I recently read Douglas Rushkoff’s latest book, Present Shock – When Everything Happens Now
Rushkoff suggests that our society has re-oriented itself to the present moment. The 20th century was preoccupied with the future. But now that the future is here, we have reoriented our selves to the present where everything is live, real time and always on. This has created a state he describes as present shock. Over 300 pages he narrates a technopessimistic view of our fixation on the current.
It’s why the world’s leading search engine is evolving into a live, customized, and predictive flow of data branded “Google Now”; why email is giving way to texting, and why blogs are being superseded by Twitter feeds. It’s why kids in school can no longer follow linear arguments; why narrative structure collapsed into reality TV; and why we can’t engage in meaningful dialogue about last month’s books and music, much less long-term global issues. It’s why an economy once based on long-term investment and interest-bearing currency can no longer provide capital to those who plan to put it to work for future rewards. It’s why so many long for a “singularity” or a 2012 apocalypse to end linear time altogether and throw us into a posthistoric eternal present—no matter the cost to human agency or civilization itself.
Rushkoff describes 5 ways that present shock manifests itself.
- Narrative collapse. Stories are the fundamental architecture of our civilization. How do we tell stories without the time required to tell a linear story?
- Digiphrenia. Our media encourages us to be in more than one place at a time.
- Overwinding. How we squish big time scales into small ones.
- Fractalnoia. What happens when we try to make sense of our world entirely in the present tense? In a frozen moment and without a timeline we try to draw connections ultimately making connections that are contrived.
- Apocalypto. The infinite present tense makes us long for endings, almost at any cost.
And Ray Kurzweil, stand clear: Rushkoff closes Present Shock by methodically disemboweling the concept of a singularity.
Rushkoff is a beautiful writer. Despite some gratuitous language he’s sharp, entertaining and clearly in love with his ability to spin a sentence.
If you’re interested in understanding the broader impact of our connected culture, pick up a copy.
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