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Events

April 24, 2014
Blurred Lines
Finding the Boundaries in a Constantly Connected Society
ColoDLA, Lone Tree, CO

April 24, 2014
Ethics Matter
The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Merrill House, NYC, 6p

May 1, 2014
DLDnyc
Business, Digital Culture and Innovation
New York City

May 6, 2014
“20/20 Vision”
Canadian Media Directors’ Council Conference
TIFF Lightbox, Toronto

May 6, 2014
Stream-Lecture: Present Shock
Orange Press

May 7, 2014
”Generation Like”
Screening and Q&A
Consumer Reports, Yonkers

 

Blog

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.

Thursday
Mar282013

Futurists Don't Suck

I apologize. I wrote short piece for Good last week, inappropriately entitled  "Why Futurists Suck". While I agree with the piece I wrote, the title frames a very particular situation in much too broad and unnecessarily incendiary terms. The title is actually a reference to the satirical subtitle of a talk I did at SXSW back in 1997, when as young man I hoped to take a swipe at the slick magazines and high-paid consultants who seemed to be derailing the digital age.

The idea of the piece is not that futurists suck. It's that the digital renaissance offers us new access to present. The emergence of digital technology gave us new ways to manage our time - ways that I hoped would give us new freedom to work when we wanted to, from wherever we wanted to and, for the most part, less. These technologies empowered the individual, the community, and the local, real-time reality. Whether trading in restored peer-to-peer marketplaces or starting businesses without venture capital, the cyberpunks were going to liberate us from the Industrial Age time-is-money way of life that was not only running out of steam but threatening to ruin the planet. 

What angered me at the time was that many of the digerati and, yes, futurists who could have been helping usher in this new era instead reframed the digital era as an extension and amplification of the Industrial Age. Instead of offering us an alternative to extractive venture capitalism and debt-based growth imperatives, the digital age was to be the harbinger of a "long boom" through which the NASDAQ would be able to grow infinitely. 

And that shift from hands-on, maker-centric digital culture to high flying digital industrialism really bummed me out. Jerry Garcia died the same day Netscape went public. And that seemed significant. 

But it wasn't until I began working on Present Shock that I came to understand what it was that had actually been disturbing me so profoundly back in 1997. And it wasn't until I was finished with the book and introducing to an audience at SXSW in 2013 that I realized I had come full circle. Here I am again, explaining how we are misapplying the a-temporal, presentist potentials of digital technology to the obsolete, time-based agenda of the Industrial Age. 

So no, futurists don't suck. Hell, I even play one on TV. The piece would have been better entitled "when futurists suck" or, better yet, something altogether different. But as it went out, the title and the sentiment it projects were wrong. It not only obscures the point I was trying to make, but offends an entire profession - most of whose members are as dedicated to making the world a better place to live right now. 

 

 

Friday
Mar222013

Favorite Present Shock Interviews

I've been in media mode for Present Shock, hoping to get people to - yes - buy it! But it's also a great opportunity to engage with people about the ideas I've been wrestling with for the past, gosh, twenty years. Here's a list of some of my favorite conversations. I'll be updating this post as more come in. 

All Things Considered (audio) The gist, in 6 minutes. 

OnPoint. (audio) Tom Ashbrook's NPR show out of Boston. An hour-long interview with call-in. 

Interview with Rob Walker. (text) Former NYT Consumed columnist, now at YahooNews. 

Brian Lehrer (audio) WNYC's morning show. 15 minutes with community radio's best host. 

Edutopia (text) Brilliant Betty Ray engages with me about the implications of Present Shock for education.

TheVerge (video) Techno-shut-out Paul Miller panics over Apocalypto. 

PandoDaily (text) Andrea Huspeni interrogates me on the impact of Present Shock on business and startups. And how to thrive in this new landscape. 

Thursday
Mar142013

New York Times' Janet Maslin reviews Present Shock

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/books/present-shock-by-douglas-rushkoff.html?ref=books&_r=0

Out of Time: The Sins of Immediacy

“Present Shock” is one of those invaluable books that make sense of what we already half-know. Playing on the title of Alvin Toffler’s influential 1970 “Future Shock,” which sounded an alarm about what Mr. Toffler called “a personal perception of too much change in too short a period of time,” Douglas Rushkoff analyzes a very different phenomenon. The future arrived a little while ago, he posits — maybe with Y2K, maybe with Sept. 11. Now it’s here. And we are stuck with “a diminishment of everything that isn’t happening right now — and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.” Mr. Toffler warned that we would be unready for this onslaught. Mr. Rushkoff is more analytical than alarmist. He divides his thoughts into five sections addressing five kinds of profound change, and his biggest illustration of present shock has to do with the actual book itself. Because the present is more full of interruptions than the past was, it took him extra time to write. Because its ideas aren’t glib, he says, “here I am writing opera when the people are listening to singles.” And he realizes that data-swamped readers may take longer to finish books now. Coming from him the phrase “thanks for your time” has new meaning.

“Present Shock” begins by simply describing how we have lost our capacity to absorb traditional narrative. It goes on to explain what we have used to replace it. There was a time, Mr. Rushkoff says, when everything had narrative structure, even TV ads. Captive audiences sat through commercials that introduced a protagonist, presented a problem, then pitched a product to solve it. The little story ended well, at least from the advertiser’s point of view. But now viewers may be more angry than bored at such intrusions. They know that “someone you don’t trust is attempting to make you anxious,” so they ditch the ad before it’s over.

The ancient Greeks learned about the hero’s journey from Homer’s narratives. We’ve gotten decades of Homer Simpson, who “remains in a suspended, infinite present,” while his audience moves from one satirical pop-culture reference to the next. Citing “Forrest Gump” as a film that failed to combat late-20th-century feelings of discontinuity and “Pulp Fiction” as one wild enough to usher in a new era, Mr. Rushkoff moves on to what came next: the video game open-ended structure that keeps TV drama in the eternal present. About “Game of Thrones” he says, “This is no longer considered bad writing.” Changes to news presentation are even more dramatic. This book describes the present shock of politicians who — thanks to the 24/7 coverage ushered in by “the CNN effect” that began in the 1980s — “cannot get on top of issues, much less get ahead of them.” He notes that both the political left (MSNBC, with its slogan “Lean Forward”) and right (conservatism devoted to reviving traditional values) share this goal: They’re trying to escape the present.

Contrasting the Tea Party with the Occupy movement, he says the Tea Party’s apocalyptic yearning for closure is diametrically unlike Occupy’s “inspiring and aggravating” quest for an eternal present. The ways Occupy resembles the Internet make him think it may be the more durable of the two movements.

When Mr. Rushkoff moves on to what he calls digiphrenia — digitally provoked mental chaos — he writes about present shock’s capacity to be a great leveler. Now that a single Facebook post can have as much impact as 30 years’ worth of scholarship, how do we analog creatures navigate the digital landscape? How do we shield ourselves from distraction, or gravitate to what really matters? This section of Mr. Rushkoff’s agile, versatile book veers into chronobiology, a burgeoning science that has not yet achieved peak popular impact. Dr. Oz may speak of it on television, but the correlation between time and physiology is ripe for more exploration. Mr. Rushkoff, who likes being his own guinea pig, divided his writing of this book into weekly segments based on a lunar cycle.

Among the intuitive ideas turned tangible by “Present Shock” is “filter failure,” the writer and teacher Clay Shirky’s improved term for what used to be called “information overload.” Mr. Rushkoff’s translation: “Whatever is vibrating on the iPhone just isn’t as valuable as the eye contact you are making right now.”

Your new boss isn’t the person in the corner office; it’s the P.D.A. in your pocket. And there are the discrepancies between age and appearance that are increasingly possible in our malleable present. The book contends that young girls and Botoxed TV “housewives” all want to look 19; that hipsters in their 40s cultivate the affectations of 20-somethings, to the delight of marketers; and that apocalyptic types just want to opt out of time altogether. “Present Shock” gives them good reason to feel that way.

But in the end only some of the ills in “Present Shock” can be chalked up to dehumanizing technological advances. “I am much less concerned with whatever it is technology may be doing to people that what people are choosing to do to one another through technology,” Mr. Rushkoff writes. “Facebook’s reduction of people to predictively modeled profiles and investment banking’s convolution of the marketplace into an algorithmic battleground were not the choices of machines.” They were made by human intelligence, because present shock’s ways of targeting, pinpointing and manipulating aren’t just shocking. They’re very lucrative too.

Thursday
Mar142013

Wall Street Journal adaptation from Present Shock

Adapted from the forthcoming book "Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now" by Douglas Rushkoff, published by Penguin.

Technology has always given us more control over time—especially now at the dawn of the digital age. But no matter how precisely we can count our milliseconds, neither our bodies nor our businesses are proving as programmable as our computers.

Digital technology tends to make one minute look the same as any other. Still, try as we might to ignore them, the people who work for us, invest in us, and buy from us are guided by rhythms we ignore at our peril.

While our technologies may be evolving as fast as we can imagine new ones, we humans and our culture evolved over millennia and are slower to adapt. The body is based on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different clocks, syncing to everything from the sun and moon to levels of violence and available water. We can't simply declare noon to be midnight and expect our body to conform to the new scheme as if it were a Google Calendar resetting to a new time zone. Neither can we force our businesses to conform to an always-on ethos when the people we work with and for are still obeying a more deeply embedded temporal scheme.

Instead of our offloading time-intensive tasks to our machines, we attempt to match the speed of our network connections. Thanks to the Internet, we travel more on business not less, we work at all hours on demand, and spend our free time answering email or tending to our social networks. Staring into screens, we are less attuned to light of day and the physiological rhythms of our housemates and co-workers. We are more likely to accept the digital clock's illusion that all time is equivalent and interchangeable. But it isn't.

Sure, the always-on philosophy works well for many businesses. During overnight hours, cable channels like Home Shopping Network and QVC are still buzzing. Where department stores may wait until the end of the quarter to find out how a product line is doing, executives at QVC get sales reports as they happen. Likewise, Zara's real-time supply chain turns scans at the register almost directly into a ping for another unit at the factory.

But too many of us also aspire to be "on" at any time and to treat the various portions of the day as mere artifacts of a more primitive culture—the way we look at seemingly archaic blue laws requiring stores to close at least one day a week. We want all access, all the time, to everything—and to match this intensity and availability ourselves: citizens of the virtual city that never sleeps. Ultraefficiency advocate Timothy Ferriss's book "The 4-Hour Body" teaches readers how to "hack sleep" by taking 20-minute naps every four hours instead of a single overnight stretch. It is an approach to the human-body-as-lithium-ion-battery more appropriate for machines than for people.

This is the digital trap: Instead of teaching our technologies to conform to our own innate rhythms, we strive to become more compatible with our machines' timeless nature.

We fetishize concepts such as the cyborg or human technological enhancement, looking to bring our personal evolution up to the pace of Apple system updates. We answer our email as it arrives, we trust Echemistry.com to calculate our best mates, our algorithmically generated Klout scores stand in for social status, and our Nike Fuel bands dictate our fitness goals for the day.

Internet workers are expected to accept the cyborg ethos as a given. Google and Facebook welcome their engineers to work around the clock, providing food, showers, and even laundry service for their programmers. The bathroom stall doors have daily programming tips to read while sitting on the toilet. These campuses are lovely, to be sure, but they may as well be space stations or casinos, always on and utterly cut off from the passage of time.

By letting technology lead the pace, we don't increase genuine choice or human competence at all. Bloggers disconnect themselves from the beats they may be covering by working through the screen and keyboard, covering the online versions of their subjects.

Designers base their fashions on the computer readouts of incoming calls from housewives at 1 a.m. Lovers expect immediate and appropriate responses to their text messages, however tired or overworked the partner might be.

Programmers expect themselves to generate the same quality code at 2 a.m. as they did at 2 p.m. earlier—and are willing to medicate themselves in order to do so. Human investors compete with algorithms trading at ultrafast speeds and responding to our orders before they are even executed. Our digital competitors are quite literally trading in our future.

In each of these cases, the bloggers, designers, lovers, programmers, and investors all sacrifice their connection to real-world rhythms in order to match those dictated by their technologies. Reporters miss out on the actual news cycle and its ebb and flow of activity. Programmers work less efficiently by refusing to recognize naturally peak productive hours. Designers miss out on quite powerfully determinative cultural trends by focusing on the mediated responses of insomniac television viewers. Businesses ignore the natural ebb and flow of market cycles, and poison their own consumers by attempting to stimulate them all season, every season.

Imagine, instead of trying to ride roughshod over these cycles, actually using or even exploiting recent discoveries about our common neurochemical responses to the four-week lunar cycle. Each week, a different neurotransmitter seems to dominate. One week, acetylcholine emphasizes new social contacts. In the next, serotonin enhances productivity. In the third, increased dopamine emphasizes risk-taking and recreation. In the last, norepinephrine heightens our analytic skills. Instead of forcing or drugging ourselves to fight these patterns, we can engage them to enhance our results.

It is an easy mistake to make. The opportunity offered to us by digital technology is to reclaim our time and program our devices to conform to our personal and collective rhythms. Computers don't really care about time. They are machines operating on internal clocks that aren't chronological, but events-based: This happens, then that happens. They don't care how much—or how little—time passes between each step of the sequence. This infinitely flexible relationship to time offers unique opportunities to calculate and act upon the individual and collective cycles making up our enterprises and their markets.

Admittedly, this isn't easy for companies with shareholders who live for the hockey-stick-shaped earnings graph. But that is not the way either people or organizations function—especially not when we are using social networking technologies that connect us and in many ways amplify the rhythmic qualities of our living cultures. For while digital technology can serve to disconnect us from the cycles that have traditionally orchestrated our activities, it can also serve to bring us back into sync.

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