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Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now Hardcover – March 21, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-1591844761 ISBN-10: 1591844762
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Living in a world of perpetually updated Internet news bulletins and cell phones primed for the latest text messages from friends and family, many of us feel pressured to keep up with all the latest gossip and information trends. Our past and future have become less important than staying current with whatever is happening now, an attitude toward time that philosophers call presentism. Using Future Shock, Alvin Toffler’s classic study of runaway technological growth, as a jumping-off place, prolific author and media expert Rushkoff cites presentism as one of the dominant fixations of our era. With abundant fodder from reality-TV shows, Twitter, blogs, and the Home Shopping Network, the information glut, Rushkoff points out, includes a mash-up of past, present, and future references that’s both confusing and misleading. Rushkoff highlights several areas of social dis-ease, including our obsessive need to be everywhere and do everything at once, and a curious predilection for apocalyptic entertainment. A sobering wake-up call to collectively reexamine our relationship with time before we’re blindsided by an unwelcome future. --Carl Hays


“This is a wondrously thought-provoking book. Unlike other social theorists who either mindlessly decry or celebrate the digital age, Rushkof f explores how it has caused a focus on the immediate moment that can be both disorienting and energizing.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“Rushkoff gives readers a healthy dose of perspective, insight, and critical analysis that’s sure to get minds spinning and tongues wagging.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In this refreshing antidote to promises of digital Utopia, Rushkoff articulates his own well-informed second thoughts. We should pay close attention—while we still can.”
—George Dyson, author of Turing’s Cathedral and Darwin Among the Machines
“If you read one book next year to help you make sense of the present moment, let it be Present Shock.”
—Anthony Wing Kosner,
Present Shock holds up new lenses and offers new narratives about what might be happening to us and why, compelling readers to look at the larger repercussions of today’s technologically mediated social practices, from texting to checking in with a location-based service, jet-lag to The Simpsons, in new ways.”
—Howard Rheingold, author of Net Smart
“A wide-ranging social and cultural critique, Present Shock artfully weaves through many different materials as it makes its point: we are exhilarated, drugged, and consumed by the now. But we need to attend to the future before us and embrace the present in a more constructive way.”
—Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together
“With brilliant insight Rushkoff once again gets there early, making us confront the new world of ‘presentism’—the shif t in our focus from the future to the present, from the horizon-gazing to the experience of here and now. He points to signs of presentism all around us—in how we conduct politics, interact with media, and negotiate relationships.”
—Marina Gorbis, executive director, Institute for the Future

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Current Hardcover (March 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591844762
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591844761
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He sees "media" as the landscape where this interaction takes place, and "literacy" as the ability to participate consciously in it.

His ten best-selling books on new media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages. They include Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, and Coercion, winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Award for best media book. Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G. He has just finished a book for HarperBusiness, applying renaissance principles to today's complex economic landscape, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. He's now writing a monthly comic book for Vertigo called Testament.

He has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries - The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, and The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance.

Rushkoff's commentaries air on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR's All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as a column on wireless for The Feature and a new column for the music and culture magazine, Arthur.

Rushkoff founded the Narrative Lab at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.

He is Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture, on the Board of Directors of the Media Ecology Association, The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and as a founding member of Technorealism. He has been awarded Senior Fellowships by the Markle Foundation and the Center for Global Communications Fellow of the International University of Japan.

He regularly appears on TV shows from NBC Nightly News to Larry King and Bill Maher. He is writing a new monthly comic book for Vertigo, and developed the Electronic Oracle software series for HarperCollins Interactive.

Rushkoff is on the board of several new media non-profits and companies, and regularly consults on new media arts and ethics to museums, governments, synagogues, churches, and universities, as well as Sony, TCI, advertising agencies, and other Fortune 500 companies.

Rushkoff graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, and a Director's Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer, and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.

He lives in Park Slope Brooklyn with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is copy of a review that I blogged at [...]

This is a very difficult book to summarize, so I'll begin with a very specific argument the author makes, delivered completely out of context, but probably familiar to most people of my generation:

"The show's gags don't even relate to the story or throughline (such as they are), but serve as detours that thwart or halt forward motion altogether. Rather than simply scripting pulp culture references into the scenes, Family Guy uses these references more as wormholes through which to escape from the temporal reality of the show altogether, often for minutes at a time, which is an eternity on prime-time television. In one episode the mom asks her son to grab a carton of milk "and be sure to take it from the back." Apropos of nothing, a black-and-white sketch of a man's hand pulls the child into an alternative universe of a-ha's iconic 1984 "Take On Me" music video. The child runs through a paper labyrinth with the band's front man for the better part of a minute before suddenly breaking through a wall and back into the Family Guy universe."

All of which makes me wish he'd tried to describe the fight with Chicken in such delightful academic language.

If there's a unifying theme to "Present Shock", it's probably this: the invention of computing and digital communication is at least as transformative for our species as the Industrial Revolution, and possibly as transformative as the invention of writing. Therefore the way we think about time, money, democracy, relationships, and work is changing in much the same way as it changed during the Industrial Revolution.

Rushkoff is particularly (and I would peculiarly) interested in how we think about time.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful By S. Kittelsen on March 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
At a time when business and marketing urge us all to speed the pace of every interaction and transaction, churning ourselves into a frenzied, infinite state of NOW, Rushkoff reminds us that we are only human and as such, our capacity for authentic presence only goes so far.

The book explores the myriad symptoms of "presentism," a condition in which we never turn off the flood of information in an effort to achieve some kind of digitally connected immortality. Rushkoff began to describe this in his previous work, Program or Be Programmed: 10 Commands for a Digital Age. As in that book, here Rushkoff offers a clear and balanced perspective. He doesn't expect anyone, let alone himself, to cast our iPhones and tablets and laptops into the surf, but he does encourage everyone to understand that our demand and desire for everything to always happen right here, right now, is a false inclination perpetuated by systems of our own design. As such, we must design and use them responsibly.
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By My Opinion on March 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I think Rushkoff is a keen observer of the ever-evolving human/technology cultural interface. And I like this book. Alot.

What sets Rushkoff apart is that is that he has been doing this for years. Dissecting trends from a macro perspective, he is a good writer, and has a good handle on the technology.

Rushkoff recognizes and names different conditions arising from living in the distracted present. They are useful for finding yourself, your friends, your children and seeing quite clearly what we are becoming.

He tells us how story telling has changed as a result of technology. No more story, actually. No narrative. Just stuff. A few characters. A few frames of video. Repeated, over and over and over again so they take on an importance simply because of their frequency in the culture.

He reminds us that those with access (more capital, better technology, stronger contacts) still move the meter most. And while the truly creative have a way to find an audience... it probably won't be the mass audience.

And that eavesdropping - in real time - on the torrent, that used to be a stream, that used to be a trickle of conversation, is no substitute for participation and face-to-face engagement. In the now.

People these days just like to watch more than they like to do. And they think that because they are constantly monitoring and changing streams (from twitter, to facebook, to youtube, to whatever) - and watching something else, they actually are doing something.

Unplug. I dare you. See if YOU can stay unplugged for an hour. Or two. Or 24. Are you aware the sun is shining outside?
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas on June 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Review courtesy of

Information can be either a storage or flow. Twitter is a flow: there is no point in going back and rewatching twitter feeds, because once it loses its present immediacy, it loses impact. We cannot catch up with it. Books, on the other hand, are storage, and can be returned to repeatedly. The problem with modernity is that we confuse the two, scanning a digital article with the same focus as we give our facebook news feed, and missing out on much of its value.

Rushkoff argues that we have begun to experience life as one long moment, always in the present, with no beginning and no end. As a result, we have stopped emphasizing narratives in our movies and tv shows; we attempt to be everywhere at once both in attention and physically; we try to make everything happen now rather than waiting; and we oversee patterns due to an overdose of data points. It is an interesting and compelling point, that we are placing less and less emphasis on things that are not happening now, and are overwhelmed by everything that supposedly is.

Unfortunately, I don't find the rest of his thesis convincing. His argument that we no longer value narrative arcs, supposedly evidenced in flashback heavy Family Guy episodes, just doesn't seem reasonable. Modern life is certainly accelerated, as Alvin Toffler argued in his book Future Shock, and it seems that the faster it gets, the faster we demand it goes. It seems to me though that we show just as much need for narrative arcs as ever, though perhaps less patience for long ones. Family guy still has a story - it's just short and shallow.

Despite being on a fascinating topic, Present Shock didn't add as much as I had hoped to the discussion.
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