Webvisions Keynote Summary: Douglas Rushkuff - Program or Be Programmed - Ten Commands for the Digital Age


Program or Be Programmed:
Ten Commands for a Digital Age
Douglas Rushkoff
  • “You are our last, best hope for peace.”
  • first time I spoke in Portland was 17 years ago, for the book Siberia.
  • First publisher cancelled the book, because they thought the internet would be over by 1992. They thought it was like CB radio.
  • Premise of first book: We were moving into a hyper-text reality. We would imagine things happening, and they would happen. Thought we would need psychodelic people, people who were comfortable with the idea that we would have visions, and that they would come out.
  • Very upsetting to people the idea that we would live into a world where what we imagined would come true.
  • “but don’t worry, children and stoners don’t have a problem with that.”
    • so it was the stoners who did the early innovations, it’s why early internet culture was so weird.
  • now the resistance is that “programming is too hard”, that people can’t do that.
  • so at first, a resistance to dream, and now a resistance to work.
  • so certain kinds of people and forces have been in charge of the movement forward.
    • so in 1992, was like dropping acid. anything was possible. experiencing hypertext for the first time was crazy.
    • coming out and seeing the grid pattern in new york, maybe him realize that everything is a design choice, someone’s decision about how things should be. it’s us programming the world.
    • all of the bridges coming into NY have 8 1/2 foot clearances. why? to prevent buses from coming into the city to keep the black people out. someone created that.
    • SXSW: 
      • was once like webvisions, a bunch of people trying to figure it all out, trying to figure out if they can make a living at it.
      • now it’s about making that next killer app, about getting angel funding. it’s all feeds into an artificial scarcity central bank system that’s destroying the planet. 
      • how is that the hacker ethic?
      • it’s fine to make apps, but do we have to support a system that is destroying the planet?
  • we have all had the experience of a favorite local band. the worst thing that can happen is that they make it big. suddenly their music changes. suddenly they are everybody’s band. you’ve lost something.
  • imagine if you woke up, and the only operating systems was windows. you wouldn’t know anything different. you wouldn’t have the idea that there could be other operating systems. you wouldn’t even know what operating systems were, but there would be nothing to talk about.
  • He once thought kids would have this all figured out. That they would be better able to sense fantasy versus the real world. That they would be better critical thinkers. But that’s not what has happened. They accept things at face value.
    • Ask any kid what Facebook is for, and they will say “to help me make friends”.
    • Is that what they are talking about in the corporate boardroom? How to help Johnny make friends? No, they are talking about how to monetize Johnny’s social network.
    • Johnny thinks he is Facebook’s customer. But their customer is where the money comes from. Which means the advertiser. The product is Johnny. The customer is the advertiser.
  • Speech: people learned not how to listen, but to talk.
  • Literacy: people learn not just how to read, but how to write.
  • Computers: People learn how to use, but not how to to program. This is a big loss.
  • I’m not talking about knowing how to change a sparkplug or fix the engine. I’m talking about how to drive the car. It’s the difference between being a driver and being a passenger.
  • It’s not just being a passenger, it’s about being a passenger, and the windows are blacked out.
  • This generation is not going to learn how to program. It took a thousand years for literacy to become commonplace. But we can teach people at least understand the biases of these technology. 
    • Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. --> But guns are biased towards killing people. More so than say, pillows.
  • Digital technologies are biased too. If we understand the biases, then we don’t use them as stupidly as we do now.
  • The 10 Commandments helped us through a transition from an oral tradition to a written tradition.
  • We want to stay in command of digital technology. Not in the control of digital technology.
  • These are not just rakes and hammers and things that you use. They are things that you program and then they go off and do stuff. Robotics and genetics and ... - they live on.
  • We want to build the world we want through them. Or at least 
  • Biases
    • The Bias of Time: 
      • Digital Technology is biased asynchronously. 
      • It’s not about speed, it that you could do them in your own time. Email vs. phone.
      • You could be smarter on the Well than in real life. You’d download the conversations, you’d read them, you’d have all night to think about and write replies, and then upload them. 
      • When people try to adapt themselves to this asynchronous behavior.... when they carry a smartphone, and get vibrated anytime we get a tweet or an email or anything. Then people get phantom vibrations. It’s a maladaption. People are  having the same issues that 9-1-1 operators used to get. Now everyone does.
      • People don’t want an always-on mentality. Your boss might want it, but you don’t really want. But we get suckered into it.
      • Command: Don’t Be Always On.
    • The Bias of Distance:
      • Digital technology is really good for things that are far away, not so good for things that are really close. 
      • You don’t want to text the person you are having dinner with. But you do want to text the person across the country.
      • Command: Live In Person
      • He followed a teenager through her nightly ritual of texting with friends to find out where the best party was. For two hours... And once she was there, her activity was to take pictures of where she was and share them to show that she had been there. But she was never actually living in the moment.
    • The Bias of Choice
      • Digital technology is biased towards discrete choice. 
      • Everything has to be chosen or it doesn’t exist. What happens when you have to choice all the time? You are guided by the choices that are available to you.
      • It’s like walking down the detergent isle. You have 300 detergents to choose from, but they are all detergents made by 3 companies.
      • Your Facebook status: are you married or single? You have limited choices, you  are forced to make a choice. 
      • Command: It is OK to choose none of the above.
      • If you are being forced to make a choice you don’t want to make, don’t do it. Don’t confirm to the program. Why are they making you do it?
    • The Bias of Complexity:
      • Digital tech looks complex, but it is actually biased towards oversimplicity.
      • If you are forced to make choices too earlier, at low resolution, at a great distance.
      • People are looking at the tools for amateur production, and think that because they exist, there is no value to professional production. Why should we pay for a journalist? Because corporations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to convince you of stuff that isn’t true. Can’t we spend a hundred bucks to have some guy spend more than an hour writing a blog post trying to figure out what really is true?
    • The Bias of Scale:
      • Command: One size does not fit all.
      • Talk to any business person, and they want to know “can it scale?” It it can’t be everything to everyone, then they can’t grow their money exponentially.
      • This is what is leading to the downfall of business in America.
    • The Bias of Identify
      • Be yourself
      • Do whatever I do as me.
      • Once I go down the road of segmenting my life...
      • 94% of human communication is non-verbal. 6% is the words that you type.
        • your pupil size.
        • are you breathing with the person or not
        • are they nodding
        • it’s call “rapoor”. 
        • if you are living online, without all those social cues, you don’t know what they mean. you are living like a person with aspergers. you just don’t know.
        • It’s why analytic tools have such a hard time. Does “good one Obama” mean something good? or is it sarcastic? 
    • The Bias of Social
      • The Internet is biased toward Social
      • Content was never king, Contact was.
      • The military tried to use it, and what happened? The scientists talked about Star Trek.
      • Command: Don’t Sell Your Friends.
      • This will be the next big opportunity: to sell your friends, your friendship relationships. 
      • Companies are so focused on getting friends. When what would really be good is if they got their friends to be friends together.
    • The Bias of Openess
      • It is biased toward openess.
      • Command: Share, don’t steal
      • It’s so easy to steal in real life. Someone could break into my house and take stuff, it is easy. But we have a social contract that prohibits it. But we don’t have that social contract online.
    • The Bias of Purpose
      • It is biased toward purpose
      • Command: Program or Be Programmed
      • If you are not using the technology, then the technology is using you.
      • If you want someone to read, they have to learn to write. They don’t have to be James Joyce. They just have to string some words together. Then they can appreciate James Joyce.
  • We are the last people who were alive before digital technology. We are the last people who understand life before digital technology. We can choose to design technology to expose things or conceal. To support corporate economic structure, or to fight it. 
  • Q&A
    • Q: about privacy...
      • We are not consumers, we are people. 
      • The direct marketing industry was doing this stuff on notecards before they had computers. they had a card for every household on every block. 1 car or 2? dog or no dog? kids or no kids?
        • They wanted to save stamps
      • They can use factor analysis on Facebook to figure out what kids are going to be gay. They can predict who is going to get the flu based on twitter post frequency.
      • People are leaving this huge trail of data everywhere they do online.
      • Everything you do online might as well be chiseled in the side of the partheon. It seems to ethereal, but it is seriously there.
    • Q: what about the way facebook is program kidding to use their tools?
      • it’s like early MTV. MTV was watching kid culture, and kids were watching MTV, creating these kinds of feedback loops
      • kids use Facebook like we used to use the mirror: they primp themselves online, how they look. but facebook gives them the tools to create a monetizable social graph. That’s got biases in it.
    • Q: What about the the level of abstraction? Technology seems to be about abstraction.
      • When the alphabet was invented, people are to trust that the symbols used didn’t have hidden messages. 
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