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Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age Paperback – November 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


As we shuffle in this morning, we're all gathering on a plane of electrons, held together by... well, for most of us it might as well be library paste and fairy dust. But hey, who needs to understand how all this technical stuff works? After all, you don't need to know how a television works to catch Law & Order: Yet Another. You don't need to know how a combustion engine works to drive your car to work. Why should you need to know anything about the programming behind the pixels just to get around the web? Because, as Douglas Rushkoff reminds us in this slim volume, the web is different. It's both medium and content. It delivers us to work, delivers our entertainment, hosts our conversation, and more often than not, shapes our opinions. It's medium and message, highway, vehicle, post office, confidant, and huckster. We don't just put our ideas into the web, we also draw ideas out. And the difference in being able to place messages in the medium, and realizing how the medium shapes the message, is the difference between tossing a pebble into water and digging a canal. This is not a coffee maker you're using, and the web is not the Sunday paper. What you do in here can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. We like to think that we're old hands at the information age, but what Douglas Rushkoff shows is that those who march into the web thinking that knowledge of the outside world will be enough to use this new conduit, have been sadly mistaken over and over. Retail powerhouses in the brick & mortar world find that not only are they unable to easily leverage the web to their advantage, simply putting their prices online makes it easier for companies that only exist in this new universe to quick trump their prices and take their customers. Newspapers find that their ability to aggregate information can't keep up with tools available to their (former) readers. Politicians find that rather than giving them a simple super-phone-bank-money-extractor, operating in the web can also mean being mired in a bog of electronic overload and inaction. What's the difference between being able to operate in the web, and being able to thrive there? The difference is in being able to understand the how and why of this new world. In ten chapters or commands, Douglas Rushkoff lays out how to live in this new world. Some of this advice will seem straightforward, some of it will need explanation, and some of it will seem more than a little counterintuitive. But all of it is delivered with verve and insight that makes you rethink your interactions on the web. Are you driving your life here, or only a passenger? If you want to get your hands on the wheel, this book is a good place to start. --Daily Kos

Douglas Rushkoff is an oracle of the digital age, an author addressing issues few have yet identified. Rushkoff s latest work, Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, sets aside tired debates about the societal value of the Internet and instead posits that the crucial question at hand is whether we direct technology, or let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it. Choose the former, writes Rushkoff, and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make. Rushkoff presents ten succinct commands for choosing our own destiny in the online era, ranging from Do Not Be Always On to Do Not Sell Your Friends . In the process, he presents a way we can actively leverage these technologies to build a more shareable world similar to the one we envision in our report The New Sharing Economy, as opposed to allowing our tools and those who create them to define the social constructs of the current era.

About the Author

Winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff has written a dozen best-selling books on media and society, including Cyberia, Media Virus, Coercion (winner of the Marshall McLuhan Award), Get Back in the Box, and Life Inc. He has made the PBS Frontline documentaries Digital Nation, The Persuaders, and Merchants of Cool. A columnist for The Daily Beast and Arthur Magazine, his articles have been regularly published in The New York Times and Discover, among many other publications. His radio commentaries air on NPR and WFMU, his opeds appear in the New York Times, and he is a familiar face on television, from ABC News to The Colbert Report. Rushkoff has taught at New York University and the New School, played keyboards for the industrial band PsychicTV, directed for theater and film, and worked as a stage fight choreographer. He lives in New York State with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 140 pages
  • Publisher: OR Books; First Edition edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935928155
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935928157
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.8 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,872 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

61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Brent Finnegan on December 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
I haven't read Rushkoff's other books (although I might go back and read Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back).

Program or be Programmed is a quick read. I read it on the Kindle my wife got me for Christmas. The irony of reading a book about the pitfalls and possibilities of technology we don't fully understand on a device I don't fully understand was not lost on me.

I would describe this as an "Internet philosophy book" that might fit on the bookshelf somewhere between Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning...was the Command Line and Jeff Jarvis' What Would Google Do? But I found Program to be even more thoughtful and succinct than those books.

Quote from the book: "Instead of learning about our technology, we opt for a world in which our technology learns about us."

Rushkoff has proposed ten ideas/concepts/considerations for principles to live by online. He starts with the obvious -- don't always be online, live in person, be yourself -- and builds to the not-so-obvious. By numbers nine and ten, he's making the case for doing away with centralized currency because it's not compatible with the new digital world we've created.

The most intriguing aspect of Rushkoff's worldview is the realization that "we the people" have always been one step behind the technological innovation of the age.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Nathan P. Gilmour on August 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To explain how I came across this book, I have to make a confession: since my family doesn't subscribe to cable television, the only time my kids or I watch cable TV (or much TV at all, really) is when we're on the road, visiting family or otherwise. My son, predictably gravitates to Disney and the Cartoon Network, but I'm a C-SPAN man. And when CSPAN-2 has Book TV, I'm watching it. So guess when and where I saw Douglas Rushkoff interviewed about his new book. That's right. When I can watch anything on cable television, I go to Book TV.

Confession out of the way, what makes this book worthy of the Neil Postman Award that it won (I just learned that such an award exists) is its refusal to let any digital technology become transparent, something that's a mere window through which we see the world as the world happens to be. From the first Arpanet connections to email to the ubiquitous vibrating phones (and accompanying "phantom phone buzz syndrome"), Rushkoff keeps his sharp eye on the assumptions that one has to make before the technology makes any sense: that one should adjust one's personal biological rhythms to the atemporal "always on" existence of computer networks rather than vice versa; that the world should conform its complexity to the reductionism of binary choices; and that human beings are meant to exist as infinitesimal nodes in a vast global network, just to name three. Spelling out those assumptions, Rushkoff does not so much give ten commands as ask ten penetrating questions, questions that ought to haunt human beings as we jump on board the Internet train.

Why ten commands, then?
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Page on January 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
In "Program or Be Programmed" Douglas Rushkoff argues for the need of people to be aware of the implications of transitioning into the digital age, and he urges readers to gain technical literacy in order to maintain control over their lives and foster opportunities for innovation. In ten commandments, he directs attention to the biases of digital technologies and the resulting negative and positive outcomes. Following a compact introduction, he breaks up his argument into concise and articulate justifications that culminate in a prompt to learn to program.

Rushkoff's book is filled with one-line zingers that summarize critical issues of debate regarding digital technologies with such eloquence that Larry Lessig and maybe even Evgeny Morozov would applaud (though Morozov would vehemently shake his head in disagreement with Rushkoff's optimistic outlook). As a student in an interdisciplinary major called Science, Technology, and Society, which mixes computer science and communication courses, I found myself nodding along with Rushkoff and occasionally vocalizing agreement at my computer screen. At one or two instances I sat puzzled wondering if he believes that he is Morpheus from "The Matrix" and that I, the reader, am the One.

There are many issues surrounding digital media--far more than a single author can provide full insight on. Rushkoff's work is interesting in that I can see it as a useful resource for a student just delving into these issues for the first time, and as a useful resource for a student who is familiar with issues touched upon in this book. It is a work of breadth rather than depth. Rushkoff jams statements into a concise synopsis that can be unpacked on many levels. It is a great starting point and roadmap.
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