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Events

September 29, 2014
Panel Discussion: Why Winning in Mobile is About Behavior, Not Technology
Advertising Week
New York, NY

October 23-24, 2014
Present Shock Economics
GAIN: AIGA Design and Business Conference
New York Marriott Marquis
New York, NY

October 26, 2014
Techno-Utopianism & the Fate of the Earth
International Forum on Globalization
Cooper Union
New York, NY

October 26, 2014
Media Literacy in the 21st Century
Queens College Homecoming 2014
LeFrak Hall
Flushing, NY

November 7, 2014
Present Shock and the Real Time Digital Economy
le club b
Hamburg, Germany

January 12, 2015
Kairos, Chronos, Time and Space: Designing for Humans in a Digital World
Yale School of Architecture
New Haven, CT

 

Blog

Monday
Apr222013

CNN: The terror of 'real time'

So is this the "new normal"? That's the question I keep hearing as people try to comprehend the tragedy at the Boston Marathon and its chaotic aftermath. The answer is yes -- in more ways than you might think.

I don't mean that we're supposed to get used to explosions, school shootings and other threats arising seemingly randomly and without warning. But we should accept that the old ways of understanding and responding to conflicts and threats no longer apply.

In an always-on, post-narrative age, 24-hour cable and Internet news and Twitter feeds offer a steady stream of opportunities for panic and misinformation. We have a suspect; no, we don't; yes, we do. The school is on lockdown; no, it's not. False alarms are still alarms, after all. It's like we are all living in newsrooms, or as 911 operators or air-traffic controllers, for all the emergency interruptions and bulletins we navigate practically every hour.

Then consider the equally unnerving limbo we endure once there's nothing new to report. The stakes are too high to return to regular programming, so we just sit there, poised on high alert along with the police and journalists. This time, it was flashing blue lights and the search for a suspect. Before that, it was the live feed of Deepwater Horizon in the corner of the screen for weeks, belching oil into the sea. Whether interruptive or chronic, the anxiety keeps pouring in.

We live in a state of "present shock."

And even if network anchors still had the authority they once did, they would not be able construct a satisfying story around the onslaught of neverending news. When the journalists cheered as the police caught the marathon bombings suspect in the boat, it seemed that they were mostly relieved at reaching a definitive conclusion to a neverending news cycle. One news anchor actually declared "justice won" as she was at last permitted to cut to commercial. It rang false, because there's no genuine finality anymore. The story just doesn't end. Nor does the anxiety.

For it's not so much a matter of responding to a particular crisis, threat or tragedy but of coping with the persistent flow of urgency itself. Some of the unease we feel with the Boston bombings comes from the nagging sense that we have no way of gauging where we are in the arc of violence. Is this the beginning of a new series of attacks, a rare event like the Oklahoma City bombing or part of some greater conspiracy yet to be revealed?

Of course, none of the usual narratives apply, for we no longer live in a world with beginnings, middles and ends. That quaint structure went out with the Industrial Age and the moon shot. We no longer design career paths; we no longer invest in the future. We occupy; we freelance; we trade derivatives. Everything happens in the now.

Even terror. While there are certainly groups such as al Qaeda with political goals and a modicum of organization, for every plotted attack with strategic goals, there are many more that arise haphazardly, randomly -- by either sympathizers, copycats or mentally ill nihilists with no political justification whatsoever.

We're no longer fighting enemies in the normal sense. We cannot begin a war on terrorism and then declare victory when we're done. We can't stick a flag in it and call it won.

No, the challenges of a post-Industrial society are less like conquests with clear endpoints than they are steady-state concerns. Oil is spilling. The climate is changing. Terrorists are plotting. Crises are never quite solved for the future so much as managed in the present.

But accepting the essentially plotless and ongoing nature of crisis needn't compromise our ability to respond appropriately and effectively. In fact, by freeing ourselves from the obsolete narratives we used to rely on, we can begin to recognize the patterns in the apparent chaos. We may not get answers to rally around or satisfyingly dramatic finales, but neither will we need to invent compelling, false stories to motivate ourselves into action.

In a world where crises are constant and perpetual, we might as well begin to develop more sustainable approaches to solving them in real time, rather than once and for all.

Life goes on.

Wednesday
Apr172013

CNN: The joke may be on Zuckerberg

Facebook's latest defense of the mental distraction it creates for its users? It's not a bug, it's a feature!

At least that's the meaning I take from a Web commercial for the new smartphone start screen, Facebook Home, in which founderMark Zuckerberg's announcement of the portal's launch is disrupted and interrupted by a host of Facebook updates.

"After all your hard work," he says to a group of employees in their work space, "Facebook Home is ready to ship." But as he continues, one employee glances down distractedly at his phone and begins thumbing through his, new, supercharged Facebook Home device. Zuckerberg's voice fades as a "screaming goat" appears on a desk and bleats loudly. A friend leaps out of nowhere, racquet in hand, saying, "Dude, forget work -- come play!"

Eventually, the whole office is a race track and then even a pool party that only the one, distracted employee can see and hear. Of course, the employee has missed the whole announcement. When it's over and Zuckerberg asks for his response, he glibly replies, "You know it, Mark." Zuckerberg has no idea he's been ignored.

By casting himself as the butt of the joke, it's as if Zuckerberg seeks to inoculate himself from critique. Can't we all just lighten up? Everyone knows that this stuff is distracting. We have all pretended to be listening to someone on the phone or in real life while actually checking e-mail. At least Facebook is aware of it, and -- if the commercial is to be believed -- the distractions it offers are pretty darned engaging. Yes, you can be with your friends and at work at the same time.

Except you can't. The ad is an apt, if sanguine, depiction of what I've been calling "present shock," the human incapacity to respond to everything happening all at once. In a rapid-fire, highly commercial digital environment, this sense of an overwhelming "now" reaches new heights. Unlike computer chips, human beings can only process one thing at a time. Whatever succeeds in attracting our attention only wins it at the expense of something else. Joke as we might like about it, our efficiency, our accuracy, our memory and our depth of understanding go down when we try to multitask.

Yet Facebook collapses time in more ways than that. Consider how people from your distant past, as far back as, say, second grade, can show up right in your Facebook present, asking to be "friends." If you click yes, they will show up right alongside and indistinguishable from your current friends. The distance once afforded by decades of time vanishes in the Facebook universe, as everything old is now again.

But wait, there's more. It's not just the past that comes careering into the present on Facebook, but the future. Facebook is just the front end -- the consumer interface -- of a big data engine. Facebook and its affiliates are busy churning the data generated from every keystroke to figure out who of us is likely to go on a diet, get pregnant, change political affiliation, question our sexuality and more. All so advertisers can act on our probable future behaviors by targeting marketing messages to us today.

Facebook brings us both friends from our past and advertisements from our future, all competing to distance us from the boring but emotionally grounded present. And this temporally compressed digital landscape is supposed to be our new "home."

Meanwhile, as if to prove that humans really can exist in more than one place at the same time, our Facebook profiles continue to carry on our online lives for us even when we're not logged on. An advertising feature called Sponsored Stories inserts our names and pictures into advertisements, so that we may endorse products tangentially associated with people or things we may have once "liked." To our friends, it looks like we're adding a live update, while in reality, we're sleeping, eating or even tweeting elsewhere.

This is the disorientation produced by present shock. I call it digiphrenia, the experience of trying to exist in more than one incarnation of yourself at the same time. Of course, now that we're in on the joke, we're supposed to realize that coming back online to discover one of our other selves has been hawking a coffee bar we've never even visited isn't a violation: It's sort of funny. Just take it in stride, like Zuckerberg does.

In the end, however, the joke may really be on Zuckerberg after all. Young people, teens in particular, are drifting away from Facebook for less overwhelming social applications such as the 140-character Twitter and the intentionally temporary photo service Snapchat.

And when I looked up Facebook Home online to try to find out just what it was, the first search results that came up were from users sharing how to disable it. This way, consumers can buy the discounted phones on which Facebook Home ships, and turn them back into a regular Android smartphones, where Facebook is just another app we can use in our own good time.

Ha.

Thursday
Apr112013

Time Ain't Money: Stop Punching the Industrial Age Clock

Here's a Present Shock manifesto for business I wrote for a website called ChangeThis. 

“Living in the digital media environment changes a whole lot more than the technologies through which we do business. It has changed our relationship to time—and this is having profound effects on our businesses, our economy, and our customers.

To put it most simply, the money we use has a built-in clock—an embedded relationship to time that informs how we obtain capital, how we pay it back, how we invest, how we sell, and how we communicate. That clock has run out. It has wound down, and been replaced with something else. I call it “presentism”, or a focus on the now over the past or even the future. If we understand this shift—the most truly significant change wrought by the digital—we can thrive in the new landscape. If we can’t—if we end up paralyzed in what I’ve come to call “present shock,” then we may as well go down with the rest of the Industrial Age.”

Download the PDF here. Anbd better, go buy the book here!

Monday
Apr012013

'Present Shock': The Future Isn't a Book, It's a Videogame

by MORGAN CLENDANIEL via FastCompany

In Present Shock, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff argues that technology has delivered us to the future, and so it’s now time to use that technology to allow us to focus on the present, instead of force us to constantly try to catch up.

"I’m a Presentist," says Douglas Rushkoff. His new book, Present Shock, outlines a world where technological advancement has allowed us to live in real time. The future--which used to be a destination that we marched toward--has arrived. Now, says Rushkoff, we need not worry about the future at all, because we are living in a present that will continue forever. Now we must either accept that fact and use our new technology to create a happier, present-based society, or constantly fight against it, in a losing battle against an always-on, always-connected economy.

What happened to the future? Rushkoff says you can trace its death to the same roots as the financial crisis. "Futurism--the yearning toward an end--is a symptom of the industrial age that we’re leaving behind," he says. "It’s happening because the industrial age economy is finally running out of steam. … Industrial age currency has an accelerating clock built into it and we’ve reached the limits of our ability if not to grow, then to accelerate our growth."

A STEADY STATE ECONOMY

Think about what this has meant for the global economy. Rushkoff notes that we’ve often taken abstract economic concepts and elevated them above production of physical goods. "The main forms of innovation from American companies that we’ve seen over the last 10 or 20 years have been financial innovation, which is more about creating a new kind of derivative that can compress time but that doesn’t actually make anything."

Global warming, terrorism, child starvation: these are chronic problems that we can’t address through victory.

Whole economies are fueled by these abstractions, which means the economy doesn’t need to keep expanding physically. It’s moved past the metaphor of progress that has fueled our idea of the future. "The industrial age was about going forward; was about growth; was about building for the future; was about investing in something that was going to be bigger later," he says. "That has ended up getting replaced by a much more steady state economy, one that’s biased more toward transaction and the velocity of money rather than expansion and the storage of money. The cultural bias and economic bias metaphor is shifting from hard drive to RAM, from potential energy to kinetic energy."

SOLVING 21ST-CENTURY PROBLEMS

Visualizing a better future seems nothing but admirable, but Rushkoff argues that by assigning a linear paradigm to these issues, we’re limiting ourselves in the possibilities of solutions. "If we stop looking at politics like a book, with a beginning, middle, and end, and we start looking at it more like the Internet, with an ongoing approach to behavior--that’s what’s going to solve 21st-century problems," he says. "Twentieth century problems could be won, they had bad guys that could be beaten. You could go to the moon and stick a flag in the ground. But 21st century problems don’t have clear end points. Global warming, terrorism, child starvation: these are chronic problems that we can’t address through victory, but rather through developing sustainable, real time models or behaviors. These are not things you win, they’re things you learn to deal with and abate."

If we stop doing things for something else but start doing them for now, some fundamental things change.

And if you accept that there is no end to these issues, but a constant "now" in which they can be managed in a sustainable way, the future starts to look "less like a story and more like a video game," a collection of people all making decisions in real time--with no final climax in sight: "If we stop believing in a future, if we stop doing things for something else but start doing them for now, some fundamental things change. Retirement becomes less about how much money you can squirrel away now and much more a matter of participating and contributing to your own community now so that they want to take care of you. … We’re going to move into a world where your retirement will be more secure if you’ve made lots of friends with young people rather than collected lots of dollars."

CHRONOS AND KAIROS

What happened to the future? It’s become lost in our changing concept of time, what Rushkoff calls the difference between the Greek terms chronos and kairos, time and timing. Digital devices have changed the way we think about time from segments of the day to discrete moments. When you look at an analog clock, you can see the time that will come after and the time that came before. But a digital clock presents each time as one instance; 3:23 exists by itself. "Presentism is the acknowledgement that human beings exist in a unique temporal landscape in which not all moments are the same. We’ve been taking digital technology and pushing it into service of the old, but working in an increasingly digital environment means forcing our digital operating systems to conform to human time, rather than the other way around."

This isn’t just philosophical. Changing our idea of the passage of time could have enormous effects on the workplace, our understanding of the human body, and how people relate to each other. "We’ve been living in chronos for the past thousand or so years," says Rushkoff. "Time was what’s on the clock. And now that our digital devices can take that for us. We can move into kairos."

Working in an increasingly digital environment means forcing our digital operating systems to conform to human time.

Once we acknowledge that 3:23 is just a time on a digital device, it will start to become clear that we need to focus more on the kairos, the timing. A certain time may not be the best time to ask an employee to start a new project, even if it’s the middle of the work day. "I think it’s going to take us another decade or so for us to acknowledge the way that our neurotransmitters change over time, that there is a very distinct and measurable lunar cycle that corresponds to increases and decreases in particular neurotransmitters," says Rushkoff. "As we come to understand that this is a serotonin week or this is a dopamine week, we’ll become a lot better at surfing the moods of our families and coworkers and markets."

Some people may decry the idea that time has ceased to exist, saying it’s another symptom of an Internet age where we are always connected--to each other, to our workplaces--and no one can rest. But we don’t need to live that way. "We feel compelled to answer every ping and vibration that comes at us, or we feel like we are falling behind somehow. As if all those things are in the present and we’re trying to catch up with them. But we’re in the present, and those things are trying to catch up with us. We’ve got the cause and effect kind of reversed."

That, says Rushkoff, is what Presentism is, a way to harness the changes wrought by technology to make our lives easier by transforming a constant searching for the future into a focus on the present: "It’s a reaction against our misuse of digital technology as a way of exacerbating the ills of the industrial age, rather than using it to welcome in an entirely new approach to time, money, work, and living. Futurism has ended, and now we actually get to be in that future."

Friday
Mar292013

Douglas Rushkoff On The Terror of Modern Time

Nice short movie about Present Shock by Abe Riesman of the New York Observer's "betabeat".  Here's the piece he wrote to go with it: 

Douglas Rushkoff On The Terror of Time

"Are we gonna give all our bloggers Adderall and stick ‘em in a room and tell ‘em to just churn out more shit?”

Over the course of 20 years, 15 books, and countless speeches and articles, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has established quite a following among technophiles.

With titles like 2010’s Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, it’s no wonder folks like Andy Weissman quoted Mr. Rushkoff to explain why Union Square Ventures led a $2.5 million investment in Codecademy, a startup that teaches anyone programming languages like Ruby and Javascript. (Not long after, Codecademy announced Mr. Rushkoff would be joining their team as a “code literacy” evangelist.)

But while tomes like Program or Be Programmed or 1994′s Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Cyberspace warned about the perils and responsibilities of digital citizenship, his latest book is all about time. Rather, it’s about how people are driving themselves insane by approaching time in unhealthy ways.

In Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, which just hit shelves a few days ago, Mr. Rushkoff coins ominous terms like “digiphrenia” (the kind of disorientation you get when you’re trying to process something as fast as Twitter and something as slow as a news article in the same sitting) and “fractalnoia” (the mistakes organizations make when they try to predict major future trends using small bits of data from the recent past).

Sound a bit heady? Don’t worry. To slow things down a bit, we took Mr. Rushkoff to Sutton Clocks, a sales and repair shop for antique timepieces on the Upper East Side. There, amidst the ticks and tocks, Mr. Rushkoff told us how misunderstanding time can cripple a workforce and tempt you to make dumb decisions.

Try to rein in your digiphrenia as you watch him explain what happens to our biological clock when the digital world treats day and night interchangeably and why the 24-hour blog-cycle is a terrible idea.

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