Present Shock











OK, this looks good. You should all know about Douglas Rushkoff. He’s a commentator on technology and society, but unlike me he’s really clever. So what is he arguing about in this new book? I’m not sure. It’s not out quite yet in the UK, but the publisher puts it like this (apologies, this is a blatant cut and paste):

“Rushkoff argues that the future is now and we’re contending with a fundamentally new challenge. Whereas Toffler said we were disoriented by a future that was careening toward us, Rushkoff argues that we no longer have a sense of a future, of goals, of direction at all. We have a completely new relationship to time; we live in an always-on “now,” where the priorities of this moment seem to be everything. Wall Street traders no longer invest in a future; they expect profits off their algorithmic trades themselves, in the ultra-fast moment. Voters want immediate results from their politicians, having lost all sense of the historic timescale on which government functions. Kids txt during parties to find out if there’s something better happening in the moment, somewhere else.
Rushkoff identifies the five main ways we’re struggling, as well as how the best of us are thriving in the now:

1. Narrative collapse – the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.

2. Digiphrenia – how technology lets us be in more than one place – and self – at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds – home and battlefield – simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.

3. Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event – which only results in a fatal stampede; or – like the Real Housewives – freezing one’s age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can “springload” time into things, like the “pop-up” hospital Israel sent to Tsunami-wrecked Japan.

4. Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things – sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no “grand narrative.” But also the emerging skill of “pattern recognition” and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain – a grandchild of McLuhan’s “global village”.

5. Apocalyptic – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. “Preppers” stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists – even outspoken atheists – prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of “the singularity” and “emergence”, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information.” (ends).

Apocalyptic. I like that. It feels like that. It feels like we are on the edge, teetering, like the end sequence in the movie the Italian Job. And the funny thing is…I think quite a few people, me included, would on one level like the bus to fall off the cliff.

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6 Responses to Present Shock

  1. Richard says:

    All credit to Andrew at ABC Radio who pointed me in the direction of this btw (sorry, forgot to mention).

  2. orkneylad says:

    The World According to Eco

    What’s your take on Marshall McLuhan? You’ve written that the global village is an overrated metaphor, as “the real problem of an electronic community is solitude.” Do you feel that McLuhan’s philosophy is too lightweight to justify the cult that has been dedicated to him?

    “McLuhan wasn’t a philosopher – he was a sociologist with a flair for trend-spotting. If he were alive today he would probably be writing books contradicting what he said 30 or 40 years ago. As it was, he came up with the global village prophecy, which has turned out to be at least partly true, the “end of the book” prophecy, which has turned out to be totally false, and a great slogan – “The medium is the message” – which works a lot better for television than it does for the Internet.”

    OK, maybe at the beginning you play around, you use your search engine to look for “shit” and then for “Aquinas” and then for “shit AND Aquinas,” and in that case the medium certainly is the message. But when you start to use the Net seriously, it does not reduce everything to the fact of its own existence, as television tends to. There is an objective difference between downloading the works of Chaucer and goggling at the Playmate of the Month.

    “It comes down to a question of attention: it’s difficult to use the Net distractedly, unlike the television or the radio. I can zap among Web sites, but I’m not going to do it as casually as I do with the television, simply because it takes a lot longer to get back to where I was before, and I’m paying for the delay.”

    In your closing address to a recent symposium on the future of the book, you pointed out that McLuhan’s “end of the Gutenberg galaxy” is a restatement of the doom-laden prophecy in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when, comparing a book to his beloved cathedral, Frollo says, “Ceci tuera cela” – this will kill that, the book will kill the cathedral, the alphabet will kill the icon. Did it?

    “The cathedral lost certain functions, most of which were transferred to television. But it has taken on others. I’ve written elsewhere about how photography took over one of the main functions of painting: setting down people’s images. But it certainly didn’t kill painting – far from it. It freed it up, allowed it to take risks. And painters can still do portraits if they want.”

    Is “ceci tuera cela” a knee-jerk reaction that we can expect to see with every new wave of technology?

    “It’s a bad habit that people will probably never shake. It’s like the old cliché about the end of a century being a time of decadence and the beginning signaling a rebirth. It’s just a way of organizing history to fit a story we want to tell.”

    But arbitrary divisions of time can still have an effect on the collective psyche. You’ve studied the fear of the end that pervaded the 10th century. Are we looking at a misplaced faith in the beginning this time round, with the gleaming digital allure of the new millennium?

    “Centuries and millennia are always arbitrary: you don’t need to be a medievalist to know that. However, it’s true that syndromes of decadence or rebirth can form around such symbolic divisions of time. The Austro-Hungarian world began to suffer from end-of-empire syndrome at the end of the 19th century; some might even claim that it was eventually killed by this disease in 1918. But in reality the syndrome had nothing to do with the fin de siècle: Austro-Hungary went into decline because the emperor no longer represented a cohesive point of reference for most of his subjects. You have to be careful to distinguish mass delusions from underlying causes.”

    And how about your own sense of time? If you had the chance to travel in time, would you go backward or forward – and by how many years?

    “And you, sir, if you had the chance to ask someone else that question, who would you ask? Joking aside, I already travel in the past: haven’t you read my novels? And as for the future – haven’t you read this interview?”

  3. Richard Watson says:

    I think we need to have lunch 🙂 That’s a serious offer, BTW.

  4. orkneylad says:

    I think it would be a rather stimulating meal 🙂 If you’re ever passing through Orkney let’s hook up.

  5. Richard Watson says:

    🙂 Right. The name does what it says on the tin eh! thought perhaps birth not present location. Likewise if you are ever down south. I’m a bit up to my eyes right now but will try to get back on this.

  6. orkneylad says:

    Or present location, rather than birth 😉

    Twop decades in the London media industry followed by escape, and the home-working ‘revolution’.

    Good luck with your current workload!

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