A new ebook edition (pub/kindle) of Open Source Democracy, with CC license, is now available for download at unglue.it.
The books asks: What would happen if the ‘source code’ of our democratic systems were opened up to the people they are meant to serve?
In the software industry, the open source movement has emphasized collective cooperation over private ownership. Open source enthusiasts have found a more efficient way of working by pooling their knowledge to encourage innovation. The open source community recognizes that solutions to problems emerge from the interaction and participation of lots of people, not by central planning. An open source model for participatory, bottom-up and emergent policy would force us to confront the most pressing issues of our time.
Open source principles challenge us all to participate in the redesign of political institutions in a way which enables new solutions to social problems to emerge as the result of millions of interactions. In this way, online communication may indeed be able to change offline politics.
Download it here.
via Reality Sandwich:
His nebbish visage seems to pop up everywhere–like a “Where’s Waldo?” life-feature. I remember seeing him on CNN, whilst slugging off one last one in an airport lounge before a long plane ride to Asia in the previous century; a year later, Y2K, I would see that same earnest face in-person amidst a sea of notable folk at the DisinfoCon gathering, New York City. The guy has been around forever, before the world had heard of PeeWee Herman, and yet he considers himself a late-bloomer–receiving his Ph.D at age 50.
Students love him; he is as mischievous as they would like to be…and gets paid for it. Author of Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff teaches us that “the future is now”; that we are in control, if we choose to be, and that a career can be made as a sort of kosher Dennis the Menace.
Todd Brendan Fahey: You have “arrived” in Academia (congratulations!). Over the years you’ve taught adjunct at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and the New School University, and word is you’ve entertained offers from MIT and other Ivy League schools–but your first “real job” as a professor is at Queens College. What kind of “life hacks” are you able to perform on/with your students, now that you have a certain modicum of stability in your role as educator? (For example, I’d probably be focusing on interdisciplinary work involving the cultivation of mushrooms…”legal variety,” of course [and then show the students how to obtain also legal psylocibin spore prints, and then let their minds take off and with a requisite completed short story at the semester’s end]; or, for the more timid class member, how to take advantage of the new micro-distillery laws and freedoms, and with a generous historical readings of “the revenuers v. Appalachian hoots-and-hallows boys.”)
Douglas Rushkoff: I’m not at New School, nor NYU or MIT, because I didn’t want to be sitting in a seminar, staring at kids I’m putting into six figures of debt for a degree. Somehow, it seemed a little hypocritical to be doing teach-ins at Occupy about student debt but then going and creating more of it at an expensive private institution.
So I went to public school – CUNY/Queens. Not even the Graduate Center, but out in the provinces. The beauty of it is that it’s cheap – like Learning Annex prices – but super brilliant colleagues who all have the same approach to this stuff that I do: it’s not about creating some professorial reputation, but making a change in the world and our students’ lives. It’s also a hotbed for radicals and radical thought. It’s where Malcolm X spoke, and where the Mississippi three (the civil rights workers who got killed) came from.
That’s the main hack: stop worrying what people think, ditch brand names, stay out of debt (you can’t even get rid of this stuff by going bankrupt) and – like Timothy Leary said – find the others. That can be the trickiest part – finding your team. It’s like finding your table in the high school cafeteria.
Plus, they are letting me do whatever I want. So I’m starting a new Masters program in Media Studies with an Activist bent. All I did was send out a tweet and dozens of applications came in from around the world, from people looking for something like this. People from Italy, Nigeria, China, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, thinking critically about media and acting purposefully with it. We started a Center for Media Activism, and an Interactive Narrative Lab. All in the first 14 weeks (that’s all it’s been so far!)
So the initial life hack is to get an Ivy quality education without going into debt, and to get right to the meat of what you want to do without jumping through elitist hoops. On a weirder level, some of us are studying the gnostic drive behind technology, and then applying these principles to sigil magick. Or looking at new forms of hacktivism.
But it’s not about me driving them to try or do stuff. It’s me building courses and seminars around what the cohort wants to learn or accomplish.
How have students changed from the time that you were doing the MFA at [the Walt Disney family founded/endowed] California Institute of the Arts–“CalArts,” for anyone living in Los Angeles? That was, from all that I have heard, a pretty footloose place to study, already; but we have The Internet now, with all its attendant instantaneous access and dispersal. What has this done to and for students (besides giving them the ability to txt their girlfriends and boyfriends when you are trying to lecture)?
Well, I was in an acting school at CalArts, getting a degree in theater directing. I think all arts schools are pretty, well, artsy. It was going to Princeton, the seat of young Republicanism and prep school entitlement, that radicalized me. I was the weirdo amongst the normals. But at CalArts I was kind of the normal amongst the weirdos. Until they saw my work, at which point I was welcomed among the freakiest of them. Those were different times. Everybody lived on the campus or nearby, and we were there 24/7 doing our plays, movies, learning Gamelan, watching animation. We had a nude outdoor pool and it was just the way things were. You couldn’t do that today without lawsuits.
I don’t really see the net interfering with students’ work or brains so much. The real problem is how companies want to push colleges to run their operations on the net. There’s one awful platform everyone uses called Blackboard, which is basically a business plan masquerading as education. The more you do online, the harder it is get offline. So if you put a reading up there, that’s cool – but it will be almost impossible to print out or to port somewhere else. It’s like the old roach motels – cockroaches go in but they can’t get out.
So a whole lot of the most subversive and weird parts of education get neutralized and made generic. No better than some online class. When the most dangerous thing about education is people in the room together, just talking and plotting. That’s the original meaning of conspiracy: to breathe together. It’s what Socrates was trying to do, and why they got rid of him in the worst of ways.
In some ways it’s really hard, because schools are so institutionalized, and everyone wants “job skills.” As if there’s really some job they can train for that will still be there. But in some ways it’s easier, because people are so unused to just being together. My undergrads tell me that their courses have all been about absorbing facts, when mine are about challenging those facts, even challenging our own underlying assumptions. So in a landscape where people aren’t questioning a lot, it’s pretty easy to create a sense of rebellion. At CalArts it took PeeWee Herman roller skating through the basement corridors in a dress. It doesn’t take that much anymore; these are much more conservative times.
We are four years apart in age–not a big spread, both Gen-X’ers; we both lived in California, with its permissive culture and plenitude of substances, some of which I trust you are familiar; you got your Master’s at Cal Arts, I at USC…but as I count being published in High Times and VICE as “highlights of my career,” you have been a columnist with the Guardian (UK), have written for Wall Street Journal, featured on “The Colbert Report,” yaddayadda. I mean: “Dude. WTF’s your secret?”
Well, VICE is more the future than the Wall Street Journal, no? I only got my own words in there once, anyway, and they’ve panned all my books as being unrealistic. They said my assertion that there was going to be a mortgage crisis or that anyone on Wall St. was betting against the securities they were selling was outlandish conspiracy theory. I think they let me in there that one time as a way of apologizing for all the unwarranted abuse.
But yeah, it’s been a good ride. I get to make radio, write books and graphic novels, make TV shows. I just have to work really hard, all the time, because things don’t always come at the right time. I’m always doing three things at once, I never go out (really – like never since having a kid), and I’m driven to try to keep humanity from surrendering to digitally amplified industrial capitalism.
If there’s a secret to my success it is being willing to challenge the underlying assumptions of our time, without regard to whether people will agree with it. I used to get laughed out of editors’ offices back when I’d pitch stories about emerging technologies like the Internet. My first book about things cyber was canceled in 1992 because the publisher thought the Internet would be “over” by the 1993 publication date. I took my book Media Virus to maybe 20 publishers until one took a chance on the idea that the media space might be changing. I wrote Life Inc. – the one that got me on Colbert – *before* the economic crisis.
So a lot of it has to do with being right, but more important it’s a matter of having been in the right place at the right time. Not luck, exactly, but going to the places in culture where I thought people were having the most fun, doing the strangest things, or thinking the freshest thoughts. So my California experience ended up being Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson. Then the whole rave/cyberdelic scene, Jaron Lanier and VR people, and RU Sirius and Mondo 2000. RU Sirius was my graduate education, really.
The other secret to my success has been the insistence on bringing something “back” from whatever I do. No matter how strange the journey, I make sure I’m still a participant-observer. I wouldn’t even go to a Dead show without also playing cultural anthropologist or mythological interpreter or something. I feel really privileged, so I always ask myself how this experience can provide value to others.
What was the value of Mondo 2000 to you; how would you gauge its imprint on American culture of the time, and why the fuck did it disappear?
Well, it’s history now, but Mondo 2000 covered new technology, science, and social forms before anybody else. Mondo was the first place other than PC Mag or a math journal that you could find out about the emerging net, virtual reality, chaos math, and fractals. And they were all covered from a revolutionary, psychedelic perspective.
The forgotten history of this stuff is that it was built by acid heads. Other than children, people who had taken LSD were the only ones comfortable imagining worlds into reality. They had experience with hallucination. And believe me, building the first virtual worlds – even ones based entirely in text – was akin to hallucinating something into the real world.
The value of Mondo was to anchor these new technologies in something other than the military. That’s all we knew about computers in the early days: they were an artifact of WWII cryptography, or used to calculate missile trajectories. Then Stewart Brand (of the Merry Pranksters and the Acid Tests), he told everyone that these technologies were cool and could augment humanity. So the hippies jumped in.
I learned about this stuff because my most psychedelic friends from college – the ones I was scared might die from overdoses or insanity – they were living out in San Francisco getting jobs at Intel and Northrup. It just didn’t compute. So I went out there to see what computers and freaks had in common. Mondo 2000 was the first and best guide to this overlap.
Then, once the net became accepted, Wired magazine and its libertarian founders came along and recast the whole phenomenon as a business story. They made the net safe for investment, and kind of killed it in the process. Wired – the voice of net business – claimed it was the voice of net culture, and pushed Mondo off the map.
Mondo 2000 was actually the third incarnation of a magazine that was originally called High Frontiers, and then Reality Hackers, as it went from an almost purely psychedelic journal to a really intentional mashup of drugs and computers. “Reality hackers,” like BoingBoing’s “happy mutants,” were people who felt comfortable redesigning reality while they were living it, and by any means necessary. It was a cyberpunk ethos that spanned everything from fantasy role-playing games to smart drugs, body modification to cold fusion.
RU was a really fascinating figure – in some ways the Andy Warhol of this whole cyberdelic circus. People would go up to the old Victorian house in Berkeley Hills where the magazine was written and lived, and basically party with RU and the others. It was a form of pitching, really. I saw people bring new technologies up there, or just share new ideas in the hopes of getting covered in the magazine. But everybody was really high. There was always a new designer drug to be tried, and not all of them were as happy as others.
It was a crazy scene. Tim Leary would pass through, Joichi Ito (now head of MIT Media Lab), Todd Rundgren…tripsters, scientists, mathematicians, technologists. I remember one time where Walter Kirn and I were supposed to be visiting and no one was home, so Walter went and peed off the front porch in the hope of generating a chaotic attractor that would draw RU’s arrival.
Another night I remember getting into a conversation with RU’s girlfriend at the time, who had just had an abortion. She told me how she did the whole thing on acid, because ergot was a traditional purgative.
It was a real scene. At least as real as the Factory or the Pranksters, in that there was a real place, real stakes, and real insanity.
What, in your learned opinion and having been a successful one, should a student be doing these days–both in and out of class?
That depends on the student. I mean, there’re 16-year-olds and 30 year-olds, high school seniors and nuclear physicists getting fourth PhDs.
If I was a successful student, it was because I remained aware of the frame – the cultural assumptions underlying what I was supposed to learn – but then still went ahead and learned the stuff anyway. That’s a big and hard thing to do. So if you see that, say, the English literature you’re being taught all comes from a place of anti-Semiticism or anti-feminism or racism, you can say “fuck this” and fail the course. Or if you see that the science you’re being taught all comes from a really western perspective of industrialization and domination of nature, you can drop out. But what good does that do? Better to maintain the awareness that your teacher, your whole institution may be stuck in a really tight reality tunnel. Stay aware of the fact that the corporate funding they’ve taken has limited what they can even see about the subject they are supposedly teaching you. And then learn from inside that little frame. Learn everything they know, while also figuring out the bigger picture for yourself. And once you really know the things they know – only when you know the things they know – are you in a position to break their boundaries. Punch some holes in their world view. Let some light and air in there. Chances are they will hate you for it, but that’s how you replace them.
Ho ho: My only C’s in mine undergrad [two of ‘em, same semester, same Professor; a study abroad term at University of London] came from “punching some holes” in the agenda of a World Government-focused course; I began interjecting elements of None Dare Call It Conspiracy, and the Rhodes Scholar jerk who taught the courses didn’t like that one bit. >:-(
You wrote very publicly (CNN.com) of your self-escape from Facebook, to–and for many reasons–its intrusion into users’ real-life autonomy and the piling on of users’ so-called innocent “Like”s, in a way which benefit third-party advertisers and of Facebook’s own market scrutinizers. Any regrets?
I suppose so. As a minor public figure, I think my being on Facebook amounts to condoning the platform and their practices. And from everything I know, it’s just really evil shit masquerading as social empowerment. If it was just me that was going to get screwed by the place and its algorithms, I wouldn’t mind. I am pretty tough skinned and resilient at this point. But I don’t think its appropriate for someone who is out there preaching about what amounts to digital hygiene to be subjecting his readers to that stuff. Anybody who “likes” my page can be used in an ad for something associated with me? That’s not fair to them.
In some ways I guess it’s patronizing of me. Shouldn’t my readers be able to take care of themselves? Sure, I guess so. But I don’t like giving tacit approval to the company. And if by not going on there I give a few hundred or thousand other people the courage to say “I don’t need that thing,” so much the better. You know I got a ton of people asking me how I could live without the Internet? They thought leaving Facebook was leaving the net. That’s good enough reason to do it.
Rorschach test question: Edward Snowden
(CNN) -- Most people's first response on hearing that 1.2 billion usernames and passwords have been compromised by a group of Russian hackers? We check our own most important accounts for evidence of misuse, and change our passwords. If a week or two goes by with nothing out of the ordinary happening on our credit cards, we breathe a sigh of relief and go back to life as normal.
In short, if nothing happens to us, personally, then we really don't care.
But that's not how the Internet works. We're all in this thing together, and when the network is compromised, so too are we all.
So what lessons should we take from the news that this cyberposse has managed to break into over 420,000 websites of companies large and small?
First off, your data is not safe -- certainly not in an online universe where it's supposed to be protected by consumer-created passwords and computer-illiterate merchants. Over the years, I have been laughed off more than one panel for suggesting that we won't begin to take digital education seriously until nine Chinese teenagers break into a major Wall Street bank and create such havoc that we're forced to reset the entire economy to yesterday at noon.
So it turns out to be a dozen Russian 20-somethings in a small city near Mongolia, but the achievement was equally spectacular and should provoke an equally widespread response.
Yes, the compromised 420,000 websites belonging to companies large and small need to be reconfigured, but so does our entire approach to information and its security.
In the most immediate and practical sense, we pedestrians have to accept the fact that we are utterly incapable of protecting ourselves on the information superhighway. We don't use good passwords, we use the same ones on multiple sites, we don't change them often enough, and we store them in files and e-mails and other places where they are not secure.
The easy cure is to use a password service such as Dashlane, KeePass or LastPass to create and manage your passwords for you. You can even share passwords securely with others, revoke access, and change passwords regularly without having to remember anything but your own master key.
Likewise, those of us working in businesses simply have to learn to surrender authority of our security to those IT people who keep telling us to do stuff that we ignore. We have to respect the firewalls, scan USB sticks before we stick them in our machines or printers, and not defeat the security protocols they've established for us. They are not the enemy.
It's akin to good collective hygiene. When you don't wash your hands, that's one thing. If you work in a restaurant, it's another. Now that we're all connected digitally, we are all working in the equivalent of a virtual cafeteria, spreading whatever we happen to pick up to everyone else.
That's the vulnerability these Russian kids exploited. They collected all these usernames and passwords through a botnet installed on our computers. That weird file you opened that didn't seem to have anything in it? Or that link you clicked on and the extra window that opened in your browser? That was you installing a piece of malware on your machine -- a tiny program that turned your laptop into part of this tiny hacker group's global supercomputer. Your processor, your contact list, and your access becomes theirs. From there, they just watch and collect.
Basic digital literacy is certainly the best option against these infiltrations. But the first and most important step in that education is to realize that there are people who know how this stuff works better than we do. The scary part of living in a networked world is that we're all responsible for our mutual well-being. But the great part is that there are many people out here willing to help us rise to that challenge.
As long as we see our interests as personal and individual, we will continue to be used as a giant battering ram on the firewalls of banks and other companies on whom we are depending. They can patch and update, but their processing power pales in comparison with that of a few hundred million home computers controlled by a malicious gang.
That bounty of 1.2 billion usernames and passwords likely isn't even the prize they're after; it's merely the platform from which they're going after something else. Until we members of a networked society learn to work together, we will continue to be used by those who put us together for themselves.
It's official. I'm a university professor - and at a public university where you can all come and study and work and devise the future of civilization for cheap. The official press release is below. The skinny? I've taken my first university post, as a professor of media studies at CUNY/Queens College, where I'll be helping to build a first-of-its-kind media studies program. Instead of training people to become advertisers or to write the next useless phone app (and raise VC), I'm going to support people who want to see through the media, and use it to wage attacks on the status quo. This is media studies for Occupiers.
The undergraduate program is in full swing. The graduate program is accepting applications for Spring. You can take my graduate or undergraduate course, a la carte, beginning THIS FALL (more info below).
This is my answer to the emails I get every week from people asking where they can study media theory and activism. Come and get it.
| FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
Renowned digital media theorist Douglas Rushkoff joins the faculty of City University of New York’s Queens College, to help develop new master’s in media studies
Queens, NY, May 27, 2014 -- Queens College of the City University of New York announces today that Douglas Rushkoff, the famed cyberculture expert who originated concepts such as “viral media” and “social currency,” will be joining its faculty. This marks the first full-time academic role for the prolific media theorist, award-winning author, and documentarian, who is considered one of the most influential thinkers of the digital age. Starting this August, he will help lead the development of a new Master of Arts in Media Studies program that will address the technological and market forces that dominate our daily lives.
Rushkoff, who holds a PhD in New Media and Digital Culture, is the author of over a dozen best-selling books, the winner of the first Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, and creator of four award-winning PBS “Frontline” documentaries on the cultural and societal impact of media and the media industry. A regular commentator for CNN, “CBS Sunday Morning,” and NPR, he has shaped current thinking on topics such as corporatism, “digital natives” (another Rushkoff coinage), and distributed solutions to social problems – from Occupy to Bitcoin. His latest book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (2013) – described as “invaluable” by the New York Times – introduced the concept of the always-on “digital present-ism.” His recent PBS documentary Generation Like (2014) explored the influence of social media on youth culture.
Rushkoff’s move to academia reflects his interest in social justice and the need to build media literacy in the rapidly evolving global media environment. “This is a rally for consciousness,” says Rushkoff. “The essential skill in a digital age is to understand the biases of the landscape – to be able to think critically and act purposefully with these tools – lest the tools and companies behind them use us instead.”
“I wish to foster a deeper awareness and more purposeful implementation of media, and this can be best accomplished at a mission-driven public institution such as Queens College,” says Rushkoff, a native of Queens who was inspired to join the school because of its rich legacy of social dialogue and engagement. “I want to teach a diverse range of students without putting them into lifelong debt. Besides, where better to work on media in the people’s interest than a public university?”
“The college, with its unique community of students, creative artists, and scholars, has a tradition of cultivating a learning environment supportive of critical thinking and social consciousness,” adds Media Studies Chair and Professor Richard Maxwell. “Rushkoff’s contributions to current thinking in technology, media, and society are at the forefront of the evolving study of media. He’s a great fit for our program and will complement our existing faculty in providing a transformative learning experience.”
The new master’s program aims to balance the theoretical and applied study of media to question conventional understanding of media technology, content, and audiences. It will rethink the media’s role in urban development, economic justice, political activism, environmental responsibility, public policy and cultural identity. Students will be engaged in project-based learning and highly individualized courses of study.
Says Queens College’s Interim President Evangelos Gizis, “Dr. Rushkoff joins a remarkable community of academics who are providing relevant and thoughtful learning to the next generation. Our success in attracting leading scholars such as Rushkoff is a reflection of the academic excellence that we have cultivated at Queens College.”
“A pioneering media scholar such as Rushkoff joining our faculty helps us fulfill our mission,” notes Dean of Arts and Humanities William McClure. “As a public institution, we’re committed to providing students access to the best education possible irrespective of their socioeconomic status – including access to top thinkers in our nation.”
Rushkoff joins the ranks of acclaimed scholars in emerging areas of study at Queens College, including department chair Maxwell, the co-author of Greening the Media (2012) who is a political economist and expert on cultural consumption and the environmental impact of media technology; and MA program director Mara Einstein, an expert in consumption and cause marketing.
Starting in August, Rushkoff will be teaching courses in propaganda and media theory. He plans to involve students in his continuing work as advisor for the digital literacy platform Codecademy and other New York startups, his books and documentaries, and the relaunch of his radio show, “The Media Squat”, which models open source and collectivist approaches to social and economic challenges.
The new Master of Arts in Media Studies program begins offering courses this August and will welcome its first cohort in Spring 2015.
Undergraduate course - Propaganda (Wednesday afternoons)
Graduate course - Interactive Media Studies (Wednesday evenings)
Both can be taken by matriculated students or non-matriculated students. To register as a non-matriculated student for the graduate course, apply here (they make it look hard but it’s very easy), and then simply email me and I’ll put you in the course.
If you want to take the undergraduate course, Propaganda, as a non-enrolled student, apply here and then email me.