NSA : Obama, Merkel, and the Bridge to an Information Civilization

  • -Aktualisiert am

Shoshana Zuboff is an U.S.-American economist and emeritus professor for Business Administration at the Havard Business School. For 30 years she has researched the social, psychological, and economical consequences of digitalization. She is author of the forthcoming The Summons: Our Fight for the Soul of an Information Civilization. In 1988 she published the book „In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power“ Bild: Russ Schleipman

On Friday Barack Obama will talk about the future of the NSA. He will have to restore public trust in government. But what will happen if he fails?

          7 Min.

          “We’ve stumbled along for a while, trying to run a new civilization in old ways, but we’ve got to start to make this world over.”

          If these words ring true to you, take heart: We’ve been here before. Thomas Edison wrote them in a 1912 letter to Henry Ford. Edison saw the U.S. poised at the precipice of a new industrial civilization, but instead of exuberance he felt despair.

          Today we stand on the edge of a similar precipice. The world bequeathed by Edison and Ford lies behind us. Now we travel another road to yet a new civilization –– an information civilization that will transform the lives of all peoples. President Obama is expected to endorse changes to the NSA’s surveillance procedures in a long awaited speech at the Justice Department on Friday. 

          What’s at stake is of far greater significance than the NSA, Big Tech, or the politics of the moment.  President Obama has been thrust into the center of the ring in the fight for the soul of the new civilization that will dominate this century. If he uses this opportunity to build a bridge to the future, he will need active support from Chancellor Merkel and other world leaders. But if he falls short, the spotlight will turn to Germany and the EU in search of epochal leadership.

          Edison despaired that without epochal leadership the promise of industrial civilization would be stillborn, silenced by the weight of the old order and its will to power. Rapid industrialization challenged American and European societies beyond their imaginative limits, outstripping their ability to reconcile the avalanche of change with a larger vision of the kind of civilization they wanted. 

          In America, Jeffersonian ideals had turned black with soot as industrial production surged ahead of all competitors.  Despite vast new industrial fortunes, life was short and workdays were long and dangerous for ordinary people. Half of all steelworkers earned less than 18 cents an hour and a third worked seven days a week without overtime pay. A cabinet level Department of Labor, first proposed in 1868, was still a year away.

          Poverty was the norm, and the few dominated the many.  In Germany, where the principles of social law had already taken root, the rise of labor remained deeply contested. The number of organized workers grew from 280,000 in 1890 to 2.5 million in 1914.  Only then did the state finally grant legally secure status to collective bargaining agreements.

          Edison understood that the challenges ahead were not technological but institutional, social, and moral. He decried the “wastefulness” and “cruelty” of the old order as “all wrong, out of gear!” He saw that everything ––laws, business, work, politics, education –– would have to be reinvented if the new technologies were to fulfill their promise for a successful industrial civilization.

          A new revolution

          Today we face similar dilemmas. Information supplants industry as the template of the future, and things we thought were solid turn slippery: industries, jobs, work, education, healthcare, and even the very definitions of our rights, responsibilities, and freedoms. Every institution, practice, purpose, framework, and assumption faces reinvention. Once again the old ways are dying, and it’s hard to imagine what comes next.

          Weitere Themen

          Preisverleihung in Pandemie-Zeiten Video-Seite öffnen

          Oscars 2021 : Preisverleihung in Pandemie-Zeiten

          Wegen der Corona-Pandemie ist bei der 93. Oscar-Gala vieles anders als sonst. Unter anderem wurde sie von Februar auf April verschoben - und sie soll an mehreren Orten stattfinden. Für einige Nominierte hat die Ausnahmesituation aber vielleicht sogar einen Vorteil.


          Bundeskanzlerin Angela  Merkel (CDU) bei der Stimmabgabe am Mittwoch im Bundestag

          Entscheidung im Parlament : Endlich kommt die Notbremse

          Die detailverliebte Kritik an der Bundes-Notbremse greift zu kurz. Das jetzt beschlossene Gesetz bringt politisch endlich Klarheit im Land. Das Wichtigste aber ist, und man wünscht es ihr, dass sie auch wirkt.
          Eine „Black Lives Matter“-Demonstration im August 2020 in London

          Britische Rassismusstudie : Reinwaschung des Sklavenhandels?

          Eine von der britischen Regierung in Auftrag gegebene Studie findet keinen systemischen Rassismus im Land. Von der UN kommt scharfe Kritik. Die Untersuchung schüre Rassismus, heißt es.
          Der Schriftsteller Philip Roth 2010 in New York

          Wettstreit der Biographen : Die Gegenleben des Philip Roth

          Er wünschte sich eine Biographie, die nicht nur seine Sexualität beschreibt. Drei Jahre nach Philip Roths Tod sind zwei erschienen. Erfüllen sie den Wunsch?


          Immer auf dem Laufenden Sie haben Post! Abonnieren Sie unsere FAZ.NET-Newsletter und wir liefern die wichtigsten Nachrichten direkt in Ihre Mailbox. Es ist ein Fehler aufgetreten. Bitte versuchen Sie es erneut.
          Vielen Dank für Ihr Interesse an den F.A.Z.-Newslettern. Sie erhalten in wenigen Minuten eine E-Mail, um Ihre Newsletterbestellung zu bestätigen.