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Present Shock [Hardcover]

Douglas Rushkoff
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Book Description

March 26 2013 1591844762 978-1591844761
“If the end of the twentieth century can be characterized by futurism, the twenty-first can be defined by presentism.”
 
This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, explains award-winning media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, but we don’t seem to have any time in which to live it. Instead we remain poised and frozen, overwhelmed by an always-on, live-streamed re­ality that our human bodies and minds can never truly in­habit. And our failure to do so has had wide-ranging effects on every aspect of our lives.
 
People spent the twentieth century obsessed with the future. We created technologies that would help connect us faster, gather news, map the planet, compile knowledge, and con­nect with anyone, at anytime. We strove for an instanta­neous network where time and space could be compressed.
 
Well, the future’s arrived. We live in a continuous now en­abled by Twitter, email, and a so-called real-time technologi­cal shift. Yet this “now” is an elusive goal that we can never quite reach. And the dissonance between our digital selves and our analog bodies has thrown us into a new state of anxiety: present shock.
 
Rushkoff weaves together seemingly disparate events and trends into a rich, nuanced portrait of how life in the eter­nal present has affected our biology, behavior, politics, and culture. He explains how the rise of zombie apocalypse fic­tion signals our intense desire for an ending; how the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street form two sides of the same post-narrative coin; how corporate investing in the future has been replaced by futile efforts to game the stock market in real time; why social networks make people anxious and email can feel like an assault. He examines how the tragedy of 9/11 disconnected an entire generation from a sense of history, and delves into why conspiracy theories actually comfort us.
 
As both individuals and communities, we have a choice. We can struggle through the onslaught of information and play an eternal game of catch-up. Or we can choose to live in the present: favor eye contact over texting; quality over speed; and human quirks over digital perfection. Rushkoff offers hope for anyone seeking to transcend the false now.
 
Absorbing and thought-provoking, Present Shock is a wide-ranging, deeply thought meditation on what it means to be human in real time.


Frequently Bought Together

Present Shock + Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back + Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age
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Review

“This is a wondrously thought-provoking book. Unlike other social theorists who either mindlessly decry or celebrate the digital age, Rushkof f explores how it has caused a focus on the immediate moment that can be both disorienting and energizing.”
—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
 
“Rushkoff gives readers a healthy dose of perspective, insight, and critical analysis that’s sure to get minds spinning and tongues wagging.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“In this refreshing antidote to promises of digital Utopia, Rushkoff articulates his own well-informed second thoughts. We should pay close attention—while we still can.”
—George Dyson, author of Turing’s Cathedral and Darwin Among the Machines
 
“If you read one book next year to help you make sense of the present moment, let it be Present Shock.”
—Anthony Wing Kosner, Forbes.com
 
Present Shock holds up new lenses and offers new narratives about what might be happening to us and why, compelling readers to look at the larger repercussions of today’s technologically mediated social practices, from texting to checking in with a location-based service, jet-lag to The Simpsons, in new ways.”
—Howard Rheingold, author of Net Smart
 
“A wide-ranging social and cultural critique, Present Shock artfully weaves through many different materials as it makes its point: we are exhilarated, drugged, and consumed by the now. But we need to attend to the future before us and embrace the present in a more constructive way.”
—Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together
 
“With brilliant insight Rushkoff once again gets there early, making us confront the new world of ‘presentism’—the shif t in our focus from the future to the present, from the horizon-gazing to the experience of here and now. He points to signs of presentism all around us—in how we conduct politics, interact with media, and negotiate relationships.”
—Marina Gorbis, executive director, Institute for the Future

About the Author

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, PH.D., is a world-renowned media theorist whose twelve books, including Life Inc and Pro­gram or Be Programmed, have won prestigious awards and have been translated into thirty languages. He is a commentator on CNN and a contributor to the Guardian, Discover, and NPR. He also made the PBS documentaries The Merchants of Cool, The Persuaders, and Digital Nation. He advocates for digital literacy at Codecademy.com, and teaches at NYU and The New School. He lives in New York with his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Mamie.
 
Visit www.Rushkoff.com


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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is a clear, concise and remarkable outline of the current period we live in. It is sure to be a best read and shared book for the few who still manage to live at the present, shock and all.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good read Aug. 16 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I love this book, I share my thoughts about it with many friends and I recommend it a lot. I like the connection made to the book Future Shock, Many ideas explored in the book correspond with my own thoughts about technology.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  81 reviews
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The dawn of the Digital Age April 13 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is copy of a review that I blogged at [...]

This is a very difficult book to summarize, so I'll begin with a very specific argument the author makes, delivered completely out of context, but probably familiar to most people of my generation:

"The show's gags don't even relate to the story or throughline (such as they are), but serve as detours that thwart or halt forward motion altogether. Rather than simply scripting pulp culture references into the scenes, Family Guy uses these references more as wormholes through which to escape from the temporal reality of the show altogether, often for minutes at a time, which is an eternity on prime-time television. In one episode the mom asks her son to grab a carton of milk "and be sure to take it from the back." Apropos of nothing, a black-and-white sketch of a man's hand pulls the child into an alternative universe of a-ha's iconic 1984 "Take On Me" music video. The child runs through a paper labyrinth with the band's front man for the better part of a minute before suddenly breaking through a wall and back into the Family Guy universe."

All of which makes me wish he'd tried to describe the fight with Chicken in such delightful academic language.

If there's a unifying theme to "Present Shock", it's probably this: the invention of computing and digital communication is at least as transformative for our species as the Industrial Revolution, and possibly as transformative as the invention of writing. Therefore the way we think about time, money, democracy, relationships, and work is changing in much the same way as it changed during the Industrial Revolution.

Rushkoff is particularly (and I would peculiarly) interested in how we think about time. Before the invention of writing, there was, in a sense, no time. Things obviously did change, but they changed gradually and as there was no way to create permanent records it was likely undetectable to the inhabitants of that era. There were also no days of the week or months of the year. Writing allowed records to be kept, but the Industrial Revolution and in particular the invention of railroads necessitated the invention of precise time: clocks and watches and the need to know time accurately to the minute (my current town of Waltham, MA became famous - and wealthy - by manufacturing the first pocket watches just when there was suddenly a need for them). The digital era is changing it all again, when, as the title suggests, everything happens now.

The quote about Family Guy, above, is meant to illustrate how our changing relationship with time has in turn altered our relationship with the traditional story has changed, especially in the 21st century, as a result of this new relationship with time. The Simpsons, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, The Office, Family Guy, and Community are all examples of the TV shows that give their characters awareness of the fact that they are in a TV show, and so satirize narrative itself. Contrast this with the classic situation comedy: "The `situation' usually consisted of a history so important to the show that it was retold during the opening theme song" (yeah, I never made that connection either).

This is of course a bit of a leap, but it's a microcosm of the issues touched on by Rushkoff, many of which are not meant to be convincing arguments at all but rather thought provoking starting points. If we take as a given that the Industrial Age is firmly over, and we have now entered what we might call the Digital Age, then we need to re-think how we approach the economy, government, and work-life balance. If stock trades need to be made instantaneously by a computer, and need to be immediately profitable, then the very meaning of value - so far as stocks are concerned - is destroyed. Viewed through this lens, the financial crisis is just the beginning of the end of an era when those sorts of commercial exchanges made sense. Now that they don't, the market will have to reinvent itself.

Similarly, Occupy can be viewed not as a grassroots political movement with a particular goal in mind (like the civil rights movement) but as a first attempt to diversify - or even re-invent - the way people self-govern. Self-governance through representative democracy is after all a relatively recent invention. If the current dearth of voting options, lack of effective information through traditional media channels, and poisoning of the system through private interests is creating a climate in which government ceases to function, then what will replace it?

Rushkoff is primarily descriptive, not prescriptive, and the point of the book is not to say whether the coming of the Digital Age is good or bad. It simply is. Personally I find the basic idea exciting. The basic conceit means that much of the current anxiety we have over the 21st century so far is not so much a symptom of technology being bad for our souls, but a disconnect that arises from trying to ram Industrial Age mentalities into a place where they don't belong. With technology current technology we are able to work anytime, anywhere. That doesn't mean it's a good idea. After all, in the end the whole point of everything from telecommuting to Netflix is to save time, which in turn means to create time for other things. The question is: why haven't they?
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slow. Down. Everybody. March 26 2013
By S. Kittelsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
At a time when business and marketing urge us all to speed the pace of every interaction and transaction, churning ourselves into a frenzied, infinite state of NOW, Rushkoff reminds us that we are only human and as such, our capacity for authentic presence only goes so far.

The book explores the myriad symptoms of "presentism," a condition in which we never turn off the flood of information in an effort to achieve some kind of digitally connected immortality. Rushkoff began to describe this in his previous work, Program or Be Programmed: 10 Commands for a Digital Age. As in that book, here Rushkoff offers a clear and balanced perspective. He doesn't expect anyone, let alone himself, to cast our iPhones and tablets and laptops into the surf, but he does encourage everyone to understand that our demand and desire for everything to always happen right here, right now, is a false inclination perpetuated by systems of our own design. As such, we must design and use them responsibly.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything Always Happens Now March 26 2013
By My Opinion - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I think Rushkoff is a keen observer of the ever-evolving human/technology cultural interface. And I like this book. Alot.

What sets Rushkoff apart is that is that he has been doing this for years. Dissecting trends from a macro perspective, he is a good writer, and has a good handle on the technology.

Rushkoff recognizes and names different conditions arising from living in the distracted present. They are useful for finding yourself, your friends, your children and seeing quite clearly what we are becoming.

He tells us how story telling has changed as a result of technology. No more story, actually. No narrative. Just stuff. A few characters. A few frames of video. Repeated, over and over and over again so they take on an importance simply because of their frequency in the culture.

He reminds us that those with access (more capital, better technology, stronger contacts) still move the meter most. And while the truly creative have a way to find an audience... it probably won't be the mass audience.

And that eavesdropping - in real time - on the torrent, that used to be a stream, that used to be a trickle of conversation, is no substitute for participation and face-to-face engagement. In the now.

People these days just like to watch more than they like to do. And they think that because they are constantly monitoring and changing streams (from twitter, to facebook, to youtube, to whatever) - and watching something else, they actually are doing something.

Unplug. I dare you. See if YOU can stay unplugged for an hour. Or two. Or 24. Are you aware the sun is shining outside?
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, a bit disorganized June 16 2013
By Nicholas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com

Information can be either a storage or flow. Twitter is a flow: there is no point in going back and rewatching twitter feeds, because once it loses its present immediacy, it loses impact. We cannot catch up with it. Books, on the other hand, are storage, and can be returned to repeatedly. The problem with modernity is that we confuse the two, scanning a digital article with the same focus as we give our facebook news feed, and missing out on much of its value.

Rushkoff argues that we have begun to experience life as one long moment, always in the present, with no beginning and no end. As a result, we have stopped emphasizing narratives in our movies and tv shows; we attempt to be everywhere at once both in attention and physically; we try to make everything happen now rather than waiting; and we oversee patterns due to an overdose of data points. It is an interesting and compelling point, that we are placing less and less emphasis on things that are not happening now, and are overwhelmed by everything that supposedly is.

Unfortunately, I don't find the rest of his thesis convincing. His argument that we no longer value narrative arcs, supposedly evidenced in flashback heavy Family Guy episodes, just doesn't seem reasonable. Modern life is certainly accelerated, as Alvin Toffler argued in his book Future Shock, and it seems that the faster it gets, the faster we demand it goes. It seems to me though that we show just as much need for narrative arcs as ever, though perhaps less patience for long ones. Family guy still has a story - it's just short and shallow.

Despite being on a fascinating topic, Present Shock didn't add as much as I had hoped to the discussion. Yes, multi-tasking brains do worse on almost every measure, but that's fairly well recognized. His discussion of moon phases affecting chemical balances in the body, on the other hand, sounds a lot more like junk science. There is interesting information in Present Shock, but overall the book feels like it rambles and is disorganized, making it hard to figure out what lessons to take from it.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Soon is Now? May 10 2013
By roy christopher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When I was growing up, the year 2000 was the temporal touchstone everyone used to mark the advances of modern life. Oh, by then we'd be doing so many technologically enabled things: Cars would fly and run on garbage, computers would run everything, school wouldn't exist. We were all looking forward, and Y2K gave us a point on the horizon to measure it all by. When it came and went without incident, we were left with what we had in the present. In 'Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now' (Current, 2013), Douglas Rushkoff argues that the flipping of the calendar to the new millennium turned our focus from the future to the never-ending now. "We spent the latter part of the 20th Century leaning towards the year 2000, almost obsessed with the future, the dot-com boom, the long boom, and all that," he tells David Pescovitz on bOING-bOING, "It was a century of movements with grand goals, wars to end wars, and relentless expansionism. Then we arrived at the 21st, and it was as if we had arrived."

"We spent centuries thinking of hours and seconds as portions of the day," he continues, "But a digital second is less a part of greater minute, and more an absolute duration, hanging there like the number flap on an old digital clock." A digital clock is good at accurately displaying the time right now, but an analog clock is better at showing you how long it's been since you last looked. Needing, wanting, or having only the former is what present shock is all about. It's what Ruskoff calls elsewhere "a diminishment of everything that isn't happening right now -- and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is." As the song goes, when you say it's gonna happen "now," well, when exactly do you mean?

Michael Leyton (1992) calls us all "prisoners of the present" ( p. 1), like runners on a temporal treadmill. He argues that "all cognitive activity proceeds via the recovery of the past through objects in the present" (p. 2), and those objects often linger longer than they once did thanks to recording technologies. In 1986 Iain Chambers described the persistence of the present through such media, writing,

"With electronic reproduction offering the spectacle of gestures, images, styles, and cultures in a perpetual collage of disintegration and reintegration, the `new' disappears into a permanent present. And with the end of the 'new' - a concept connected to linearity, to the serial prospects of 'progress', to 'modernism' - we move into a perpetual recycling of quotations, styles, and fashions: an uninterrupted montage of the 'now'" (p. 190).

Needless to say that the situation has only been exacerbated by the onset of the digital. In one form or another, Rushkoff has been working on 'Present Shock' his whole career. In it he continues the critical approach he's sharpened over his last several books. Where Life Inc: How Corporatism Conquered the World, and How We Can Take It Back (Random House, 2009) tackled the corporate takeover of culture and Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (OR Books, 2010) took on technology head-on, 'Present Shock' deals with the digital demands of the now. A lot of the dilemma is due to the update culture of social media. No one reads two-week old Tweets or month-old blog posts. If it wasn't posted today, in the last few hours, it disappears into irrelevance. And if it's too long, it doesn't get read at all. These are not rivers or streams, they're puddles. All comments, references, and messages, and no story. The personal narrative is lost. It's the age of "tl; dr." The 24-hour news, a present made up of the past, and advertising interrupting everything are also all about right now, but our senses of self maybe the biggest victims.

"Even though we may be able to be in only one place at a time," Rushkoff writes, "our digital selves are distributed across every device, platform, and network onto which we have cloned our virtual identities" (p. 72). Our online profiles give us an atemporal agency whereon we are there but not actually present. On the other side, our technologies mediate our identities by anticipating or projecting a user. As Brian Rotman (2008) writes, "This projected virtual user is a ghost effect: and abstract agency distinct from any particular embodied user, a variable capable of accommodating any particular user within the medium" (p. xiii). Truncated and clipped, we shrink to fit the roles the media allow.

Mindfulness is an important idea cum buzzword in the midst of all this digital doom. Distraction may be just attention to something else, but what if we're stuck in permanently distracted present with no sense of the past and no time for the future? If you've ever known anyone who truly lives in the moment, nothing matters except that moment. It's the opposite of The Long Now, what Rushkoff calls the "Short Forever." Things only have value over time. Citing the time binding of Alfred Korzybski, the father of general semantics, Rushkoff illustrates how we bind the histories of past generations into words and symbols. The beauty is that we can leverage the knowledge of that history without going through it again. The problem is that without a clear picture of the labor involved, we risk mistaking the map for the territory.

James Gleick summed it up nicely when he told me in 1999, "We know we're surrounding ourselves with time-saving technologies and strategies, and we don't quite understand how it is that we feel so rushed. We worry that we gain speed and sacrifice depth and quality. We worry that our time horizons are foreshortened -- our sense of the past, our sense of the future, our ability to plan, our ability to remember." Well, here we are. What now?

The existence of this book proves we can still choose. In the last chapter of 'Present Shock', Rushkoff writes,

"...taking the time to write or read a whole book on the phenomenon does draw a line in the sand. It means we can stop the onslaught of demands on our attention; we can create a safe space for uninterrupted contemplation; we can give each moment the value it deserves and no more; we can tolerate uncertainty and resist the temptation to draw connections and conclusions before we are ready; and we can slow or even ignore the seemingly inexorable pull from the strange attractor at the end of human history" (p. 265-266).

We don't have to stop or run, we can pause and slow down. Instant access to every little thing doesn't mean we have to forsake attended access to a few big things. Take some time, read this book.

References:

Chambers, Iain. (1986). Popular Culture: The Metropolitan Experience (Studies in Culture and Communication) New York: Routledge.

Leyton, Michael. (1992). Symmetry, Causality, Mind (Bradford Books) by Leyton, Michael published by A Bradford Book Paperback Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Morrissey, Steven & Marr, Johnny (1984). How Soon is Now? [Recorded by The Smiths]. On Hatful of Hollow [LP]. London: Rough Trade.

Rotman, Brian. (2008). Becoming Beside Ourselves: The Alphabet, Ghosts, and Distributed Human Being NC: Duke University Press.

Original post: roychristopher.com/present-shock
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