Our resident philosopher Joss is back to discuss this month's theme, 'Choice'. The country music loving writer studied Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham; his interest in critical thinking, psychoanalysis and alternate theory is what makes Joss' work for refreshing and unique. Joss questions whether we can ever be free in a surveillance society, and if market forces ever give us true choice.

Read all about it below.


Have you ever spoke about something with a friend and then just a few minutes later checked your phone and discovered the very same thing is being advertised to you? Or even just paused for a second at an article when scrolling through social media and found yourself bombarded with adverts for that thing you just briefly paused to check out? Make no mistake, we’re being watched, listened to, manipulated. The question is, need we worry?

In the UK we have known for a long time that we live in a surveillance state, we have 5 million CCTV cameras installed in this country. It is very hard to do anything in urban areas without being watched. In this country however, those cameras exist for security purposes. You should really only worry about CCTV if you have something to hide. CCTV is really the tip of the surveillance iceberg though, especially in an age where the cameras are no longer fixed to the wall, but rather in our pockets.

Phones are the new surveillance item par excellence, but I wouldn’t start worrying about an Orwell future just yet. Before we worry about surveillance we first have to ask how it’s used. The phone companies don’t particularly care if you pick your nose, they don’t care if you’re having an extra-marital affair, in fact, they probably don’t even care if you’re cooking up a robbery or a bomb plot. What do they care about? What they can sell you.

We’re more or less used to internet cookies, spam emails and personalised advertising at this point. It’s sold to us as a feature for our own benefit, something to make sure we only see what we want to see. In reality they’re making sure we only see what we might buy into. Is that such a problem? In a sense, no. It just streamlines the advertising experience in an extremely thorough manner. But make no mistake, there’s a bigger picture.

For a long time, the market was at human disposal. The success and failure of major corporations depended on our continued loyalty to McDonalds, Sony, Coca-Cola etc. They were merely a middle man to sell us commodities. They of course revolutionised the advertising game and found new ways to make us eat from their ideologies, but we remained the unknown consumer. We were each different and individually mysterious to these companies. They had no way to know who their regulars were, who was resisting temptation, and who was totally a waste of advertising. Think of a business like a newsagents, when you know your customers you can start to stock products you think will keep them coming, you know how to interact with them, and you know where you can increase your prices without losing business. In other words, when you know your customers you place them in the palm of your hands.

Now, we are not customers at a newsagents, but users of the internet and social media. But it is not Facebook trying to sell us perfume and clothing, YouTube has no personal interest in making us wolf down burgers. The commodities themselves are of little interest to the social media companies, it’s the corporations selling those commodities that want our attention. So where do the social media companies come in? They’re not just selling advertising space, they’re selling personalised advertising space. When Facebook sells that space, they’re not just selling an empty box, they’re selling everything they know about you. In this position, the social media company is the salesperson, the corporations are the buyers, and we are the commodities.

Therein lies the problem of internet profiling, we aren’t just being sold commodities, we’re being transformed into commodities.