Issue 3: Program or Be Programmed


Stop Thinking


A new slogan is being proposed by longtime internet thinker Douglas Rushkoff for 2011: Contact is King.

Rushkoff's new ebook, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For the Digital Age eschews the traditional publishing model he relied on since the titles he established himself with: Cyberia, Media Virus, and Playing the Future. But, when the recession sunk in two years ago, his rhetoric moved away from conversations about web-clogging "content."

Now, he is proposing that instead of optimizing machines for humanity, we optimize humans for machines. Codifying the changes going on will provide a moral and ethical framework for our society.

The big question raised by Rushkoff these days is simple: what kind of world do we want to live in?

Digital technology is biased against time, he feels. Time is eroded and undermined and, as a result, we are seduced into the belief or myth that we can control it.

Due to its velocity, it exists outside of time, even though we may experience it through time, since that is how we experience reality — in the fourth dimension.

The problem is that most people are one dimension behind the current paradigm. Alphabet created listeners, press created readers, TV created watchers and the internet created writers.

Who controls the real means of production, though? None of the above.

Computer coding is now the real means of production. And that is controlled by the elites who learned how to do it, and then how to sell it.

Really, the best way to feel empowered is to untangle oneself from the web, and live life in person.

Power, after all, is to be found in the local.

The number of choices provided by the internet actually narrow our options. Tags transcend choices.

And often, the best option is none of the above, even if that means going against everything we're led to believe about the value of information saturation.

When it comes down to it, however, life is knowing not to know what one doesn't have to know.

Truth is the fuel for succeeding in this emerging world, expresses Rushkoff. Thinking is not personal, but a collective process.

If you can't make software, then, why not be the software? There may not be another choice.

"Our screens are the windows through which we are experiencing, organizing, and interpreting the world in which we live," he writes. "They are also the interfaces through which we express who we are and what we believe to everyone else.

"They are fast becoming the boundaries of our perceptual and conceptual apparatus; the edge between our nervous systems and everyone else's, our understanding of the world and the world itself."

Program or Be Programmed is part of a recent wave of times contemplating whether the best way to deal with technology is to switch it off, or at least change the station. You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr both challenged readers last spring, just as the printed book itself was falling victim to such disruption.

Further explorations of these themes include I Live In the Future & Here's How It Works by Nick Bilton, What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly and The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu.

Yet, all have benefited from the promotion and perception associated with having a hardcover on the shelves of every bookstore, even if the target audience is almost entirely unlikely to first interface with it that way.

Rushkoff has escaped from that fraying box, possibly sacrificing mainstream media coverage, but also underscoring his own thesis.

After all, which is more important now: content, or contact?


While philosophical authors were busy delving into their long-form treatises on the digital age, a different breed was emerging on the blogs, especially the kind that didn't require forming a thought in more than 140 characters.

The dreaded term "Social Media Expert" may now be a retired punchline, but not before one of them secured a prime position with the Government of Canada.

Tony Clement just passed his second anniversary as Industry Minister, although it feels like he's been on the job for longer, since his development of a Digital Economy Strategy on behalf of the squares in the Conservative Party has been a byproduct of his own personal branding exercise.

Basically, he's like Sarah Palin with a government day job, which doesn't give him the time to write books or star in reality TV shows. Prolific tweeting, alternating between personal asides and policy promotion and personal asides, better suits him.

While the highest profile legislation he is currently involved with, the copyright Bill C-32, has evolved to involve everyone from academics to artists, Clement's populist approach to politics allowed him to emphasize what mattered most to him: transferring his large and eclectic CD collection to his iPod without technically breaking the law.

Clement, who this week proudly posted a picture of his bobblehead dolls of the band Rush, has positioned himself as more of a friend to the artistic muse than Heritage Minister James Moore, who seems cut from the same beige cloth as Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

For example, Moore told opposition MPs questioning C-32's provision of digital locks that people also have the freedom of choice not to buy products that have them. Clement, one presumes, would rather sell his soul than be deprived of any rock 'n' roll.

Like any social media expert, though, what Clement is good at pitching is "the space." The details of what exactly is supposed to fill it don't enthrall most Canadians, despite the best efforts of Michael Geist and others involved in the copyfight to argue that the Harper government is at the risk of stifling free expression.

The digital reality isn't too concerned with law, until it gets in the way of established consumption patterns, which shows no sign of actually happening.

New jobs created by an improved digital infrastructure would certainly be welcomed, although the default position for Canada is digital peasantry — especially when it comes to the month-to-month cost of personal telecom services.

Can this Tony Clement help reduce your cellphone bill? There isn't much interest in what he's saying all day, otherwise.

Like the Social Media Experts who work the conference circuit, though, he has something to pitch that sounds like it may trickle down to reality.

More privacy legislation? Well, who doesn't want that? That is, unless it actually contains greater provision for data to be accessed by law enforcement.

A bill against email spam? Sure, why not? Canada might have been part of the problem, but its legislation alone won't form a solution.

Nonetheless, these are the areas Clement has successfully marketed as legislative priorities ahead of the next federal election, none of which are likely to be of much consequence.

At least the Tories get one thing right by sloughing off pleas from the artistic lobby to add a levy to the sale of MP3 players: in this new world, you're basically on your own.

Tony Clement, of course, is happy to be solicited for advice on getting you there.


Milo Yiannopoulos of the Daily Telegraph says "Time to ditch the social media gurus".
Casie Stewart is a Toronto web presence (with an agent) recently hired to be a "digital provocateur."

Lauren White (a/k/a Raymi the Minx) wants to "become famous and make money the laziest way possible".

Frank D'Angelo is an old-school personal brander buying his own late-night talk show. (View the highlights.)

David Crow stops worrying about an industry to focus on his own career: "Building communities, not products".

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