Media Theorist Douglas Rushkoff Joins MashableReads
We’ll be hosting a Twitter chat with Rushkoff on Dec. 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET. You can discuss the book with the author personally, along with other participants from all over the world.
In Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff details our culture’s recent shift from our concentration on thinking toward the future to our obsession with the present through pop culture, social media and work habits. Rushkoff notes how we use smartphone alerts and multi-tasking in an attempt to emulate the productivity rates of machines, but highlights the risk we run of ignoring natural biological cycles in doing so.
Far from rejecting new technology, Rushkoff suggests a balanced approach to navigating a connected life that allows us to experience the moment without missing it altogether.
Be sure to follow @mashlifestyle to discuss Present Shock, using the hashtag #MashReads during the chat. You can also join our Facebook group to stay updated on MashableReads, and let us know what you think of the book throughout the month.
Want to hang out with the author in person? Share your thoughts on the book using the hashtag #MashReads via Vine video, Instagram or Twitter prior to the chat, and we will select 10 people to visit Mashable‘s New York headquarters to meet Douglas Rushkoff and participate in our book club.
If you want to get started on Present Shock, you can listen to the first chapter from Audible below.
Below, we spoke with Rushkoff about chronobiology, the importance of personal connection and resistance to mobile technology.
Q&A with Douglas Rushkoff
Mashable: Given your discussion of the active nature of modern entertainment with DVR and channel surfing, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on fantasy sports. Do you think they enhance sports fandom by making participants more likely to watch games because they feel like they’re participating in them, or do you think they cause us to miss out on the moment because we’re checking a box score instead of watching the game?
Rushkoff: It always depends who you are and how you’re engaging. Fantasy sports went a long way toward developing the sabermetrics formulas used not only by oddsmakers but general managers in hiring players. So the amateur fantasists ended up creating some of the algorithms that Oakland GM Billy Bean’s statisticians used to win games with less salary money available for star players.
As far as downsides, I’m not very concerned with people being distracted from the TV (I mean, who really cares if they’re looking at a different screen, or texting with fellow fans instead of paying attention to the corporate-sponsored game?). What I am more concerned about is the way that “money ball” changes the game itself, as well as the bigger culture of fandom.
Everything is done with stats now. Players’ bonuses are based in numbers of wins or strike outs. So in order to save money, managers now pull pitchers from games if they are doing too well. They get replaced so they don’t get credited with the win. It’s every man for himself, which changes team dynamics. I think it’s a large part of why steroids have become so central to the game: the risk/reward equation is such that it makes no sense for a player not to take them. There’s some small percentage chance he’ll get caught, but a near certainty that he’ll make it to the next financial level by getting his numbers up.
And while fantasy play is interesting for fans, it’s a total abstraction of the game. Real, local teams (such as they are) don’t matter anymore, because the fantasy teams are constructed of players from many different places. It’s deconstructed, more like singles on iTunes than listening to a whole album in context.
I was fascinated by your discussion of the body’s natural rises in certain chemical levels in relation to the lunar cycle and how multi-tasking is never as efficient as we think. Do you think it will ever become “in” for businesses to adapt a work environment centered around this information, or will the trend continue to be to look for shortcuts that appear to accomplish as much as possible in the least amount of time possible.
Well, when businesses discover that people are more efficient when you task them in sync with their biological clocks (chronobiology) it will likely become the rage. If businesses understood that there was one week per month (the second week of the lunar cycle) when serotonin dominated brain chemistry, they’d know that’s the week to do heavy lifting. Or that the acetylcholine new moon is the time to launch a new product. When they see the results in the numbers, they’ll adopt all this as part of the ultimate lean strategy.
It’s really just a matter of them coming to understand that time is not generic. Each day or month is not the same. They understand this about seasons; they know when flying is more expensive or more heating oil will be required. That’s completely understandable for them. But they can’t understand more subtle things like low and high tide. That’s just voodoo to them. Moon influencing waves is “new age” to them, much less it influencing neurochemistry.
While my peers are all attached to their smartphones (and I’m far from exempt), I’ve heard many of them express frustration that it seems impossible to have a face-to-face conversation without several interruptions by mobile notifications. Do you think there will ever be a widespread resistance to such mobile technology for that reason?
I think there already is. We know that people are less open in conversations if the other conversant puts a cell phone on the table. Even if it’s turned off. The sign is enough to close the mind and make a prospective client or lover less likely to do what you ask. As people realize this, they’ll start putting away phones or turning them off. Or they’ll start using filtering, letting the phone ring only for VIPs like spouse and child.
Mobile notifications put people in a state of perpetual emergency interruption — similar to what 911 operators and air traffic controllers experienced back in the ’70s and ’80s. And they took drugs for the nervous conditions that resulted. Alerts are for when a family member is dying. Otherwise, they’re not worth the trouble. Really. A bomb went off in some part of the world and three people died. If you are in a newsroom, you need to know right now. If you’re not — and you’re not going to go do something about it — why do you need to know about that right now? Yes, it’s horrific. But you can find out about it in an hour.
You discuss the value of sitting down with something like a book that requires sustained focus at a more relaxed pace to gain a deeper understanding of a subject matter. So, what do you make of tablets being integrated into education so aggressively? Is it a good way to gain student engagement or a shortcut that will lead to more shallow understandings of content?
Well, you can read books on a tablet. So I don’t see it as an either/or. I don’t think kids need to be reading books in the classroom, either, though. Unless they are actively learning to read. They don’t need to be sitting in individual media experiences of any kind. They’re in a classroom with people. They should be engaging with other humans in real time and space.
I don’t think tablets are where we should be focused. But I do think they could end up being an efficient way of delivering textbooks. They’re just not really that, yet. There’s all sorts of poisons and mined minerals and carnage that goes on to make a tablet. Way more than to print a book. Or a bunch of books.
U.S. culture has long focused on the self and praised individual achievement above all. As you discuss, in our current “fractal landscape,” connections are more important than individuals. Do you think this will lead to Western cultures adopting a more Eastern, group-centric manner of thinking?
Yeah, I think those who succeed in the digital landscape will be those who understand how to do the sorts of pattern recognition more typical of Easterners. It’s not just because the “individual” is diminished in a networked landscape, but because cause-and-effect logic ends up compressed into a really rapid feedback loop. You can’t really parse causes and effects so easily anymore. Everything is much more systemic and interdependent. To get oriented in such a landscape, you have to learn to soften your gaze.
Image: Seth Kushner