low-wage workers and is designed to intrude on its targets’ consciousness at all times. Neither is new; both have deepened in the COVID-19 era.
Zoe Sherman is an Associate Professor of Economics at Merrimack College and a member of the Dollars & Sense editorial collective. She grew up in the Bronx and has lived in Boston since 1999.
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You can read a full transcript of this video on the website of Dollars & Sense.
Read a review of our book Understanding Marxism by Zoe Sherman.
Zoe Sherman's Sources:
Allyn, Bobby. 2020. “Your Boss Is Watching You: Work-From-Home Boom Leads to More Surveillance.” National Public Radio May 13.
Fischer, Sara. 2020. “Social Media Use Spikes During Pandemic.” Axios April 24.
Forbes. “The World’s Most Valuable Brands.”
Guendelsberger, Emily. 2019. On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Shoshana Zuboff. 2019. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: Public Affairs.
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Showing 3 comments
Consider my 94 year old mother who has a CPap to help her breathe during the night. The attitude of the doctor who prescribed it is, at best, benign neglect. He doesn’t communicate with her, and very friendly (but ultimately limited) nurses meet her once a year. But the thing is that this machine is not user-friendly, and for a 94 year old person, it is a pain in the ass to deal with the so-called innovations which mean, actually, more surveillance of her usage. For, if she doesn’t use it enough, it will be taken away from her.
So, this is an example of both surveillance and neglect. It is neglect because my mother never really gets the help she needs. She needs someone to be there in the evening when she wants to hook up the machine. Neither her hands nor her eyes are as good as the hands and eyes of the doctor who invented the machine, the doctor who prescribed it, or the nurses who provide a bit of help and counseling. And, of course, as everything is increasingly permeated with AI, there’s the logic of pushing the right button that my mother is forced to master—on her own, without any real help. (And I must add that I personally resent the presumption that all the new technology is easy to use. We are forced to take many erroneous steps before actually mastering it. Work has been pushed onto us without our consenting to it in the first place.)
But that’s not all I want to say.
The machine, which she needs if she is to have good sleep, has parts that need to be replaced. And, to get those parts, she has to call some warehouse somewhere in the South (no accident that, as these are anti-union states), where a person who is, as you point out, constantly monitored, must help her. That is, in and of itself, a burden for my mother. She is neither senile nor anti-social, but telephone technology is itself frozen, with the actual speakers in our phones not having improved for many years. So, if it is hard for her to so much as make a phone call, this is on account of social neglect of her age group, not her own unwillingness to learn or make a change. She tries hard to learn, but like all of us, she would benefit from in-person tutoring—something she rarely has. There is literally no one there to help her deal with changes. (The tutorial provided when she first acquired the machine was inadequate, for reasons anyone with imagination can well imagine. We all need help when we actually encounter a problem during our first try. And, then oh yes, she’s supposed to phone someone up, and hope she doesn’t get put on hold….at midnight? No, I don’t thinks so!) Yes, on unusual occcasions, a friendly person who works in her “Senior Home” will help; but it’s too random. She is burdened by this machine.
But the surveillance of the staff at the warehouse, or the supply company means that whoever she speaks to is under pressure, and that does not help my mother.
My main point is to agree and offer further examples, from a different (but I think important) angle. Yes, we are being controlled and watched, all the time. And together with the monetization of our health (my mother’s health) this is creating and has created an inhumane social society in which genuine connections between people are being squeezed away, leaving someone like my mother increasingly isolated and left alone to deal with brutal machines that are not half so intelligent as they are advertised to be.