Program or Be Programmed

As one of the first writers to understand the paradigm-demolishing impact of the Internet (Cyberia), Douglas Rushkoff has long been lumped in with the web world's cheerleaders. As this slim, cool-headed broadside makes clear, however, if Rushkoff was ever unambiguously thrilled about the online age, that time is past. Confronted with the tsunami of content that he believes threatens our sense of reality, Rushkoff puts forth ten recommendations, or "commands" that he believes will help people thoughtfully navigate the new world.

 

Although Rushkoff's dicta can read like a wired Emily Post ("Do Not Sell Your Friends," "Share, Don't Steal"), his aim is less to promote web civility than to encourage readers to take back the Internet before it is fatally compromised by a desensitized, crowd-sourced, omnipresent cloud of Twittering, snarking, short-attention-span infotainments. Befitting its message of level-headed rationality, Rushkoff's prose is cleanly bonded to his ten precepts, avoiding the heavy-breathing fulminations often preferred in the digital debate. While acknowledging that the Internet is changing the species in ways unprecedented since the birth of the printing press, Rushkoff throws cold water on the gauzy libertarian fantasies promulgated by champions of social media. He slyly notes that while creative people are expected to upload all of their work for free, the reality of web advertising means that somebody is getting paid when this media is consumed, just not the creators. "Instead of optimizing our machines for humanity," he warns, "we are optimizing humans for machinery."

 

While Rushkoff's answer—learn how to actually use and program the machines that we spend so much of our lives on—is not likely to be taken up by many, his warning about the consequences of passivity is hard to shake.


Chris Barsanti is the author of Filmology. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, his reviews and essays have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, PopMatters, In These Times, and The Chicago Tribune.

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