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Playing the Future: What We Can Learn from Digital Kids Paperback – September 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.'"-- Vox

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573227641
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573227643
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,371,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now as well as a dozen other bestselling books on media, technology, and culture, including Program or Be Programmed, Media Virus, Life Inc and the novel Ecstasy Club. His latest book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity, will be published by Penguin/Portfolio in March 2016. He is Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY/Queens. He wrote the graphic novels Testament and A.D.D., and made the television documentaries Generation Like, Merchants of Cool, The Persuaders, and Digital Nation. He lives in New York, and lectures about media, society, and economics around the world.

Rushkoff's first book about digital culture, Cyberia, was canceled by Bantam in 1992 because they thought the Internet would be "over" by the time the book came out in 1993. It came out the next year with HarperCollins. When he told his publicist there about listing the book on Amazon, she replied "that sounds great! Is Amazon for the Mac or the PC?"

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this book while browsing in the anthropological section of a bookstore (where it belongs). This is a tremendously hopeful book, even if it is occasionally circular. Everything from vampire games to grafitti is explained as a recapitulation of society's previous values, just accelerated and adapted by the newest version of human--teenagers. Rushkoff deftly analyzes the existance in which young adults are operating and creating as part of a bigger, brighter reality. These anaylses are always interesting, but they occasionally seem over-thought and repetetive. This book is coherent and well-presented--the author certainly knows what he's talking about, even if the reader doesn't always agree. A wonderful, insightful book that gives credit where credit is due--to the millions of young adults who manage to operate efficiently in an increasingly complex and chaotic world, even if their parents don't get it.
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Format: Paperback
The cultural examples in this book are dated (fractals and Pogs?) but the general idea is still relevant: embracing the coming age of chaotic culture is a healthy alternative to Doomsday predictions about short attention spans and loose morals. It's Marshall McLuhan's Global Village, with "but in a good way" tacked on. If you already like the internet, you can probably skip ahead in the Rushkoff bibliography.

For kicks, two funny problems with this book:

(1) Rushkoff is addicted to tortured metaphors and endless similes. This is painful to read, but also kind of hilarious during the entire chapter about the death of metaphor. The death of metaphor is a parabola? No, it's a rushing faucet. Wait, it's a type of childbirth. The death of metaphor is a metaphor!

(2) Rushkoff likes chaotic culture because it's evolutionary, but he can't quite wrap his head around evolution itself as a chaotic process (at least he didn't in 1996). He repeatedly insists that evolution tends to climb a ladder towards complexity and that humans are the most "highly evolved" species: basically The Crown of Creation shoehorned into biological terms. Using a Judeo-Christian concept of species hierarchy to explain the decline of God and authority? Weird!
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Format: Paperback
Took me a while to get through this one. Rushkoffs' Playing the Future: how kids' culture can teach us to thrive in an age of chaos is a very impressive read. Douglas R. illustrates a cultural transition that moves from linearity to chaos, from duality to holism, from mechanism to animism, from gravity to consensual, from metaphor to recapitulation, and from God to nature, all through the lenses of role-playing games, comic books, 3-d animation, and computer games. By far, the central theme of P the F is cultural movement we experience towards an organized chaos (fractel being the metaphorical shape Rushkoff uses) and ultimetly higher levels of organizations.

Rushkoff is a very talented writer being able to string together long and complex sentances that connect many different ideas in a relatively short space. This work is of impressive scope and it definetly dives deep into the nuances and intricacies of kids' culture and thier interpretation of the world. An excellent read
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