Market-Driven Behavior

David Bromwich in The New York Times:

BookPaul Roberts thinks a society that wants it now is untenable, and he has written a prophecy to tell us why. He begins “The Impulse Society” with a parable: a visit to a rehab center for online gaming addicts. We come to see a player’s outlook, largely a matter of finding suitable opponents, may be changed by the recognition that there is more to life than that. But are we not all players, Roberts asks, when we surf the web and respond yes or no to the “choices” we are spoon-fed?

Though he writes in a neutral tone, Roberts sees that the dangers are great: “With each transaction and upgrade, each choice and click, life moves closer to us, and the world becomes our world.” Our society, he fears, is in the process of enacting “the merger of self and market.” Part of the merger is involuntary. Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft have supplied consumer data to the government, but Americans were never asked to approve the National Security Agency’s Prism and XKeyscore systems, which can record the movement of Internet users from site to site and the composition of emails from start to finish (including deletions). That extraordinary evolution of surveillance came from government and market together acting as a shepherd without the consent of the sheep. But if we are watched more than we realize, and more than we would like, it is also true that we have acquired an irrepressible eagerness to watch the lives of others. We pay to be the spectators of our own loss of privacy.

More here.