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Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

4.0 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews
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, Forbes.com
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: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Current (March 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591844762
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591844761
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com

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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