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  • Extreme Capitalism:The Absurd Performance of Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc
  • Charlotte Kent (bio)

The current conversation around synthetic image and text generators scraping content from the internet for their large data sets recalls the concerns expressed a decade ago by scholars, technologists, and artists about data extraction processes of browsers, social media sites, and other corporate entities seeking to better target consumers. Debates about data as property or labor contributed to the establishment of the General Data Protection Regulation by the European Union, but the United States continues to allow insidious tracking. The age of surveillance capitalism, as SHOSHANA ZUBOFF famously titled her book, depends on data extraction architectures that disempower human persons even as they inflate corporate persons.1

In 2014, artist Jennifer Lyn Morone decided to protect her personal data by registering herself as a corporation: Jennifer Lyn Morone™ Inc (hereafter, JLM™ Inc). The business operates as a self-contained data processing industry of herself. She aims to refute corporations' instrumentalization of her online activity as

both the subject and orchestrator, adopting capitalist mentality and corporate strategy and applying them to the individual for self-exploitation. [End Page 517]

This is to challenge how far capitalism can go, the extent that privacy is being invaded, and questions what is the value of a human in relation to society and as a data generating organism.2

She calls the project Extreme Capitalism.

JLM™ Inc protects the data of Jennifer Lyn Morone (hereafter, Morone) the person because the articles of her incorporation enable her data to qualify as intellectual property and thus gain protections from extraction architectures within the data marketplace (see fig. 1).

As JLM™ Inc, she has an obligation to refuse the Terms and Conditions that allow tech companies to absorb her data through various apps, free services, and other offerings. Her first priority must be protecting the secret formula of who she is so that she can sell it. The inability to sign most Terms of Agreements that relinquish her rights over her own information blocks her participation in many of the interactive information streams common to the twenty-first century. As such, Morone's project has an absurdist flair to it because, despite the impression received by some who wish to emulate her, embracing capitalism's tools doesn't work to protect her data.

By avoiding data extraction, Morone cannot participate in contemporary digital contexts, from social media to common sites, where cookies collect information about her as she moves across webpages. If she can't engage with digital culture, then that obviates the need to have become a corporation. Although some like Bernard Harcourt focus on Morone's resistance to the digital surveillance economy, this essay examines how her project reveals the absurdities inherent in the capitalist notion of business models such as the corporation acting as the protective vehicle for a person, especially as it regards the ravages of platform capitalism.3 [End Page 518]

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Figure 1.

DOME (Database of Me) Diagram—Hooked Up and Aggregating Data Year: 2013. Credit: Jennifer Morone (concept, design, lead architect of development), Zac Tolley (CTO and development), Lloyd Elliot (data analyst and development), Zwitterion (backbone IP engineering), Mike Vanis (electronics—wearable biosensor device)

Many of the solutions to datafication include ways for people to profit on data instead of, or alongside, the companies and platforms that are reaping it; the presupposition is that a free market allows all actors to participate equally, as if individuals endowed with a means to trade in data could significantly impact market practices in comparison to transnational tech companies and platforms. The project of radical individualism, which Morone exemplifies in becoming a corporation, pits all persons as competitors in a free market. As Martine Syms writes, "Capitalism would lead us to believe that buying and selling is the most important activity of our lives."4 Economic rationalizing of this sort, where all that a person does can and should be bought and sold, excludes the potential for any other type of relationship other than value exchange. It avoids a more [End Page 519] serious conversation about what it means to market everything about ourselves and...