Of all the books I’ve come across on the subject of social media, this short read was by far the most thought-provoking. It opened my mind to the long-term implications of the digital revolution for our global culture, including the way we interact professionally.
“In the long run, each media revolution offers people an entirely new perspective through which to relate to their world,” Rushkoff points out. “Just as the invention of text utterly transformed human society, disconnecting us from much of what we held sacred, our migration to the digital realm will also require a new template for maintaining our humanity.”
In Program or Be Programmed, Rushkoff presents the biases of digital media, then proposes ten commands that can help us to become aware of them and make conscious choices.
Here are some examples:
Time: Do Not Always Be On: The human nervous system exists in the continuous “now,” while digital technologies are asynchronous. By marrying our bodies and minds to technologies that are biased against time, we end up divorcing ourselves from the cycles and continuity on which we depend for coherence.
Place: Live in Person: Digital networks are decentralized, exchanging intimacy for distance. They work wonders for long-distance communication and action, but they don’t help us engage with what—or who—is right in front of us. Don’t favor dislocating technology over local connection.
Identity: Be Yourself: Our digital experiences are disembodied. This biases us towards depersonalized behavior, where we become increasingly unaware of the human repercussions of what we say and do. By maintaining a strict sense of identity, we remain present, responsible and accountable.
Filled with insights that make you rethink your interactions on the web, this book continuously asks the question, Are we using technology to advance our humanity, or are we being used by it and those who designed it?
Contrary to what the title might suggest, the purpose of this book isn’t just to help the reader recognize computer programming as the new literacy of the digital age. Rushkoff does dedicate a small chapter to this point, comparing American education to China and Iran, where children learn not only to use software but also to write it, and the potential consequences this may have on the emerging global balance of power.
More generally, this book provides cyber-enthusiasts and technophobes alike with guidelines to navigate our new digital universe.
Rushkoff is considered a media theorist, but his book is eminently practical. With each of the biases he points out, he offers ways to turn them from liabilities into opportunities. He encourages the reader to further explore this and share their findings.
“If living in the digital age teaches us anything,” he concludes, “it is that we are all in this together.”
Paperback, 149 pages, $16.00;
E-book, $10.00; OR Books, Inc., 2010.