Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Douglas Rushkoff: Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age

From the Daily Kos: As we shuffle in this morning, we're all gathering on a plane of electrons, held together by... well, for most of us it might as well be library paste and fairy dust. But hey, who needs to understand how all this technical stuff works? After all, you don't need to know how a television works to catch Law & Order: Yet Another. You don't need to know how a combustion engine works to drive your car to work. Why should you need to know anything about the programming behind the pixels just to get around the web? Because, as Douglas Rushkoff reminds us in this slim volume, the web is different. It's both medium and content. It delivers us to work, delivers our entertainment, hosts our conversation, and more often than not, shapes our opinions. It's medium and message, highway, vehicle, post office, confidant, and huckster. We don't just put our ideas into the web, we also draw ideas out. And the difference in being able to place messages in the medium, and realizing how the medium shapes the message, is the difference between tossing a pebble into water and digging a canal. This is not a coffee maker you're using, and the web is not the Sunday paper. What you do in here can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. We like to think that we're old hands at the information age, but what Douglas Rushkoff shows is that those who march into the web thinking that knowledge of the outside world will be enough to use this new conduit, have been sadly mistaken over and over. Retail powerhouses in the brick & mortar world find that not only are they unable to easily leverage the web to their advantage, simply putting their prices online makes it easier for companies that only exist in this new universe to quick trump their prices and take their customers. Newspapers find that their ability to aggregate information can't keep up with tools available to their (former) readers. Politicians find that rather than giving them a simple super-phone-bank-money-extractor, operating in the web can also mean being mired in a bog of electronic overload and inaction. 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.

From Wikipedia: Douglas Rushkoff (born 18 February 1961) is an American media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems. Rushkoff is most frequently regarded as a media theorist, and known for coining terms and concepts including viral media (or media virus), digital native, and social currency. He has written ten books on media, technology, and culture. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times Syndicate, as well as regular columns for The Guardian of London, Arthur, Discover, and the online magazines Daily Beast, and meeting industry magazine One+. Douglas Rushkoff currently teaches in the Media Studies department at The New School University in Manhattan. He has previously lectured at the ITP at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and taught a class called Narrative Lab. He also has taught online for the MaybeLogic Academy. Rushkoff graduated from Princeton University in 1983. He moved to Los Angeles and completed a Master of Fine Arts in Directing from the California Institute of the Arts. Later Douglas Rushkoff took up a post-graduate fellowship from the American Film Institute. He is currently a PhD candidate at Utrecht University's New Media Program, writing a dissertation on new media literacies. Rushkoff emerged in the early 1990s as active member of the cyberpunk movement, developing friendships and collaborations with people including Timothy Leary, RU Sirius, Paul Krassner, Robert Anton Wilson, Ralph Abraham, Terence McKenna, Genesis P-Orridge, Richard Metzger, Grant Morrison, Mark Pesce, Erik Davis, and other writers, artists and philosophers interested in the intersection of technology, society and culture.

In December of 2010, The Jewish Week (New York) asked the author this: In your book “Program or be Programmed,” you write that one either figuratively creates the software “or you will be the software.” Which sounds like a new way of saying that a person without vision, who lacks guiding principles, is spiritually lost. Is the Jewish community creating its own software? Who is, who isn’t? The author replied: I think too many Jews are more comfortable thinking of Torah and Talmud as the word of God, as sacred and locked down, rather than mutable creations of human beings. They would rather be driven by Torah than partner with Torah. Today, the Reconstructionist community seems the best at maintaining this awareness — that Judaism is a process. But I’m finding many Modern Orthodox practicing in highly evolved and open-minded ways; many Reform shuls engaging with Torah and totally rethinking their approach to their after-school programs; many Conservative synagogues revitalized by embracing gay and lesbian constituencies.

In September of 2010, Douglas Rushkoff wrote "Why Johnny Can't Program: A New Medium Requires A New Literacy" for the Huffington Post, in which he said this: Ask any kid what Facebook is for and he'll tell you it's there to help him make friends. What else could he think? It's how he *does* make friends. He has no idea the real purpose of the software, and the people coding it, is to monetize his relationships. He isn't even aware of those people, the program, or their purpose. The kids I celebrated in my early books as "digital natives" capable of seeing through all efforts of big media and marketing have actually proven *less* capable of discerning the integrity of the sources they read and the intentions of the programs they use. If they don't know what the programs they are using are even for, they don't stand a chance to use them effectively. They are less likely to become power users than the used. Amazingly, America - the birthplace of the Internet - is the only developed nation that does not teach programming in its public schools. Sure, some of our schools have elected to offer "computer" classes, but instead of teaching programming, these classes almost invariably teach programs: how to use Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, or any of the other commercial software packages used in the average workplace. We teach our kids how to get jobs in today's marketplace rather than how to innovate for tomorrow's. Just last year, while researching a book on America's digital illiteracy, I met with the Air Force General then in charge of America's cybercommand. He said he had plenty of new recruits ready and able to operate drones or other virtual fighting machines - but no one capable of programming them, or even interested in learning how. He wasn't even getting recruits who were ready to begin basic programming classes. Meanwhile, he explained to me, colleges in Russia, China, and even Iran were churning out an order of magnitude more programmers than universities in the US. It is only a matter of time, he said - a generation at most - until our military loses its digital superiority.

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