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Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age Paperback – September 6, 2011
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Praise for Program or Be Programmed
"Now that much of what Rushkoff has predicted over the years has come to pass, he is uniquely qualified to write what may be one of the most important and instructive books of our times: Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. In it, he outlines ten different ideas that information technology is biased towards; biases that can cause discord in our lives. However, rather than predicting that the sky is falling, Rushkoff gives practical and actionable advice on how to turn those biases into advantages." Wired
"Lucid and consequential . . . a subtle and substantiated call for (missing) humanity in networked daily life." Neural.it
Thinking twice about our use of digital media, what our practices are doing to us, and what we are doing to each other, is one of the most important priorities people have todayand Douglas Rushkoff gives us great guidelines for doing that thinking. Read this before and after you Tweet, Facebook, email or YouTube.” Howard Rheingold
Douglas Rushkoff is one of the great thinkersand writersof our time.” Timothy Leary
Rushkoff is damn smart. As someone who understood the digital revolution faster and better than almost anyone, he shows how the internet is a social transformer that should change the way your business culture operates.” Walter Isaacson
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
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.” Shareable.net
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. --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.
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Rather, it's an effective look at how various pervasive digital technologies - always-on email and messaging, social networks, website "commenting" that allows hiding behind anonymity - are contributing to the polarization of political views, the devaluing of face-to-face time and leisure activities, and so on.
A boatload of books have been written on this topic, but this one stands out to me in two ways. First, the author hits on things "we all know" feel "wrong" about the effects of some of these technologies, but he summarizes them in observations that immediately cut to the heart of the dissonance. For example, he notes that digital devices are "timeless" (in that nothing about their programming accounts for or is affected by linear time or the passing of time), whereas the passing of different time intervals defines many aspects of our existence and interactions, and it is by juxtaposing these opposing natures that the conflict arises: in order to more effectively use the machines, we are drawn into behaviors that ignore what used to be a defining characteristic of our rhythms of life. The second way in which this book stands out is that unlike others, it at least tries to provide concrete advice on how to avoid these pitfalls. It's not a Luddite book - it doesn't argue the technologies should (or could) be abolished, only that we must be thoughtful in making choices about how to incorporate them into our lives, lest our lives instead adapt to the algorithms.
There are a few minor errors of fact (eg "the Internet was designed to survive a nuclear attack" is an often-repeated meme that is simply incorrect) but they're incidental to his main points and generally forgivable. It's a concise read and makes its thought-provoking points without beating around the bush.
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."