Just about any social need is now met with an opportunity to "connect" through digital means. But this convenience is not free—it is purchased with vast amounts of personal data transferred through shadowy backchannels to corporations using it to generate profit. The Costs of Connection uncovers this process, this "data colonialism," and its designs for controlling our lives—our ways of knowing; our means of production; our political participation.
Colonialism might seem like a thing of the past, but this book shows that the historic appropriation of land, bodies, and natural resources is mirrored today in this new era of pervasive datafication. Apps, platforms, and smart objects capture and translate our lives into data, and then extract information that is fed into capitalist enterprises and sold back to us. The authors argue that this development foreshadows the creation of a new social order emerging globally—and it must be challenged. Confronting the alarming degree of surveillance already tolerated, they offer a stirring call to decolonize the internet and emancipate our desire for connection.
About the authors
Nick Couldry is Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Ulises A. Mejias is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Director of the Institute for Global Engagement at the State University of New York, College at Oswego.
"A profound exploration of how the ceaseless extraction of information about our intimate lives is remaking both global markets and our very selves. The Costs of Connection represents an enormous step forward in our collective understanding of capitalism's current stage, a stage in which the final colonial input is the raw data of human life. Challenging, urgent, and bracingly original."
—Naomi Klein, Gloria Steinem Chair of Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies, Rutgers University
"A provocative tour-de-force. A powerful interrogation of the power of data in our networked age. Through an enchanting critique of different aspects of our data soaked society, Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias invite the reader to reconsider their assumptions about the moral, political, and economic order that makes data-driven technologies possible."
—danah boyd, Microsoft Research and founder of Data & Society
"There's a land grab occurring right now, and it's for your data and your freedom: companies are not only surveilling you, they're increasingly influencing and controlling your behavior. This paradigm-shifting book explains the new colonialism at the heart of modern computing, and serves as a needed wake-up call to everyone who cares about our future relationship with technology."
—Bruce Schneier, author of Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World
"Couldry and Mejias have written a profoundly important book, demonstrating the lasting value of social theory to the interpretation (and improvement) of our new digital reality. They deeply understand the nature of platform capitalism. They draw striking and rigorously reasoned parallels between modern tech giants and the firms and governments that exploited colonies in centuries past. And they advance an agenda for decolonizing data that promotes a healthier ecology of online interaction. This book is an essential guide to understanding the depths of the crises in data protection, privacy, and automation that we now face."
—Frank Pasquale, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Carey School of Law
"Couldry and Mejias show that data colonialism is not a metaphor. It is a process that expands many dark chapters of the past into our shiny new world of smartphones, smart TVs, and smart stores. This book rewards the reader with important historical context, fascinating examples, clear writing, and unexpected insights scattered throughout."
—Joseph Turow, University of Pennsylvania
"This book is a must-read for those grappling with how the global data economy reproduces long-standing social injustice, and what must be done to counter this phenomenon. With a feast of insights embedded in visceral historical and contemporary illustrations, the authors brilliantly push the reader to rethink the relations between technology, power, and inequality."
—Payal Arora, author of The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West
"This is a deeply critical engagement with the systems that enable 'data colonialism' to extend its reach into the past, present and future of human life itself. Couldry and Mejias provide a comprehensive and well-considered challenge to the seeming inevitability of this transformative development in capitalism. Theirs is a giant step forward along the path toward rediscovering the meaning and possibility of self-determination. It is not too late to join in!"
—Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., Emeritus Professor, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania
"This book is among the most insightful and important contributions to our understanding of the political economy of data and the 'internet of things.' It brings together historical analysis, critical theory, and a trenchant sense of urgency to reveal what's really at stake as we choose to send information through everything and connect our bodies and minds to streams of data."
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
"Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias go digging deeply into the digital: its spaces, its layers, its deployments. One of their guiding efforts concerns what it actually takes to have this digital capacity in play. It is not an innocent event: it is in some ways closer to an extractive sector, and this means there is a price we pay for its existence."
—Saskia Sassen, author of Expulsions
"The authors effectively blend their particular skills: Couldry applies critical theory to the transformation of media, and Mejias concentrates on the failings of social media to affect political change. Those studying political science, information technology, and communications at the undergraduate level will grapple with the authors' arguments about whether data can be colonized and exploited in the same way labor and resources were under traditional forms of colonialism. Highly recommended."
—H. L. Katz, CHOICE
"In contrast to other recent authors who see this collection of data for profit as a new type of capitalism...Couldry and Mejias argue that what is taking place under data colonialism is merely the extension of capitalism as it has developed over the last two centuries....Where the book shines is in using the theory underpinning the idea of data colonialism to articulate sites of resistance."
—Laura Carter, LSE Review of Books
"The process of data colonialism is a highly useful analytical framework for understanding the ever-growing role of data in modern life. Couldry and Mejias consider this framework within a truly global scope and provide a highly approachable text that synthesizes economics, history, and media studies scholarship."
—Ben Pettis, Critical Studies in Media Communication
"In this provocative, consequential book, Couldry and Mejias theorize the dynamics of change in contemporary capitalism as grounded in a new form of data colonialism....[The authors] delineate intriguing parallels between historical processes of colonial expansion by taking over land and other natural resources and contemporary processes of mining personal data as inputs for capitalism."
—Sara Schoonmaker, Social Forces
"Couldry and Mejias are fitting the internet, in all its 'now-now-now' insistence, into a much broader sweep of history than other commentators on the digital era have attempted."
—Wendy M. Grossman, ZDNet
"the book shares the core ambition of . . . Shoshana Zuboff's (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Yet, arguably, by advancing the lens of data colonialism and drawing heavily on Marxist social theory, Couldry and Mejias have a more radical critique of capitalism in mind, one that historically ties it to colonialist efforts an appropriating, exploiting and controlling resources, redistributing benefits and spreading specific ideologies. . . . What is instead at stake, argue Couldry and Mejias, is a shift in the raw material that capitalism is appropriating and controlling: it is human life itself. . . . the major strength of the argument lies in a rich theoretically driven narrative that weaves together multiple strands of classic social theory – from Marx and Foucault to decolonial theory – and connects them with contemporary analyses of data justice and the legal-commercial complex regarding personal data."
—Stine Lomborg, European Journal of Communication
"[O]ne of the foundational texts that first proposed a 'data colonialism.'"
—Karen Hao, MIT Techology Review