Critical Review of Douglas Rushkoff’s Book
The book by Douglas Rushkoff that this essay is about is Program or be Programmed: The Ten Commandments for the Digital Age. The title itself is very provocative as well as the rest of the book. Before reading his work I was familiar with Douglas Rushkoff from his appearance as a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. He comes off as a very smart, very genuine person who has a great grasp on the progression of technology. On the show he delves into some aspects of his book but to fully comprehend his arguments you have to read the book yourself.
The first commandment for the digital age is Rushkoff’s principle of time. Rushkoff proposes that people should not be “always on.” This refers to time spent surfing the internet and using social media devices. Essentially being constantly engaged with the World Wide Web can diminish your views on the world. It is imperative that you take breaks from perusing the web so you can open yourself up to the world in front of you. The internet is like anything else, don’t over do it. Use it responsibly. I happen to agree with this viewpoint. People can get so wrapped up with what’s happening online that they lose sight of the beauty in the “natural” world.
The second commandment deals with Rushkoff’s principle of place. Rushkoff proposes that people live “in person.” This means that we as a people should always strive for face to face communication. The internet has been a great resource for helping people on different sides of the world communicate with each other and that’s absolutely a great thing. What Rushkoff is saying is that primarily we should speak to one another in person for optimal conversation clarity. However if you’re unable to it’s fantastic to be able to do so online. This is another commandment I agree with because personally my only communication skills are tone of voice and facial expressions. These two things get lost in translation especially in texts and tweets. Also it’s a lot more fun to actually laugh out loud than just type lol.
The third commandment is Rushkoff’s principle of choice. Rushkoff tells us “You may always choose none of the above.” The internet can be overwhelming. The options are endless. There’s always something you can do online. What Rushkoff seems to be saying in this chapter is that you should always know in the back of your mind is that at any moment you can disengage with the online world. The internet is always on. You can get lost in digital world if you don’t remove yourself from it every once in a while. Again I’m in agreement with Rushkoff. The endless flow of information on the web is staggering. Making the choice to focus your mind in non-digital areas seems like a healthy lifestyle.
The fourth commandment deals with Rushkoff’s principle of complexity. Rushkoff’s main point is “You are never completely right.” This commandment refers to conformational bias. Having a confirmation bias means you only recognize pieces of information that support your own biased argument. We are all guilty of confirmation bias. I know I am definitely guilty of this. When I re-read my own blog posts I find that my writing can be a bit one-sided and I don’t give much credence to opposing views. Being completely objective is almost impossible for a human being. Rushkoff also points out that people are more likely to be interested in short summaries rather than seeing the complex big picture. I’m also guilty of this. Sometimes I don’t want to learn everything about a certain subject, just give me the highlights.
The fifth commandment is Rushkoff’s principle of scale. Rushkoff says here that “One size does not fit all.” This commandment has to do with scalability and abstraction. Scalability is the process of making your business larger and more accessible to the most amounts of people possible. Today large corporations are just buying up competitor’s businesses as well as making sales in the digital world. Abstraction plays a part in this because Rushkoff’s use of the word abstraction deals with products with no tangible quality. Rushkoff uses the example of buying a sword in World of Warcraft. I don’t fully agree with Rushkoff that this is a bad thing because this is just a byproduct of capitalism, however I can see how it can be unfair to smaller businesses.
The sixth commandment is Rushkoff’s principle of identity, “Be yourself.” Online anonymity can be fun but more often than not it is used irresponsibly. The internet is full of masked vigilantes who do more harm than good. This would be ok if there was consequences but there aren’t which creates a disconnect with the world. Rushkoff makes the point “if everyone on the internet identiﬁes themselves as a real person, they will seem less like strangers and more like a members of a community.” I couldn’t agree more, the truth will set you free. Let’s make the internet a friendlier place. I’ll say it again because it’s worth repeating, “Be yourself.”
The seventh commandment is Rushkoff’s principle of social, “Do not sell your friends.” This chapter deals with how the dynamic of friendship has changed in the digital. One of the main reasons most people use the internet is to be social and stay up to date with their friends and family. This is a great ability however over time your friends become less of friends and more of commodities in your own digital world. A good friendship needs constant upkeep and face to face interaction. I’m not sure if I fully understand what “Do not sell your friends” means. The example that comes to my mind is how parents will make a cute video of their children and once it becomes popular they start merchandising. This is the case in the “Charlie bit my finger” video and the “David after dentist” video.
The eighth commandment is Rushkoff’s principle of fact, “Tell the truth.” If you’re not a sociopath you should always be seeking the truth, whatever that means to you. This commandment seems to contradict the fourth commandment, “You are never completely right.” When I stumble upon the truth I find myself feeling completely right. If you are never completely right than how can you distinguish truth. I guess the antidote to this problem is to remove ego and remain objective. The truth is such a slippery idea. I find that truth can be seen in the moment but once the moment has passed it becomes a speculative story. That being said seeking truth and telling the truth is a noble way of living and we should all strive for that lifestyle.
The ninth commandment is Rushkoff’s principle of openness, “Share don’t steal.” The internet was originally designed as a platform for sharing ideas. The World Wide Web is essentially a foundation that we all build upon with our own ideas and information. Sharing becomes problematic when digital thieves begin to use someone else’s content for personal or monetary gain. This seems to be the line in the sand for both me and Rushkoff. Once you start getting money and acclaim for someone else’s work, you have become a thief.
The tenth and final commandment is Rushkoff’s principle of purpose. This commandment has the same title as the book, “Program or be programmed.” Rushkoff proposes that the users of technology are at the mercy of the programmers. Being content with this makes the users vulnerable to the programmer’s individual intent. How do we correct this? Rushkoff proposes that we all become programmers. Technology has always been ahead of the user. Rushkoff proposes that the user should catch up with technology and even think past technology and program software that suits your own individual needs. This is the best way to keep from being programmed. I agree with this way of thinking. I, like everybody else presumably, would like to walk my own path and not conform to what is already available.
Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed: The Ten Commandments for the Digital Age is certainly a thought provoking read and can definitely help the layman navigate the digital world better. To me, the overall theme of this book is to help people develop a healthy relationship with the online world. Absolutely use it as a resource but be sure not to lose yourself. This idea reminds me of how Terence Mckenna use to say “Culture is not your friend.” This meant that people should strive for the most human experiences as possible and not distract themselves with culture. Mckenna died before the internet really took off but I think his words are still true if not even more true today.
Douglas Rushkoff on The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast