Cory Doctorow
Published in
109 min readAug 26, 2020
Illustrations: Shira Inbar

Editor’s Note: Surveillance capitalism is everywhere. But it’s not the result of some wrong turn or a rogue abuse of corporate power — it’s the system working as intended. This is the subject of Cory Doctorow’s new book, which we’re thrilled to publish in whole here on OneZero. This is how to destroy surveillance capitalism.

Update: Paperback and e-reader editions of the book, each with an extra print-only chapter, are now available — you can get a copy here.

The net of a thousand lies

The most surprising thing about the rebirth of flat Earthers in the 21st century is just how widespread the evidence against them is. You can understand how, centuries ago, people who’d never gained a high-enough vantage point from which to see the Earth’s curvature might come to the commonsense belief that the flat-seeming Earth was, indeed, flat.

But today, when elementary schools routinely dangle GoPro cameras from balloons and loft them high enough to photograph the Earth’s curve — to say nothing of the unexceptional sight of the curved Earth from an airplane window — it takes a heroic effort to maintain the belief that the world is flat.

Likewise for white nationalism and eugenics: In an age where you can become a computational genomics datapoint by swabbing your cheek and mailing it to a gene-sequencing company along with a modest sum of money, “race science” has never been easier to refute.

We are living through a golden age of both readily available facts and denial of those facts. Terrible ideas that have lingered on the fringes for decades or even centuries have gone mainstream seemingly overnight.

When an obscure idea gains currency, there are only two things that can explain its ascendance: Either the person expressing that idea has gotten a lot better at stating their case, or the proposition has become harder to deny in the face of mounting evidence. In other words, if we want people to take climate change seriously, we can get a bunch of Greta Thunbergs to make eloquent, passionate arguments from podiums, winning our hearts and minds, or we can wait for flood, fire, broiling sun, and pandemics to make the case for us. In practice, we’ll probably have to do some of both: The more we’re boiling and burning and drowning and wasting away, the easier it will be for the Greta Thunbergs…