Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han is a slim volume at just 87 pages. The writing, a translation from German by Erik Butler, is a mix of philosophical-sociological essay and creative prose that engages the reader in an experience (Erfahrung). Reading this book is a removal from everyday experiencing (Erlebnis); it demands a certain attention. Indeed the effect is to pull you from systematic and patterned ways of being. To force you to pause and reflect on our modern digitally augmented world.
Han’s book provides insight into current events—Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Russian propaganda, etc.—Big Data is the new Big Brother and it is Big Business. All of our sharing, all of our liking, all of the tracking of our every digitally connected movement (both voluntary and involuntary) has created the digital panopticon. We are transparent, we are quantified, we are stored and retrieved, we are added and reduced. We are packages of data to be bought and sold. But, Big Data is a Smart Power. It is friendly and it is Likeable. The power of Big Data is that it knows us and increasingly it can shape and predict our behavior.
This is the age digital psychopolitics; the “passing from passive surveillance to active steering.” And with it comes a crisis of freedom. We lack control over our own information and we do not know how it is being used. Yet, we feel that we are free. We are encouraged to express ourselves, to make our preferences known, to have fun and play games. Part of the crisis of freedom is the exploitation of our freedom; we are producers of digital Capital.
We are subjugating our freedom to digital devotion. The handheld smartphone “works like a rosary …[and a]… confessional,” and both “serve the purpose of self-monitoring and control.” “Facebook,” writes Han, “is the church. …Like is the digital Amen.”
For anyone who is seeking a different church: read this book.