Episode 34: Douglas Rushkoff
Among other things, Douglas Rushkoff is a media theorist, author, and documentarian. His books include Life, Inc. and Program or be Programmed, while his documentaries include Frontline’s “The Merchants of Cool” and “Digital Nation.”
Our conversation started with Rushkoff’s concept of “present-shock” and moved into a larger discussion of the relationship between market thinking, quantification, and what is ultimately measurable and knowable.
Connections, you ask? They abound, especially with Timothy Morton, Wes Jackson, and Frances Whitehead. We also talk about transhumanism a fair bit, so expect some contrasts with Max More and Tim Cannon. Rushkoff also discusses the value of community and human relationships in a way that is almost reminiscent of John Zerzan, minus the whole primitivism bit. Equally important, albeit less obvious, are the nuanced differences between what Rushkoff believes to be knowable and what thinkers like Chris McKay believe to be knowable. But to quote LeVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it.
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Artwork by Eleanor Davis.
It’s so strange listening this for me. In some ways, I owe quite a bit to Mr. Rushkoff. I caught his first documentary back when I was still a teenager myself. It provided for me that sort of, “Oh man, everything around me is bullshit and now I finally have proof!” It’s a nice thing to have at that point in one’s life. I suspect I wouldn’t nearly be as into media structures as I am if I never caught that one documentary by chance.
But since then? I’ve had a hard time following him. I usually viewed most of the “new media” writings out there, his included, as explaining to the adults what the youngin’s already understand. Perhaps that might’ve been too much of a blanket assumption on my part towards Rushkoff, since I’ve noticed – apart from others of his sort – that he wants to use his background in cyberspace study as a platform into teaching advanced media literacy.
Now a guy like me, being a programmer who loves some good ol’ media bashin’, would probably be all over that, right? By definition, I should be his biggest fan, and I want to, but I can’t. I really desperately would like that to work, but I know it probably doesn’t.
In previous interviews I heard from him in regards to his “Program or be Programmed” book tour, he gave me the impression that he sort of viewed the ability to program as some sort of magic bullet toward truly understanding the nature of media. This might’ve been true in the old age of broadcast media, where those who programmed where indeed the programmers (of television and radio programs), but today? I can’t see it. It’s another world now. Decent knowledge of C++ and a few small sorting algorithms does not equate to an entire curriculum in Innis, Marx, or Gramsci-style political economy. Believe me, it would’ve made my life much easier if it did, but I can see plain as day that it does not.
Perhaps that idea was just a sort of… slightly malformed way to skirt around the other idea of “mass-quantification is probably very bad” thing in a way that was more presentable? In some ways, I’m glad he was much more to-the-point about it with you guys.
I wonder if this conversation would go on to be remembered as our “quantification” episode? Still… I wish he got a little bit more into the power dynamics that comes with it. … or would that have been a bit too political?