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Douglas Rushkoff on “Present Shock” at SXSW - liveblogged

He first spoke at SXSW when the internet was just a baby - and they asked him to talk about the future. He had a real problem with “the future” then - and spoke on “Why Futures Suck”

Saw the net as the harbinger of a New Age of Slack. Not a revolution, but a renaissance, a retrieval of repressed values into the present. Peer-to-peer exchange, re-establishment of local economies and communities… All this seemed to him to be what was going to happen. The end of the industrial age and yuppie madness associated with it…

And he felt futurists were denying this - not embracing the slack-internet he saw. Looked at the internet as the salvation for corporate culture instead. Predicting the beginning of a long boom of the economy (of capitalism) expanding infinitely. Next Big Things…

But “Next Big Thing-ism”, acceleration and growth - Rushkoff saw this as the thing we could be liberated from, and leave behind. Yet the futurists were wishing to exacerbate the worst of the industrial age by digitising it.

And this ended up leading to the current present, the “present shock” - the “faux now” of Twitter or Facebook updates. “That is not now. That is not what’s happening. That’s trying to keep up with what’s happening. Your Facebook profile is a snapshot of you just before now.”

Dot com boom crashed because it was all based on the future, until we stopped and asked, “What are these things worth now?”

Time has become the easiest way to think about what it means to live in the digital environment, and how this differs from what went before. What’s a minute? Used to be a portion of an hour - now it’s a pulse of a set length. A world where every unit may as well be interchangeable. Relational analogue clock time told a story, had a narrative and progression. Digital time is different.
Not saying it’s a worse thing, just a different thing.

We get present shock when we try to find the characteristics of the industrial age in the digital environment.

What does technology give us? Choice. Every moment is another decision point. Everything gives us more and more choice - and each choice, though beautiful, is also an interruption of the smooth passage of time, and of ‘flow’ concentration. Digital technology is essentially a-temporal, outside time.

e.g. watching TV in-time (as a social event, in relation to other viewers) - or watching through Netflix as you choose - but without the communal element.

Going to talk about the 5 syndromes of present shock - looking at the more panicked present-shock reaction, and also the more appropriate, consonant approach to living in the now.

1. Narrative collapse

We don’t have the ability to tell a story any more if we don’t have time.
The viewer can interrupt your story at any time - put it on pause, fast forward.

Coke - its brand is based in the past. Pepsi is trying to be real-time, it hovers in the present with its only constant, change

All these stories where the end justifies the means, you suffer now for tomorrow’s reward. Christianity, communism, capitalism - all of it. We don’t have that. One reaction is the Tea Party response, wanting it now. The other end of the spectrum is Occupy - a more Burning Man approach to activism, without demands, without an end. The best thing about Occupy was that it rejected instrumentalism - “We’re not doing this ‘for that’. We’re doing this for this” - an attempt to generate a normative behaviour in the doing of it.

What we get in a digital society instead of storytelling - we get gaming. We’re brought into the story in present tense, making choices in real time to get something like narrativity - but a different kind of narrativity. Values can be transmitted in a game, but they’re not delivered by what happens, but instead by the way the environment adapts to the choices made. The most popular games out there (WoW) are infinite games, games you go on playing without winning.

A functional presentist society asks, do we want to win or do we actually want to sustain?

2. Digiphrenia

Choosing both at once - even when you can’t (e.g. two accepted invitations in Google Calendar).

There’s not too much information coming at you - just don’t read it. What actually freaks us out is where digital technology gives us multiple instances of ourselves, operating without control. E.g. Facebook profile being used to advertise a Starbucks app. Google not believing he was human because he was logging in from too many places at once.

"Punctual" used to just mean "stickler for details" - until the industrial age when time was valuable, and being on time started to really matter. In the digital age, our time is programmed, scheduled - a sense of being conveyed through every experience.

The response to this generic time, is to recognise that it’s not. We have biological clocks that are way more complex than we give credit. Apparently the moon cycle influences the neurotransmitters we produce [citation needed, Douglas!] Need to reclaim timing, to recognise its importance and to use digital technology to tap into the kinds of competencies we have in that particular moment.

Think about the 10,000 year impact of what you do - e.g. recycling a plastic bottle. Put the weight of 10,000 year consequences on the tiny moment of what we’re doing now. This is present shock - compression, or ‘overwinding’. Too much weight on the present moment.

3. Overwinding

Real Housewives of Orange County - great misunderstandings between them because they’ve had so much plastic surgery they can’t communicate clearly. Trying to stop time at 29 years of age - denying herelf the actual now she’s in, as people can’t read her emotions in the present.

Stock market algorithms another version - super-fast algos, or derivatives. The NY stock market just got bought by its own derivatives market. Why? Because derivatives can compress time in a way that stocks can’t. People buy in order to make money from the trade - not the underlying thing invested in.
Industrial age money is money with time in it. Central currency that you bring into existence through loans. Money is brought in with interest attached - making circulation and growth built into the money we use.

The appropriate response is a peer-to-peer steady state economy. John Mill kind of got it - the beginning of this in timebanks, peer-to-peer… Money biased towards transactions, rather than the current economy of money biased towards storage over time.

Google & Facebook aren’t the first digital companies - they’re the last industrial companies. If they were truly digital, if they got the disintermediation they talk about - then why sell yourselves to the stock exchange once you’re done?


4. Fractalnoia - fractal paranoia
[I didn’t quite get this one]

If you no longer have time to make sense of things, what do you do? Take a snapshot of where things are, and draw the lines between things.

The real skill to have in a digital age is pattern recognition. How do you recognise patterns over time? You don’t draw connections between things - but it’s a kind of seeing.

How do you do this kind of work without looking in the rear-view mirror? Market researchers are giving you “what just happened” rather than “What is happening”.

Also

5. Apocalypto

What happens when we become intolerant of a steady-state economy, of a state that’s not going to end. In some ways a zombie apocalypse is easy to imagine, and more reassuring than what might actually happen.

The people who’re falling prey to apocalypto are the futurists. Kurzweil - the Singularity moment. Is that of the digital age? It’s old-school industrial age Christianity, applied to a digital sensibility. Even James Gleich on ‘The Information’ - a human story about “information on a quest on greater complexity” - again, that story of progress. We used to compare the human being to a machine, now we compare humans to information. Gleich, Richard Dawkins… It’s getting it backward.

Humans aren’t code, we can’t be uploaded to a silicon chip. The more we learn about DNA, the more we see it’s complex and interconnected to other systems.

Conclusions

Ultimately the object of a digital world can’t be to recreate the industrial age. It’s got to be to embrace what’s now. Develop for the present, develop because it’s fun to develop - that’s the slack of the digital age, that we get to play. Don’t be afraid of this. We’re moving into a place where we’re going to start accepting sustaining models as more fun than winning models, as more fun than things that end. We’ve got to bring ourselves to a place where it’s more fun to keep going than bring this to an end.

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