Douglas Rushkoff has been an authority on the intersection of technology and culture since before the word “google” was anything more than baby talk. He predicted the coming centrality of the Internet (CYBERIA, 1992 – a book initially canceled by a publisher who feared the net would be over by the time it came out); he coined the terms “viral media” (MEDIA VIRUS, 1994) and “social currency” (Upside Magazine, 1996); he forecasted the collapse of the dotcom bubble (SXSW, 1997) and the most recent recession in a 2004 column that later became his book, LIFE INC; he even inspired today’s code literacy movement (PROGRAM OR BE PROGRAMMED, 2010). He is the author of a total of twelve bestsellers (translated to over thirty languages), the host of three award-winning documentaries, an award-winning educator and frequent media commentator.
"This is a wondrously thought-provoking book. Unlike other social theorists who either mindlessly decry or celebrate the digital age, Rushkoff explores how it has caused a focus on the immediate moment that can be both disorienting or energizing. In an era that seems intent on deleting the art of narrative, Rushkoff creates a compelling narrative of the way we now live."
– Walter Isaacson
In his new book, PRESENT SHOCK: When Everything Happens Now (Current; March 15, 2013), Rushkoff introduces the phenomenon of presentism, or – since most of us are finding it hard to adapt – present shock. Alvin Toffler’s radical 1970 book, Future Shock, theorized that things were changing so fast we would soon lose the ability to cope. Rushkoff argues that the future is now and we’re contending with a fundamentally new challenge. Whereas Toffler said we were disoriented by a future that was careening toward us, Rushkoff argues that we no longer have a sense of a future, of goals, of direction at all. We have a completely new relationship to time; we live in an always-on “now,” where the priorities of this moment seem to be everything.
Wall Street traders no longer invest in a future; they expect profits off their algorithmic trades themselves, in the ultra-fast moment. Voters want immediate results from their politicians, having lost all sense of the historic timescale on which government functions. Kids txt during parties to find out if there’s something better happening in the moment, somewhere else.
Rushkoff identifies the five main ways we’re struggling, as well as how the best of us are thriving in the now:
- Narrative collapse - the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.
- Digiphrenia – how technology lets us be in more than one place – and self - at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds - home and battlefield - simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.
- Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event – which only results in a fatal stampede; or – like the Real Housewives - freezing one’s age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can “springload” time into things, like the “pop-up” hospital Israel sent to Tsunami-wrecked Japan.
- Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things – sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no “grand narrative.” But also the emerging skill of “pattern recognition” and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain – a grandchild of McLuhan’s “global village”.
- Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. “Preppers” stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists – even outspoken atheists - prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of “the singularity” and “emergence”, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information.
With PRESENT SHOCK, one of the world’s leading media theorists gives a name and shape to the character of the new millennium.