Invitation to talk: From print capitalism to surveillance capitalism: Mapping the Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Platform Surveillance in Japan

As part of the collaboration of c:o/re with Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Peter Mantello and Alin Olteanu will give a talk entitled “From print capitalism to surveillance capitalism: Mapping the Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Platform Surveillance in Japan” on 6 June 2024 from 1 to 3pm at the National University of Science and Technology in Bucharest, which will shed light on the interaction of technology, AI, philosophy and ethics.

The talk will be broadcasted live on Microsoft teams. Click here to attend online.


We argue that AI surveillance effects the transition from print capitalism to surveillance capitalism. We study this process by looking at konbini surveillance, the role of convenience stores in Japan to act as ‘middleman’ for AI platforms by collecting clients’ biometric data. Through this study, we also ponder on the general concept of technology, and argue that situated cognition theories should construe technology as the mind’s outworking itself into its next state. As such, we contribute to uprooting (post-)Cartesian Reason from philosophy of technology (Clowes 2019). The latter lead to conceptualizing technology as adjacent (see Walter, Stephan 2022), instead of intrinsic to mind, despite historically confusing the print medium with reasoning (Hartley 2012).

Print capitalism (Anderson, 1983 [2006]) refers to the literary marketplace that emerged because of the effects of printing technology to enable mass literacy through public education. In the specific circumstances of modernity, literate publics began to perceive themselves as nations: readers of printed press imagined themselves as monolingual communities that require self-governance.

Surveillance capitalism (Zuboff 2019) refers to the data collecting intrinsic to digital tech corporations, based on claiming human experience as material for translation into machine computable data. It contradicts aspirations of digital democracy. Predicting and shaping behavior, surveillance capitalism leads to behavioral futures marketplaces, exploiting digital connection as a means towards commercial ends.

We see surveillance capitalism as the fulfilment of the requirement of print capitalism to imagine closed communities, obstructing the emergence of a sense of kinship on a global level, or “biosphere consciousness” (Rifkin 2011). As digital mediascapes do not afford imagining nations, surveillance capitalism is an ideological attempt to maintain nation-states as concretized into digital datasets. A community as a dataset is something that (post)digital citizens can imagine.

We illustrate our theory by considering current manifestations of Japanese techno-nationalism as an imagined space that transcends normative understandings of ‘nation’. With Robertson (2022), we consider that Japanese techno-nationalism serves as a model for ushering digital nations, reinforcing imaginaries of nationhood through “kinship technologies” that obstruct the expansion of human empathy beyond previously imagined boundaries. We conceive Japanese techno-nationalism as a computational and algorithmic space tethered to larger digital infrastructures, i.e. platform capitalism(Murakami Wood, Monahan 2019).

If print media (newspapers) are historically responsible for modern understandings of nation, then AI surveillance plays a critical role in writing the socio-technical imaginary of Japanese techno-nationalism. To reflect on this, with a focus on the convenience store (konbini), we employ Lefebvre’s (1991 [1974]) concept of space. Like an increasing number of digitalized social spaces (workplace, transport, entertainment, hospitals, prisons), the konbini as a surveillant exchange disciplines and monetizes (mal)practices of consumption.


Anderson, B. 2006/1983. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Clowes, R. 2019. Immaterial engagement: human agency and the affective ecology of the internet. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 18, 259-279. 

Hartley, J. 2012. Digital futures for cultural and media studies. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Murakami Wood, D., Monahan, T. 2019. Editorial: Platform Surveillance. Surveillance & Society 17(1/2): 1-6.

Lefebvre, H. 1991 [1974]. The production of space. Trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Oxford: Blakcwell.

Rifkin, J. 2011. The third industrial revolution: How lateral power is transforming energy, the economy, and the world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Robertson, J. 2022. Imagineerism: Technology, Robots, Kinship. Perspectives from Japan. In: Bruun, M. H., Wahlberg, A., Douglas-Jones, R., Hasse, C., Hoeyer, K. Kristensen D. B., Winthereik, B. R. Eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Anthropology of Technology. Singapore: Palgrave Macmilan.

Walter, S., Stephan, A. 2022. Situated affectivity and mind shaping: Lessons from social psychology. Emotion Review 15(1): 3-16.

Zuboff, S. 2019. The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. New York: Public Affairs Books.