Three years after the original publication of Playing the Future: What We Can Learn from Digital Kids
in 1996, this breathlessly polemical defense of the techno-savvy youth culture of the '90s already reads like a document from another era. Back then, the Internet was still a strange new force, instinctively embraced by kids who'd grown up playing video games, instinctively distrusted by the grownups who ran the mainstream media. Standing up for the emergent digital culture--loosely associated with suspicious activities like raves, role-playing games, and piercing--took nerve and optimism.
And Douglas Rushkoff here supplies both in abundance. His argument: contemporary "screenagers," as he calls them, aren't being warped by new technologies, they're adapting to them. Their relationship to play, work, spirituality, and politics all reflect the contours of a new world shaped by the liberating logic of digital networks and chaos theory. It's a better world, Rushkoff assures us, and if the grownups know what's good for them, they will stop looking askance at the ways of digital youth and start trying to learn from them instead.
Ultimately, Rushkoff seems a lot more interested in making his argument than in making it stick. He flies from one loose logical connection to another--the secret link between fractal math and snowboarding, the parallel between Web browser interfaces and Federal Reserve notes--and he alternates between near-brilliance and utter implausibility as he goes.
But even nowadays, when the heated rhetoric that met the first wave of digital culture is generally giving way to more nuanced analysis, there's something contagious about Rushkoff's passionate faith that the kids are all right. He may not convince you, but after this intellectual joy ride is over, that may not matter. Like any good child of the '90s, you'll want to believe. --Julian Dibbell
"Makes dazzling links between chaos theory and Rodney King, snowboarding and William Gibson, race culture and Star Wars ... the literary equivalent of U2's Zoo TV ... Rushkoff is courageous enough to stand up against fashionable gloom by putting his faith in today's 'screenagers.'"