Digital technology was supposed to usher in a new age of distributed prosperity, but so far it has been used to put industrial capitalism on steroids. It’s not technology’s fault, but that of an extractive, growth-driven, economic operating system that has reached the limits of its ability to serve anyone, rich or poor, human or corporate. Robots threaten our jobs while algorithms drain our portfolios. But there must be a better response to the lopsided returns of the digital economy than to throw rocks at the shuttle buses carrying Google employees to their jobs, as protesters did in December 2013.
In this groundbreaking book, acclaimed media scholar and technology author Douglas Rushkoff calls on us to abandon the monopolist, winner-takes-all values we are unwittingly embedding into the digital economy, and to embrace the more distributed possibilities of these platforms. He shows how we can optimize every aspect of the economy—from central currency and debt to corporations and labor—to create sustainable prosperity for business and people alike.
What Doug does that no one else has done, is a thoughtful dissection of our present circumstances, and a very able presentation of four deeply divisive and fatal social diseases that are directly related to how information technology “slices and dices” our present lives seemingly beyond our control:
01 Digiphenia [ADDICTION/SPLIT PERSONALITIES].
02 Overwinding [OVER-DOSED/BURNED OUT}.
03 Fractalnoia [SHATTERED MINDS/LOST SOULS].
04 Apocalypto [ASSIMILATED/CRAZY].
Bottom line up front: We are at risk of losing our humanity and being assimilated into a cyber-stein world in which we become automatons generating information that is sliced and diced totally divorced from ethics, community, Earth values, and so on. We must learn how to control this information technology we have unleashed.
Early insight: IT in its present design is moving individuals — including highly educated individuals, but most horrifyingly effective on the larger masses — DOWNWARDS toward reptilian instincts and irrational behavior, doing impulse things.
QUOTE (8): “When things begin accelerating wildly out of control, sometimes patience is the only answer. Press pause. We have time for this.”
Others have focused on “slow food” and other forms of simplicity living — e.g. Human Scale, Clock of the Long Now, and so on’ What Doug has done is more of a form of laboratory dissection of the rat — the IT tiny brain, it’s huge server butt, it’s privacy invading and data non-protecting limbs, and worst of all, its stomach where data is destroyed rather than cooked.
As an intelligence professional striving to define intelligence with integrity for the 21st Century, everything that this book talks about with respect to the pathologies of information technology and its cancerous effect on humanity, is totally consistent with what I know about the loss of the ability of think tanks and spy agencies to think.
The author focuses on the collapse of the narrative, the story being how civilization communicates aggregated validated wisdom to new generations. I am reminded of Will and Ariel Durant as well as Steve Denning’s book The Springboard. CORE to the message is that there is now a chasm — a huge chasm — between the staple stories of the past that “made sense” and the chaos of today where advertising runs amok, governments and corporations and universities and non-profits all tell blatant lies, and there is no comfortable place where transparency, truth, and trust can be reliably found.
In passing futurists are properly slammed.
QUOTE (17): “Futurism became less about predicting the future than pandering to those who sought to maintain an expired past.”
I’ve spent a lot of time these past six years thinking about the future in structured term (see all the authors, books, centers, and forecasts at Earth Intelligence Network) and I can offer three opinions with certainty:
01) Most governments do not plan for the future, and most corporations disenfranchise both the past and the future — pleading bankruptcy to eliminate all pension fund obligations, refusing to invest in infrastructure needed to mature.
02) With the exception of Medard Gabel, co-creator with Buckminster Fuller of the analog World Game (I recommend all books by both of them), no one I know of is thinking in whole systems terms — no one I know of is is truly committed to cause and effect and cascading feedback loops seven generations or iterations down.
03) With the exception of Herman Daly and a tiny handful of those who follow him as I do, no one is at any level, and certainly no government or international organization (e.g. the UN) is embracing true cost economics as the foundation for sound decision-making about the future.,
The greatest fault that the author finds — as I do in a piece online, “Chapter: Paradigms of Failure” — is with the systemic lies that characterize virtually all that we receive from the traditional segments that comprise civilization: academia, civil society including labor and religion, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit.
QUOTE (47): “The focus on immediate response engendered by the always on news becomes the new approach to governance….no one has time to think….what used to be called statecraft devolves into a constant struggle with crisis management.”
In the above the author is kinder to government than government deserves. What actually happens is that the political leadership micro-manages the narrative to leverage the Pavlovian themes that distract the public while micro-managing the Cabinet officers (especially State), all to the end of optimizing short-term financial gains for those that fund the political theater. In other words, *lies* are the root of non-strategy, non-policy, corrupt acquisition, and ineffective options — just look at Iraq, three trillion to destroy a once-working country and produce Fallujah mutant babies while destabilizing the entire region. And now, while some call for a Truth & Reconciliation Commission, others refuse to admit that the rush to an expensive war based on 935 now documented (truthout) lies should be “revisited.”
INSIGHT from the author: lacking goals over time to bring us all together toward future accomplishments, we end up fleeing what we perceive in the now. Alvin Toffler told me back in the late 1990’s that when he was in Malaysia in the 1980’s he was asked what his greatest fear was in the future and his one word answer was “fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism is dogma carried to its extreme. It *flourishes* in an environment where governments, corporations, and media all LIE.
OCCUPY is the first post narrative political movement. It has — the author tells us — dispenses with the left-right illusion (we are still teaching our children that there are only two parties in the USA instead of the eight accredited parties and 50 others), dispenses with sound-bite simplification, eschews end justifies the means; and for the “system,” is unweildy and unpredictable.
Sadly — my point of view having tried to get Occupy to focus on Electoral Reform — Occupy was quickly marginalized by the “system” mobilizing foundations and using tiny grants to pick Occupy apart one aspiring individual at a time.
There are rays of hope, including massive multiplayer games online. I personally do not like serious games in their current configuration for the simple reason that they are data free. As with Pentagon war games, the data base is rigged and not rooted in whole systems cause and effect or true cost economics. However, if the vision of Medard Gabel and others can be realized, there is every reason to believe that in the next ten years we will see an Open Source Agency (OSA) that funds the hub for the World Brain and the Global Game — in the latter, everyone plays themselves, has access to all relevant information, and has voice and vote on all issues they wish to weigh in on — all transparent, truthful, and therefore trusted.
This book merits slow reading and appreciative reflection. The author’s discussion of time is particularly interesting to me. He makes how we relate to time central to his story, observing that time in the digital era is not lineal but rather disembodied and associative — However, while “our” time cycles are hosed, “Earth Time” is still on its natural cycle and we are out of step — this may be one of the key insights in the book: IT creates false time frames that disconnect us from reality and nature — I believe Bill McKibbin among others would find this important.
This entire section is alone worth the price of the book. He cites Clay Shirky on information overload and filter failure, and Stewart Brand on the long time cycles, to that I would add David Weinberger’s books, especially Too Big to Know.
I was not expecting to find a discussion of money in this book but there is one, and it is important. Money is information. Here is one quote that is central to the matter, and completely supported by Matt Taibbi’s GRIFTOPIA among others:
QUOTE (147): “The shift to central currency not only slowed down the ascent of the middle class, it also led to high rates of poverty. The inability to maintain local businesses, urban squalor, and even the plauge.”
In brief, centralized currency is optimized for storage (hoarding and compound interest) instead of transactions and physical investment.
I will not spoil the ending but will only say that it is a helpful “sauna” on the impact of IT to humanity that is timely, and it crushes the prevailing conventional wisdom represented by all of the major governments, corporations, and conventional wisdom mindsets that comprise the “norm.”
This book is educational, provocative, and righteous. Of course there are those that will find any criticism of IT and “the singularity” to be blaspheme, but on balance I find Doug Rushkoff and his writing to be part of what little sanity we have left.
From WebVisions New York 2013, Live from Theater for the New City, Douglas Rushkoff gives his Keynote from his new book, “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now”.
“Currently serving as Code Evangelist for Codecademy, Rushkoff is the author of a dozen bestselling books on media, technology, and society, including Program or Be Programmed, Media Virus, and the upcoming Present Shock. He made the PBS documentaries Merchants of Cool and Digital_Nation, lectures around the world, and has taught at The New School and NYU.”
Douglas Rushkoff (born 18 February 1961) is an American media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems.
Rushkoff is most frequently regarded as a media theorist, and known for coining terms and concepts including viral media (or media virus), digital native, and social currency.
I. TIME Do Not Be “Always On”
II. PLACE Live in Person
III. CHOICE You May Always Choose “None of the Above”
IV. COMPLEXITY You Are Never Completely Right
V. SCALE One Size Does Not Fit All
VI. IDENTITY Be Yourself
VII. SOCIAL Do Not Sell Your Friends
VIII. FACT Tell the Truth
IX. OPENNESS Share, Don’t Steal
X. PURPOSE Program or Be Programmed
Program or be Programmed is a quick read. I read it on the Kindle my wife got me for Christmas. The irony of reading a book about the pitfalls and possibilities of technology we don’t fully understand on a device I don’t fully understand was not lost on me.
Manifesto for Future of Universal Wealth & Ethical Business,
December 22, 2005
This is a thoughtful and easy to read book. The short editorial comments above do not do it justice.
Drawing largely on his own experiences as a cyber-world observer, the author comes to conclusions that are solidly supported by many other works that he does not cite (out of his primary area of interest) but that strongly support his independently derived conclusions. I refer to the various works on collective intelligence (Atlee, Bloom, Levy, Steele, Wells), additional works on the power of knowledge driven organizations (Buckman, Wheatley), and on the sources of innovation through intrapreneurship (Pinchot, Christensen, Raynor), and finally, the wealth of knowledge (Stewart) and infinite wealth (Carter).
What I found most helpful in this book was its preamble, in which the author systematically pointed out that the war metaphors of business, the survival of the fittest, the assumption that we are all in competition with one another, and the centralization and manipulation of money, have all led to pathological behavior and distorted priorities that actually diminish what can be shared and created. In this the author is consistent with Tiger (The Manufacture of Evil) and various works today on immoral capitalism (Greider, Prestowitz, Perkins).
He carries the argument further by suggesting that big is bad and that most giant enterprises have lost sight of their core competencies. They are so busy making money and outsourcing to cut costs that they literally “lose it.” At the same time, they struggle desperately to “brand” to manipulate customers, to reinvent old products, etc. At the same time, the constant focus by merchants on short term profits reduces trust–as the author says, no long-term focus reduces trust. This is an important point. He writes at length about Wal-Mart as the poster child for abusing communities that lose three jobs for every two lower-paying jobs that Wal-Mart brings in, with fewer benefits, longer hours. The number of Wal-Mart employees that are below the poverty line is quite shocking. Wal-Mart is exporting good jobs to China and importing menial badly-paying jobs to the USA.
In the middle of the book he addresses social currency, and suggests that most activities are not really about achieving specific goals or buying specific things, but rather about out-reach and networking–the primary human motivator is communion, and the fragmentation of the marketplace and the commoditization of the employee have blocked that.
The book concludes with what could be said to be a very worthwhile mantra: businesses should answer real needs, everyone should collaborate rather than compete, and the over-all objective is to form communities by integrating the views and needs of employees, clients, stockholders, host communities, etc. He makes reference to addressing the needs of the bottom four billion people (per C. K. Prahalad’s pioneering work), and has some very exciting references to a new business that allows cell phones to dial in to databases that offer Internet-like access for very narrow needs (e.g. crop prices or new cases of a specific disease.
A central thesis of the book is that open source software reflects the needed attributes of the current and future networking environments. Larger groups of people collaborating openly are consistently more effective than smaller groups working in secrecy. As a side note, the author buries the current obsession of the U.S. Intelligence Community with anonymous access to the Internet (not directly but as a former intelligence officer I see this in what he says). He points out that social currency–being visible, being valued, sharing what you are interested in, seeing what others are interested in, is a *fundamental* aspect of the global networked brain. In other words, the U.S. Intelligence Community, by insisting on anonymous access to the Internet, is isolating itself and seeing the world through blurred lenses.
The title of this book, while cute, might better have been “look under the hood.” The author is compelling and interesting as he names specific consultants and specific companies all floundering to find new ways of getting money from customers, without ever actually looking under the hood of the car they are driving, and getting back to the fundamentals of their core competency. I am reminded of the U.S. Intelligence Community again–Ambassador Negroponte, a diplomat and a neo-conservative, is essentially in the same position as the ill-fated Dutch financier that took over Shell oil and had no idea how to run an energy company. His financial metrics were simply irrelevant, and over time Shell lost the ability to grow truly inspired geologists and engineers who had “the feeling in the fingertips” that the Germans stress so much.
The author makes specific reference to large mergers being the death rattle of an industry–one can easily see this in the U.S. Defense industry, with L-3 buying Titan, General Dynamics buying Anteon, Lockheed lusting after this and that—the dinosaurs are in-breeding (and cashing out), and have completely lost the ability to meet real needs at a fair price with a decent amount of on the fly innovation. They will be beaten by small, fast, and often foreign providers.
Over-all, I found this book inspirational, reasonable, and very very worthwhile.