Op-Ed: The metaverse and surveillance capitalism
Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, published his book Propaganda in 1928. This text was considered innovative at the time and raises the importance of opinion leaders and persuasive messages to mobilize individuals, influence their behaviors and habits of speech. consumption.
Twenty-one years later, George Orwell published the famous 1984, a dystopian novel set in a totalitarian regime where all citizens of Oceania — a fictional state — were constantly watched by reality TV monitors. In 2003, a young Harvard University student together with his friends created a network to connect his friends at different universities called FaceMash.
In 2004 it was called Facebook and since 2006 it has been present in our lives as a reality TV monitor. Now he tries to sell us a new “reality:” a metaverse.
Bernays applied concepts from psychology to develop a new theory of needs, which in turn gave way to new modes of consumption. Bernays theorized that mass manipulation strategies (such as propaganda) could have useful ends for society. He believed that the judgment of all people could not be trusted, so they had to be guided or influenced without them realizing it.
Manipulation for economic — consumer —and political purposes were fertile seed for advertising. Bernays’ strategies created “needs” like smoking, a new car every few years, and influenced women’s suffrage, among others. The commercial potential of Bernays’ ideas quickly impacted many companies. There was a need to know the public to create a need and generate sales.
Although Bernays was the architect of needs, social networks have been a reality TV monitor for them. Today we all carry a Big Brother in our pockets. We need to be connected and share. What is well-intentioned shared on the networks becomes matter to be monetized. With each “like”, “share” or purchase we leave a trace.
The business model of social networks consists of extracting data from us and marketing with it. If you have a Facebook account, information such as your phone number and date of birth are more than enough to generate targeted ads that reach you immediately and persuade you to consume. There is an entire industry around the influence that a few have over many in the networks. The data economy goes beyond obtaining our personal information and selling it.
The vigilance that these have on our daily habits as consumers is omnipresent. Those who buy the data from these companies don’t always have the best of intentions. And this is where data intersects with consumer manipulation in a digital economy to make way for a new capitalist surveillance system where people are worth based on the data that can be obtained from them.
A month ago, Facebook and the eyewear company Ray Ban unveiled a new joint project: glasses that record video and take photos alone while the person walks. You can also listen to music through them and even answer phone calls. This was a prelude to another announcement.
A few weeks ago the founder of Facebook presented the metaverse. Now a new need has been created to interact in a universe like that proposed by Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash and from where the name was taken.
Fiction is no longer fiction. We live in an Orwellian world. Privacy does not exist. We are a collection of data that goes beyond the demographic. We will interact in a metaphorical reality where we will leave a trace. We produce data from the time we get up until we go to bed.
We are raw material for surveillance capitalism.