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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-Humanizing Our Future
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...
Published on December 29, 2010 by Brent Finnegan

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Summary of Issues in Digital Media
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...
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-Humanizing Our Future, December 29, 2010
By 
Brent Finnegan (Harrisonburg, VA, US) - See all my reviews
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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. From the creation of a written language to the creation of the Internet, the majority of us lag behind the people in positions of knowledge/power who are creating the systems that shape our daily lives.

Quote from the book: "For the person who understands code, the whole world reveals itself as a series of decisions made by planners and designers for how the rest of us should live. Not just computers, but everything from the way streets are organized in a town to the way election rules [are tilted] begin to look like what they are: sets of rules developed to promote certain outcomes."

The ideas Rushkoff lays out in Program are powerful enough to have convinced me to at least attempt to learn some of the basics about computers and programming.

This book is worth checking out.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Programming as a Liberal Art, August 24, 2011
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This review is from: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (Paperback)
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? Rushkoff, whose approach to technology is the same secular-Jewish approach that Neil Postman made famous with Technopoly and Amusing Ourselves to Death, describes the rise of alphabetic writing as a technological change that made intelligible a genuinely new order of civilized life and the Torah in particular as that body of alphabetic writing which allowed the slave-tribes of Israel to develop into a genuine civilization in the ancient Near East. Likewise, Rushkoff suggests, folks in the Internet age are experiencing a genuinely new kind of consciousness, one as different from the print age's as the alphabetic consciousness would have been from the oral cultures which preceded it. His book is set of suggestions to help people navigate the new age the way that the Ten Commandments helped the Hebrews become Israel. If he were operating in a religious register, such a claim for his own book would be nothing short of ludicrous, but within his own Cultural Materialist framework, there is a certain degree of sense, on a formal level, to the analogy. A more adequate analogy for the Christian audience, I reckon, is the work that another book, perhaps written by one of our readers, might tackle.

The upshot of Rushkoff's ten brief chapters is that, like alphabetic language, computer networks do not regulate themselves. Just as alphabetic writing has the capacity both for glorious Psalms and the vain name-taking that one of the commandments prohibits (I'll let my readers supply the numbering, as Lutherans and Presbyterians do that differently), computer networks have the capacity both to slow down our processes of ethical deliberation and other forms of serious thought (as the old dial-up connections used to do, Rushkoff notes) or to enslave us to a pace of connection that journalists call "always-on" and the human body calls slow murder. Likewise, because information flows so easily on packet-switching networks, the Internet has the capacity to serve as the vehicle for a new culture of collaboration and cooperative creativity or as a place where nobody records music or movies because they're only going to get stolen. Each of Rushkoff's first nine "commands" follows the same sort of pattern, first noting the great potential for human flourishing that digital networks promises and then noting the danger for human destruction that the same characteristic threatens. Obviously this is the sort of cultural ecology that Marshal McLuhan and Neil Postman made famous, and Rushkoff honors his predecessors by showing the same attention to detail that they did, never simply replicating the analysis that McLuhan did of television or Postman of the early Internet but letting the particular observations that all of us should be making determine the shape of the analysis that Rushkoff offers.

The tenth "command" was the most interesting from my point of view because it included an explicit program for cultural renewal. As many of us who came through the public schools in the eighties and early nineties can attest, "computer classes" used to mean programming: whether it was LOGO in grade school, BASIC in junior high, or C++ in high school, we learned the tools to make computers do things that other people hadn't thought of before, and although our products were often puerile and sometimes entirely indecent (I hope they've discarded those old servers from the early nineties, I'll admit), still the fact remained that computers were, for us, what Rushkoff calls "anything machines," terminals that promised infinite flexibility for those determined enough to use it. Computer education has, of course, shifted since then: "computer literacy" now seems to mean the ability to operate (at a fairly complex level, to grant the point) programs that large corporations have already written, to do audio-visual presentations on out-of-the-box platforms and perhaps (in the really advanced courses) to edit photographs and video using software sold (at a premium) by the Apple corporation.

The point of this brief history of computer education is that Rushkoff wants to see programming reintroduced to the common curriculum, not only for those who are going to be information-systems professionals but for every citizen who's going to be an educated contributor to society. Against the conventional wisdom of the Web 2.0 age, Rushkoff insists that there's no place in a democratic society in the computer age for one class of programmers and a much larger class of end-users; like literacy and mathematics, to acquire a working knowledge of computer code is simply to know the fabric of the civilization that citizens are supposed to help run. Like Postman before him, Rushkoff calls for such an education governed not by the "specialists" in the field but by computer-literate, generally educated elder citizens, or to put it in our lingo, by digital humanists.

As someone who is not a computer professional (I'm an English teacher, remember?) but who has a working knowledge of some computer languages, Rushkoff's suggestions resonate with me. In fact, they struck me as so true that, upon finishing the book, I immediately went to one of the web resources, Learn Python the Hard Way, and started re-educating myself so that I can be a better teacher. (As I write this, I've completed lesson two.) I'm also lending this book (before this review goes live) to a computer programming professor at Emmanuel College so that he can read it and tells me what he thinks, and perhaps at some point, down the line, we can get going on a cyber-humanist club or some other kind of extra-curricular pursuit that combines insights from Neil Postman and Al Gore and Douglas Rushkoff with Christian-worldview sorts of resources from Arthur Holmes and Ed Cyzewski and Stan Hauerwas. (Yes, Al Gore wrote a pretty nice book of cultural-ecological criticism. I reviewed it here.) Until then, this is one of those books that hit me so hard that I can't just review it--I positively recommend it.

This review is cross-posted from the Christian Humanist Blog.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Summary of Issues in Digital Media, January 17, 2013
This review is from: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (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. For its short length, the book is surprisingly comprehensive. However, this strength is undermined by the lack of references to relevant scholars within his discussion.

With no leads for the reader to go on, this insightful, concentrated stream of thesis statements seems to limit itself to food for thought when it is on the cusp of serving as a reference handbook to issues in digital technology. Rushkoff essentially gives the reader all the ingredients but no recipe; following his significant statements, Rushkoff moves on without pointing the reader to a relevant expert. For instance, he discusses choices and regulation, as well as remix culture, but he does not mention the widely known Larry Lessig, whose works would provide excellent depth to complement Rushkoff's breadth. Rushkoff also touches on the decentralization characteristic to post-industrial society, but he does not mention Richard Sennett or his highly relevant book, "The Culture of New Capitalism." Without directing readers to works that unpack Rushkoff's compact generalizations, readers will be unable to appreciate just how much weight Rushkoff's statements hold. Rushkoff does provide an "essential reading" bibliography at the end of the book, but readers would benefit far more from this book if Rushkoff at least mentioned the relevant experts at the end of each brief section and provided more literature references.

Rushkoff's perspective regarding the structure of digital technology aligns closely with that of Larry Lessig. Both authors emphatically demonstrate that programs are made by humans, and humans make decisions. This means that humans are making decisions for people who use digital technology. And while digital technology has benefits (which Rushkoff does an excellent job of acknowledging before making a case for concern), if people don't understand the way digital technologies work, then they are at great risk of becoming disempowered by a potentially empowering tool. The two authors both aim to generate awareness so that the reader understands that things are the way they are for a reason; decisions are behind everything we encounter. As Rushkoff states, "Our screens are the windows through which we are experiencing, organizing, and interpreting the world in which we live. They are fast becoming the boundaries of our perceptual and conceptual apparatus; the edge between...our understanding of the world and the world itself" (132-133). If we had to choose just one thing to take away from Rushkoff's commandments, above all it is that we should question, question, and question more. We should question why things are the way they are. We should question how we are behaving and whether we are happy. And if we are not happy, or if there is something we want to improve, it is up to us to decide to do something about it.

A unique element of Rushkoff's writing is his emphasis on the impossibility of humans, who run on biological time, to keep up with the demands of computers, which are discrete. Rushkoff provides a refreshing and realistic take on the speed with which people and companies accepted new technologies before considering whether it was really a good idea. Constantly getting emails can be a waste of time, and digital correspondence can be much less efficient than a simple telephone call. While his ten commandments describe how one can take a step back from digital technologies that have engulfed him, the most significant part of Rushkoff's work has to do with the empowerment of knowledge and the ability to program.

In contrast to Rushkoff's perspective about the ability of individuals to escape "being programmed" by learning to program (or at least by learning how digital technologies work), Evgeny Morozov delivers a thoroughly insightful blow to Rushkoff's optimism in his book, "The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom." The scholars agree on a variety of points, yet set unequal tones. The intersection of Rushkoff and Morozov interests me most. I am interested in debates concerning the future of digital media and the ability of individuals to act autonomously. How free can we be? How free will they let us be? Is there any way to act freely when we are tied to hardware? These are questions that fascinate me. By learning more about the technical side of digital technologies, I hope to better grasp answers to these questions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome our digital overlords, October 17, 2011
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Worried about the effect that ever expanding information technologies are having on global culture, our personal lives and how we interact with one another? Well, Douglas Rushkoff is (and if you're not, you either haven't been paying attention or you're too young to remember the pre-internet world). "Program or Be Programmed" offers some timely reflections on the state of what's happening to us now. Maybe future readers will look back and laugh...or maybe they'll look back and say at least someone saw it coming.

Some of Rushkoff's observations seem spot-on, while others are a bit more questionable. For example, he laments the lack of availability of computer programming classes at the high school level fearing that students are learning only how to operate the software without ever understanding the methods of its creation. That strikes me as an odd concern. One could just as easily argue that programmers are at a fundamental disadvantage lacking an understanding of the electrical engineering which makes modern microprocessors possible. That logic could be extended backward ad infinitum. (Do I need to understand Boolean logic in order to, say, build a website?)

His more astute observations deal with things like the often cited shortening of attention spans, the valuation of the recent over the relevant, the stress caused by the constant onslaught of new data (about which he says "for the first time, regular people are beginning to shows signs of stress and mental fatigue once exclusive to air traffic controllers and 911 operators"), and the separation of people from their physical surroundings ("our digital behaviors closely mirror those of Asperger's sufferers; low pick up on social cues and facial expressions, apparent lack of empathy, and the inability to make facial contact").

One of the more disturbing behaviors that omnipresent internet-enabled digital devices spawn is the attitude that a person's online representation of themselves (a sort of simulation of one's self) is more important than actually experiencing that life. This is a phenomenon in which it's more important to one's self valuation to be seen as being at all the right events, socializing with all of the right people having a better time than one's audience than it is to actually enjoy the event being experienced. We're all celebrities now (at least within our circle of digital followers).

He chronicles another familiar modern phenomenon: the mashup. Creative works that once stood as isolated and indivisible are now subject to infinite duplication, disassembly, rearrangement and publication as "new" works. Are they really new? If I rearrange the songs on your album and lay some new beats over top of it, am I an artist? Good question. It's something that the world's filmmakers will have to struggle with as their audience slices up their movie oeuvre and inserts characters from the film into a movie of their own making.

All is not lost, however. He highlights a positive trend in online communication: surfacing the truth. When statements are posted and circulated online which are inaccurate or flat out false, someone somewhere is going to see it and call out that falsehood. He says that "the way to flourish in a mediaspace biased toward nonfiction is to tell the truth." He quickly adds a caveat to that saying that "this means having a truth to tell."
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this, February 16, 2013
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Everyone should read this book. Don't be put off by the title; Rushkoff is not (exactly) saying that everyone needs to be a Java programmer.

Think of what we call a television "program." You sit and watch it. It defines your experience. Those who developed it decide where to lead you. Sometimes that can be good. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's good but only for a period of time.

The book is a very interesting and reasoned consideration of our relationship with technology. The premise is that technologies (like all tools) introduce certain biases. They encourage us to think, feel, and behave in certain ways. Rushkoff is simply suggesting that we become aware of those biases and use them to our advantage.

Although Rushkoff gives ten "commands" he's not exactly prescriptive; he doesn't say things like "Turn your phone off at 9 pm" or such. He's just encouraging us to think about our relationship with technology. I disagree with some of what he implies, but that's the point: Make your own conscious choices about technology.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars <body> Program this </body>, March 19, 2013
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This review is from: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (Paperback)
Douglas Rushkoff is the digital Moses, giving the 21st century its ten commandments to function in the digital age. He basically wants us to stop being "always on," "be our authentic selves online," "and learn how to program" - or be programmed ourselves!

The book uses parallels with the rise of the printing press, and those who wield the power, can control the masses. It's a thoughtful, and provoking book. Rushkoff has even backed Codeacademy - a site that offers free classes where you can learn to code. The book is a must for media theorists, techies, and those who question the times we live in, and those who control it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A few decent ideas, March 19, 2013
This review is from: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (Paperback)
As a whole, Program or Be Programmed made some interesting points about how we have been using technology and how it's been changing us over time. The concepts of Being Yourself on the internet, telling the truth because the internet will prove you wrong otherwise and not always being plugged in seem sort of common sense.

The book claims to be about why we should learn to program, but admittedly, I found very few moments where this book actually made me stop and think that programming really is necessary. It's a great critique of some of the problems with our current civilization and tech natives who are rapidly developing out of education system into the real world but as a whole, the book felt lacking. There were examples but they weren't the strongest and despite its length, the novel on the whole was rather dull and a slow read. Needed to be more concrete and offer a HOW, not a why we have the problem.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent diatribe., December 10, 2010
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Rushkoff's Decalogue of ways to deal with our new cultural, digital landscape is vital in appreciating and coping with how computers systemize corporate control.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn to live with contradiction, November 12, 2012
By 
Steven Forth (Vancouver BC or Cambridge MA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (Paperback)
I often flip through the references in a book before reading it. This helps me get a general idea of where the book fits in the larger conversation. I am looking for a few landmark references that are important to my own thinking, and a few surprises, references that I don't know but that intrigue, or references I did not expect to see together. Douglas Rushkoff's books generally surprise in a good way, and Program or be Programmed is no exception. The references include Harold Innis The Bias of Communication, Second Edition to Norbert Weiner's The Human Use Of Human Beings: Cybernetics And Society (Da Capo Paperback) and Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (which I have not yet read). I am intrigued.

In this book Rushkoff gives ten suggestions (which he calls commands) for how to live more authentically in the digital world we are building.

1. Do not always be on. (Disconnect from time to time.)
2. Live in person. (Get out and meet people in the flesh.)
3. You may always choose `none of the above.' (Don't let systems define your choices.)ou
4. You are never completely right. (And the world is not binary.)
5. Be yourself. (Use your real identity online whenever you can.)
6. One size does not fit all. (Some things need to be personal, or local, others global, don't confuse them.)
7. Do not sell your friends. (They are not a commodity.)
8. Tell the truth. (The web is good at uncovering lies.)
9. Share, don't steal. (And be generous with your acknowledgements.)
10. Program or be programmed.

I would add one more, "Seek out contradictions" (hang out with people you disagree with or with whom you have to work to build the common ground needed for communication). Too many of us spend too much time talking to people we already agree with, and if we are not careful our on-line social networks can reinforce this.

The most controversial point in this book is Rushkoff's tenth commandment, Learn How to Program. Do we all need to learn how to program or is programming a geek activity for a small group of people? There are two levels to this. Basic concepts from computer science are core to understanding our world and can be widely applied across many disciplines. I would include Object Orientation, Packet Switching, Bayesian Networks, Graph Theory, the Relational Data Model among the core memes of our age. Then there is the mental agility that comes from learning at least some basic programming. Both are important. Rushkoff's plea that we all learn to program and that we begin teaching programming in high school (I say elementary school) is well grounded. He even recommends some resources with which to get started, such as Daniel Shiffman's Learning Processing, Second Edition: A Beginner's Guide to Programming Images, Animation, and Interaction (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive 3D Technology).

I have some quibbles. Rushkoff's comments on the evolution of communication from language through writing through the printing press to networked communication seem to me to be terribly Eurocentric. There are traditions of writing and printing older than that of `the peoples of the book' in India, China and their intersecting cultural spheres. One interesting reading on these lines is Jack Goody's The Interface between the Written and the Oral (Studies in Literacy, the Family, Culture and the State). And Rushkoff's summary of the emergence of currency is so abbreviated to be misleading. See David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years. But these are quibbles and do not take away from the force of his arguments or the importance of his commandments.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the Great Futurists, November 6, 2011
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As a curious / searching 21 year old in 1995, in a second hand book store window I passed by, I was suddenly assaulted by the most horrendous fluorescent green, yellow and black book cover and then in the next millisecond utterly captivated by it's title: 'Media Virus'. Media Virus ? WTF ? The first world wide webpage had only been created a little over a year before and whist 'viral' has become a word mostly used by hack marketing managers to describe their spam email campaign, in the 1995 'memes' and viral media were the most intoxicating ideas I had ever heard.

For me, this was the beginning of what seems to be becoming a life-long journey and in each chapter I consistently find Douglas Rushkoff's latest offering awaiting me, always one visionary step ahead. His most recent thoughts about an alternative currency and how the current economic model has become redundant in the digital age are THE now ideas and offer a way forward even as Europe melts down and Wall Street is 'occupied'.

Douglas is one of the great futurists, and for me, a thinker on the same tier as a Malcolm Gladwell or a Tim Berners-Lee.
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Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age
Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age by Douglas Rushkoff (Paperback - September 6, 2011)
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