Sunday, August 25, 2013

PRESENT SHOCK by Douglas Rushkoff

Ever since Twitter and Facebook came along, society has been moving rapidly toward more rapidity. The end result is what Douglas Rushkoff calls PRESENT SHOCK, a "presentism" that is replacing the "futurism" touted in the 20th Century. Time-is-money was once the motto and goal of investors and employers. You did your time for a gold watch and a pension (or savings with time-based interest), and were judged and rated by peers with a stopwatch, while everyone obsessed with growth and a demanded increase in quarterly profit scores. ('Winners' were defined as Max Boot defined them in a recent WSJ puff piece about football, while admitting to being a 'worshipper at the church of the sacred gridiron.') The result of this has been wild swings in the market, including bubbles and collapses, sustained by a competitive mania that makes a kill-or-be-killed sport out of every transaction. Rushkoff says that this old expansionist myth is unsustainable, and so we need to move toward less 'stuff' and more efficiency, toward craftspeople trading peer-to-peer instead of being employees in big box stores run by gun-ho, short-sighted capitalists (some of whom probably sit around in their shorts watching cage fighting.) Our focus has already shifted from the future to the present, Rushkoff says, as our culture only rewards what is happening right this instant. There will soon be no more future or time as we now live it, no more security in pensions or currencies, no more glorifying meaningless record books. We are being pinged and tweeted each change every moment in real time so much, now, that we've actually become anxious about having time's security blanket ripped out from under us. This is why, Rushkoff says, we are so into zombie apocalypses and conspiracy theories: we want this unease to end with a bang soon. But there's no going back, and going forward means we need to unplug from the idea of hoarding (or owning or keeping scores) as a defense against the future, and instead concentrate on creating value for other people, who will then want to keep us around. The book posits that the technological world we rushed to create twenty years ago has now arrived, with all its instant messaging and live-streaming...but the world we created is less livable than we imagined it would be. What's missing in all the data stream 'scoring' is meaning and story, which allows real people to actually be in the present instead of merely existing in a frenzied state prompted by a glut of ultimately meaningless information. "Our bodies are analog, not digital," Rushkoff says. That is important to keep in mind when bombarded by digital messages repeated over and over as if to robots...or to make us robotic to sustain some quarterly profit figure demanded by old school Mad Men. Narrated by Kevin T. Collins, this is an audiobook that calls into question the cultural imperative of 'winning at all cost' by defining those costs clearly so that past mistakes will not be repeated yet again. As such, it confirms my own suspicions in new ways.

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