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Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity Hardcover – March 1, 2016
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“Douglas Rushkoff is one of today’s most incisive media theorists and a provocative critic of our digital economy. He’s also fun to read.”
—WALTER ISAACSON, president and CEO, The Aspen Institute, and author of The Innovators
“If you don’t know Rushkoff, you’re not serious about figuring out what’s going to happen next.”
—SETH GODIN, author of Linchpin
“Thoughtful, provocative, and essential reading for our economic moment.”
—JOI ITO, director, MIT Media Lab
“We’ve optimized for growth. But have we lost our way? As an economy? As a community? As a society with a value proposition that doesn’t make sense on a human or economic level? Rushkoff asks questions that matter. A challenging and necessary read.”
—SHERRY TURKLE, author of Reclaiming Conversation
“Every great advance begins when someone sees that what everyone else takes for granted may not actually be true. Douglas Rushkoff questions the deepest assumptions of the modern economy and blazes a path toward a more human-centered world.”
—TIM O’REILLY, founder, O’Reilly Media
“Douglas Rushkoff is a true digital visionary. Read this rousing call to reboot our society from the bottom up before it’s too late.”
—ASTRA TAYLOR, filmmaker and author of The People’s Platform
“In what could be seen as a crisis, Rushkoff shares his smart, optimistic, and pragmatic perspective about how both businesses and consumers can reimagine today’s current economic operating system in the digital age—and prosper.”
—BONIN BOUGH, chief media and e-commerce officer, Mondelēz
“Powerful truth telling… The crux of the argument that Rushkoff makes is that the digital economy is a house of cards built on fictional growth metrics that drive companies to raise money, undercut human workers, sell on the public markets and then—almost inevitably—collapse under the weight of public market demands.”
“A brilliant, bomb-hurling critique of the flaws in our digital economy, identifying what has gone wrong and what can be done about it.”
“A powerful exposé of an underdiscussed downside to the digital revolution.”
About the Author
Douglas Rushkoff is the bestselling author of Present Shock, as well as a dozen other books on media, technology, and culture, including Program or Be Programmed and Life Inc. Named one of the world’s ten most influential thinkers by MIT, he has made documentaries for PBS Frontline, including Generation Like and The Merchants of Cool, and he is a professor of media theory and digital economics at Queens College, CUNY. He lives in New York and lectures about media, society, and economics around the world.
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Top Customer Reviews
There are few books that remind us that we are living history and even fewer that remind us we need to behave accordingly. This is one of these books. If nothing else, it will help make you the smartest person in the room. I can't recommend it enough.
Rushkoff, as best as I can tell is a media arts professor (is that even a real academic discipline) who has an interest in technology. Unfortunately he doesn’t even have the most basic layman’s understanding of economics or history, nor the intellectual curiosity to find out. Instead this book is just a lightly researched polemic, making ridiculous, often unsourced wide-sweeping claims. Even when I checked out the few footnotes he included, his sources did not say what he said they did. For example, the average Google employee does not quit within a year, there are not 1.7 million medical bankruptcies per year (in 2015 there were only 900,000 personal bankruptcies for all reasons) and companies are not gobbling up tech firms with no revenues, left and right. For that last claim I assume he actually meant profit, but it is hard to tell as he uses economic and financial terms loosely out of context, and often meaninglessly.
I can appreciate a book even if I don’t agree with it, but this book doesn’t even agree with itself. On one page the author condemns the low starvation wages paid by major corporations in third world countries, then a few pages later says that this is just a fiction of artificial exchange rates. More than once in apocalyptic terms he talks of companies like WalMart which are massive profitable behemoths strip mining the nation of all resources and ripping off the consumer, it efficiencies paling in comparison to its “extracting”, then he dedicates an entire section to how corporations are becoming less and less profitable. Which is it? He condemns modern “monopolies” such as Facebook, but then laments the demise of taxi cartels which supposedly supplied so many good jobs, and then waxes romantically about medieval guilds, without noting that both of them are textbook examples of cartels which restrict competition.
Historically speaking this whole thing about guilds that becomes a foundation of his thesis is just bizarre and completely ahistorical. He provides no sourcing or even argument to support his contention that they represented some sort of apex of human “peer to peer” commerce; he just asserts it as somehow better than modern corporations. As best as I can tell he learned everything he knows about guilds from playing Dungeons and Dragons in high school. Without defining the terms he refers to them as “value creation” while modern corporations are “value extraction”. Romantic notions aside, however, they create value in the exact same way. Whether I purchase an item from an individual, a guild, or a corporation, I am doing it for the exact same reason, because that good or service is worth more to me than the money or item I am giving up in exchange for it. My trading partner is selling it to me for the exact same reason. Simply labeling one exchange as creating and another as extracting is ridiculous romanticism with no basis in economics, math or logic.
As an example of this, at one point the author criticizes Facebook and other social media applications for mining user data, as in the modern world that much data on personal preferences is valuable, and that it is ripping off its users by not sharing this wealth with them. How, in fact, are they being ripped off when they are more than happy to use these applications (most provided entirely free) voluntarily. I have been on Facebook several years and I do not know of a single person ever forced to use the application at gunpoint. They obviously see some value in the application to themselves, otherwise they would not use it. Whether Facebook also obtains some value, and presumably they do otherwise they would not invest considerable resources in running it, is immaterial to the user. Ironically Rushkoff also repeatedly mocks these very same Internet startups in other parts of the book for not having revenue, so apparently he expects them to share the money with customers that he claims they are not making. And this is one of his more coherent and consistent arguments.
The book gets somewhat better when it moves from the “history” to the “solutions” phase, although many of his solutions have absolutely nothing to do with what he claims were the problems. Yes, local currencies and bitcoins are interesting, although as of yet just libertarian thought experiments, but they do nothing to address the issues of income distribution or economic stagnation that he claims are the problem. Ironically in one section he condemns the Federal Reserve of the tool of the rich to enslave the working class, and then promotes local currencies as a solution to shortages of currency and credit, without noticing the fact that the primary goal of the Federal Reserve is to act as a lender of last resort and keep the credit and currency markets functioning properly. Rushkoff then goes on to make the startling discovery that there are a variety of corporate structures such as non-profits and employee owned companies, an entirely unsurprising observation, given their existence for the last several centuries. It all gets pretty bizarre though, at one point Rushkoff goes the full Mao and proposes we all start farming “in shifts”. Hey, when the Soviets and Chinese tried that it only killed a few tens of millions of people. What could possibly go wrong? I could go on for several thousand more words, but I tire of this.
So in summary, this book easily rates as one of the most mind-numbingly stupid books I have ever read. I hate to make such broad generalizations, but in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books I have read in my lifetime no other better examples come to mind. The author fails to make a single coherent argument in this entire work, and we are all worse off for having read it. In fact, one may say that it was value extracting. Hey, maybe he was on to something after all? I award you no points (well, OK, one star because that is the lowest Amazon will allow) and may God have mercy on your soul.
Instead, Douglas takes the approach that we need to evaluate the entire foundation that big corporate values are built on. He says, “We are running a 21st-century digital economy on a 13th Century printing-press era operating system." and that it's not benefiting the majority of people--the workers at the bottom who have to work harder and harder to achieve growth standards or the CEOs at the top who sell out their company's long-term success for the short-term profit of their shareholders.
And he finishes by sharing what we can do to take action to correct the course that our hyper-consumerist, growth-addicted modern economy has set us on.
Highly recommended reading!
The thoughts that Rushkoff puts forward are very much interesting. He doesn't cling to a particular political doctrine, as he does not hesitate to describe how his ideas differ from those of the major American political parties. We should all look at whether our economy is serving our society.
I had a friend/coworker at Google in 2013 who arrived at work one morning a little upset when her Google bus had been stopped by demonstrators. This bit of history is the lead off for this book but for me the most valuable part of the book was understanding how centralized powers extract value from local producers, and how historically this started at the end of the Dark Ages.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The author rambles on page after page in the most mundane things, and...Read more