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Douglas Rushkoff On 'Present Shock'

Rebroadcast: originally broadcast March 21, 2013.

Never mind future shock.  Douglas Rushkoff says we’re suffering “present shock.”  The tyranny of the digital, always-on “now.”

Douglas Rushkoff (Photo by Johannes Kroemer)

Douglas Rushkoff (Photo by Johannes Kroemer)

In 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler brought out a soon-famous book called “Future Shock”.  It described a world in which people could no longer keep up with the pace of change.

In 2013, big thinker Douglas Rushkoff is out with a book called “Present Shock”.  It describes a world in which the change has arrived.  In a digital tsunami.  And we are lost in it.

Tumbling in an overwhelming, almost tyrannical, “now.”  A present in which we’ve lost our cultural narrative, our past, our future.  We can drown or we can thrive, he says.

This hour, On Point:  Douglas Rushkoff and “Present Shock”.

-Tom Ashbrook


Douglas Rushkoff, media theorist, documentarian, and author of the new book, “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now.” (@rushkoff)

From Tom’s Reading List

CNN (Douglas Rushkoff) “I used to be able to justify using Facebook as a cost of doing business. As a writer and sometime activist who needs to promote my books and articles and occasionally rally people to one cause or another, I found Facebook fast and convenient. Though I never really used it to socialize, I figured it was OK to let other people do that, and I benefited from their behavior. I can no longer justify this arrangement.”

Forbes “Rushkoff toes the line between apocalypse and ascension. He diagnoses the cultural problems engendered by our disorientation from traditional concepts of time and attempts to propose concrete steps we can take to recover some sense of control and purpose.”

The New York Times “The ancient Greeks learned about the hero’s journey from Homer’s narratives. We’ve gotten decades of Homer Simpson, who ‘remains in a suspended, infinite present,’ while his audience moves from one satirical pop-culture reference to the next. Citing ‘Forrest Gump’ as a film that failed to combat late-20th-century feelings of discontinuity and ‘Pulp Fiction’ as one wild enough to usher in a new era, Mr. Rushkoff moves on to what came next: the video game open-ended structure that keeps TV drama in the eternal present.”

Excerpt: “Present Shock” by Douglas Rushkoff

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  • sickofthechit

    Deja Vu!
    charles a. bowsher

  • dt03044

    I use smart phone technology, but I’m not a slave to it. We don’t have to suffer such anxiety. Simply unplug. Better yet, learn to ignore it when it beeps, rings, etc. Chill out and enjoy life.

  • Scientist

    My generation (gen X) had a lot of this technology thrown at us at a very formative time, and the implications are pretty scary. Who cares what you’re ACTUALLY doing, everything is transitioning to online avatars!

  • Tyler Terrell

    I do agree with the assertion in the opening of the show that we have lost that will to reach for a greater future. We know about global warming and ignore it, we know about atrocities and ignore them, we allow our country to become more corrupt by the year…we’re more worried about holding on to our guns than helping our fellow man. Any program run by our system that helps people is defined as “socialism” by a lot of people. What happened to our Star trek future?

  • MKGS

    Confused by the Botox analogy. Wondering if those women verified that they all used Botox and what they were thinking in that moment you described.

  • MrBigStuff

    As a high school history teacher, I am extremely pleased that Tom is covering this topic. I have been desperately trying to conceptualize and summarize exactly what Mr. Rushkoff has said so well in his book, and I feel that I now have a point of reference that I can show to my colleagues. My students don’t have the ability to view their lives or their culture in a narrative format. The past is ancient and primordial while the present is in a state of suspended animation where the only “reference” to put events into perspective is the hourly Facebook or Twitter update.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I tuned in late, but the “loss of story” seems to me to be like Exodus 32 where Moses melts down the Golden Calf. There are stories that need to be ended. There are better stories.

  • Ellen Dibble

    The possibilities of activism — I am humbled by the way cyber connectivity can connect radically different people to either persuade each other (and spread that with the speed of light from one media to another), or to find common cause. English is enough of a lingua franca that there are hardly any borders. There are enough international problems and goals that ethics becomes a lot more transcendent and less tribal.

  • J__o__h__n

    The past is always with you – especially when the show is a rerun.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I don’t think the presence of the past will so much of a problem when virtually everybody suffers the same transparency. We will learn the extent to which people change, and all that.

  • J__o__h__n

    House of Cards was really good though. I liked the BBC one better but the Netflix data-mining marketers came up with a good show.

  • AC

    i missed this show, but i’m confused by whats wrong w/all the info? i love the idea of this ‘cloud of data’….
    what does the guest think about the google glass? he probably won’t like them, but i can’t wait! virtual landscapes and tours, no possible way for people to commit fraud! i think it’s going to be fabulous! seamless communication with any culture!

  • Ellen Dibble

    There is a Highlights Foundation program for teaching writers to write cross-culturally for children, and I’m wishing this were less about writing for ethnic minorities here, more about international dialogue. When talking to people with centuries of radically different orientation and information, how? For one, understand the frameworks are radically different. Second, ask. Third, read up. Learn wholesale about Everything. What the common core taught is just a tiny fragment of the common language of people on the internet, the well of humanity. May I say Eid Mubarak? Sure, and he wishes it to me, and asks about this or that. On and on.

  • AC

    yes, i def do not agree with the guest.
    i view it as sort of ‘adapt or die’ – humans evolve, i doubt that will stop regardless of this ‘sentimentality’ view on tech…..sort of like when people enter middle age, they become nostalgic or something for the old ways…

    • Mike_Card

      Not all ‘tech’ is progress. Imagine a world without texting, one where young people whined about having to actually write words (that were really hard to spell!), instead of being able to just talk out loud. That could happen…or not.

  • shatz

    A quote by Pascal seems relevant even to today’s discussion:

    “We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.

    Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.”

    By Blaise Pascal

    • AC

      what if it makes you happy to think about and plan for things that will make you happy? for instance, planning a wedding. ok, it’s a little crazy at times, but its kind of fun!!

  • 2Gary2

    stop doing repeats. New stuff only.

  • Pat Moreno

    A better song to accompany, I suggest “Future’ by Todd Rundgren.

  • marcq sarratt

    About two years ago I gave up the cell phone. I am in my mid thirties, so when I have to explain this (and I have to explain this a LOT) people look at me like I am from another planet.

    Cell phones have only become ubiquitous with-in my lifetime, I see them as a violation of my psychological personal space. It was not that long ago, that if you wanted to converse with someone across the country, it took weeks by mail. Yet progress marched on.

    Since abolishing the cell from my life, I feel as though I am much more in touch with my local community, (I am also one of those who has never lived with a television), I feel much less stressed out all the time, that nagging sense of urgency is completely gone.

    Yes it has made certain things more difficult. But on the whole my life is much better. I cringe when I walk in a public space like a coffee shop and all I see are people staring at digital screens instead of interacting with one another.

    • SR93

      That’s awesome and I am thinking about doing that. Do you have a home phone? Does it make work difficult?

      • marcq sarratt

        Well, I have to be totally honest here, I have a little occupational hearing loss, so that kind of helped the decision.

        Yes i have a home phone, and I check it daily. Mostly my friends and relatives have accepted email as my primary form of communication.

        I am a bouncer at a bar, so other than having to have other people call the police, or cabs for over served patrons, not really. But i have had to job hunt in that time, and that is kind of hard.

        The big secret is to be where you say you are going to be when you say you are going to be there. (Not a bad quality, that the over connected generation has thoroughly lost.)

  • David Phillips

    I’m convinced that “present shock”, like so many other unnecessary criticisms of modern information technology, is a misinterpretation of today’s youth, and today’s lifestyles by today’s adults. People who have grown up connected generally see no problems with the changes that internet technology have brought about, and it seems that all of the counterarguments come from people who didn’t experience personal development in stride with technological development. Of course there are downsides to internet culture, but downsides come with every culture. Frankly, it’s patronizing for a relatively novice internet user to offer critique to other people’s lives.

  • draxtor

    Great discussion and I think the main point is that tech is agnostic/ un-ideological and WE [human beings] need to use it to the fullest in world-improving ways. Too bad the marvelous creative and user-centric digital universe of Second Life was not mentioned, where ordinary people not just create fabulous art and monetize their imagination via virtual goods but also engage IN THE MOMENT with other human beings across all cultural and geographical boundaries when and how they choose to. No asynchronous two/three screen superficial typing while the TV is running in the background [although that is an option too I suppose..] but full one-on-one engagement, concert going, lecture attending, physics simulation exploring what have you! Virtual reality = sleeping giant of positive digital living. Example: my reportage on a young music duo from Spain = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Uus8j4kKw0

  • Asia888

    There are powers driven by money… The power of ” Present Shock” comes from its accurate depiction of the phrenic ‘Now’ world we are living in… We are so fortunate to get to hear insights offered by great thinkers such as. Mr. Rushkoff.

  • Sy2502

    Frankly I find some of the supposedly essential digital innovations that one can’t possibly live without, like Facebook or Twitter, anything but essential. It’s ok folks, if you don’t fall for the latest internet fad you’ll still be just fine, don’t stress too much about it.

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