Editor’s Note: Douglas Rushkoff’s book Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age is now available so I’m reprinting my review that was originally published here on September 12. I’ve also embedded a new video of Rushkoff discussing the themes of the book.
Some authors are right there just when you need them.
When I first encountered media theorist Douglas Rushkoff and his work I was in the wake of a religious crisis. My adolescence had been dominated by years of an intense evangelical Christianity which eventually fell apart. In college I sought to piece together some kind of spiritual understanding beyond the poles of fundamentalist belief and the militant Harris/Hitchens/Dawkins atheism that was fashionable at the time. Enter Rushkoff’s nonfiction book Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism and his comic book series Testament. Both were useful guides for how to consider spiritual texts. It’s not that the Bible necessarily happened as written so much as it’s always happening. The myths contain deep spiritual truths that are continually applicable to our lives.
During my college years I had the pleasure of meeting Rushkoff when he came to give a talk at my alma mater Ball State. At the time I made it my business to defend him when he was brutally attacked by an up-and-coming conservative streetfighter, my classmate and then-ideological rival Amanda Carpenter. She tried to make the case that Rushkoff was some kind of anti-American, Ward Churchill type and that Ball State bringing him to campus was another example of indoctrination. Yeah, a bit off the mark there. Oh well, we all do and say stupid things in college — I certainly did. Rushkoff and I stayed in touch after that, with me checking in every six months or so.
After graduating I embarked on a two-and-a-half year expedition into the jungles of corporate America. (Also known as “getting a real job, trying to jumpstart a writing career, and doing everything possible to avoid ending up in the parents’ basement.”) Near the tail end of it Rushkoff published a book which more or less explained perfectly everything I had been experiencing. Life, Inc.: How the World Became A Corporation and How To Take It Back documented how corporations emerged and why they behaved in the often mysterious ways they did.
Why, oh, why did it have to come out in the spring of 2009 instead of the fall of 2006? (See my review for FrontPage here, the last article I wrote as a freelance contributor before making the jump to an editor in August of ’09.)
And here Rushkoff is again, now delivering a book on a silver platter that might as well be written for me personally. Managing NewsReal Blog and trying to build it into the “powerhouse blog” that David Horowitz has charged me with creating means I swim in the digital sea 7-10 hours a day (it varies depending on how effective my wife April is at peeling me off.) So as he previously provided penetrating explanations of my two former full-time obsessions (religion and corporatism) now he offers a roadmap for this blogosphere, twitterverse, facebookistan, youtubian chaos.
This is familiar territory for Rushkoff. In the ’90s he first made his name as something of an internet evangelist, preaching the virtues of online life. Now he’s starting to have some Second Thoughts, more attuned to the pitfalls that have emerged since the web’s toddler days. Almost two decades have started to show some problem areas. Refreshingly, as with his previous books, Rushkoff’s solutions are practical. As I’ve argued before, Rushkoff isn’t a leftist — he a counterculturalist. And his books are about providing analyses which the individual can then use to enhance their own lives and communities.
Not to give away all of Rushkoff’s candy, I’m going to focus on five of his ten commands and discuss them as they would relate to the news and politico junkies who read NRB as well as the political issues we care about most.