DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: PROGRAM OR BE PROGRAMMED

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“We do not know how to program our computers, nor do we care. We spend much more time and energy trying to figure out how to use them to program one another”.

In his book Program Or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For The Digital Age, Douglas Rushkoff’s presents 10 commands that are each based on one of the “biases” of digital media. In computer programming a “command” is a directive to a computer to perform a specific task. But Rushkoff’s commands are not directives for human behavior as much as a code of ethics that, like the 10 commandments of Judaism in what was a new text-based age, help us navigate a new age of computer mediation and abstraction.

Rushkoff’s book is divided into 10 different chapters that explain the 10 commands and cover points like technology “addiction”, evolution of technology and our relationship with and to technology and with others. This book, far from being critical, is kind of a guide of how to behave when working (or dealing) with media. Rushkoff tries to makes us think about technology, new technologies and that it is not always “better” to use technology despite the common thought that it will make our life easier.

We have the power of using technology in two ways, Rushkoff explains: Receiving and giving. But rarely do we use it the second way.

Rushkoff’s main argument is that in the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead,  one will either create the software or will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed. He supports his main argument in the following 10 chapters explaining in a detailed way this 10 commands he proposes:

1. Time. Do not always be on
2. Place. Live in person
3. Choice. You may always choose none of the above
4. Complexity. You are never completely right
5. Scale. One size does not fit all
6. Identity. Be yourself
7. Social. Do not sell your friends
8. Fact. Tell the truth
9. Openness. Share, don’t steal
10. Purpose. Program or be programmed

The first chapter is called TIME. Do Not Be “Always On”. On this chapter Rushkoff explains that we live in a world dictated by time. However, to our digital devices, time is an unknown concept. They are characterized for their “asynchronicity”, this means that, unlike a regular conversation or phone call where we exist together in the same moment and speak back and forth in real time, these online conversations are more like passing back and forth (Russhkoff, p.23)

On the second chapter PLACE: Live In Person. The main argument is that we lose our sense of place, as well as our home field advantage by using a dislocating technology for local connection. This means that digital media is biased away from the local, and toward dislocation. Our problem nowadays is that we have lost the sense of “being in person”,  since it is very easy and absorbing being connected with somebody that might not be in the same geographical space that us. “In-person interaction should always be option number one”, Rushkoff proposes, “There is no substitute. Digital media should be used only the former is not a viable option”. He very well supports his argument with a short story that makes the reader picture the reality and it is a good example to follow through.

Rushkoff supports his argument throughout the book by giving examples and facts from some studies and research done. For instance on chapter III, CHOICE. You may always chose none of the above, he explains his argument that we are constantly making choices, sometimes unneeded, illustrating it with an example of how computers work and that, by taking care of the indiscrete issues -making discrete choices-, they have us making other choices that their program demand.

In general terms, I think this book is based on goodand deep research and therefore, exemplifies what is happening nowadays. Since technology is biased towards dislocation, we tend to be more online and trying to stay connected with people that are not physically with us. The digital technologies and the world itself have been reduced to a bunch of choices we have to make to -as Rushkoff says- move on, and sometimes those choices are not even needed. Also, nowadays is very easy to hide behind some false identity on the internet, that is why Rushkoff says that we should always be ourselves. He also talks about how easy is to steal information from the internet and how easy it is to make up a lie. Nevertheless,  in my opinion, some points Rushkoff talks about are not quite accurate to the present. I do not see that people lie that much on the internet about their identities. It is true that there are lots of people who post comments on websites from an account they created with a different name, just not to be identified, but I think overall, people do not mind when it comes to telling who they are. For instance, almost everybody that uses internet on a daily basis -if not everybody- has a Facebook account where they like to post pictures and comments from their life for their friends and family to see and keep in touch.
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Rushkoff’s main objective is persuade the reader to be a better user. Basing his theory and advice on real facts and studies, and giving examples of everyday situations, he easily gets  the reader’s attention in order to make his point later on, on how to follow the command he proposes on each chapter. He clearly supports his arguments and is straightforward when it comes to explaining his point. In my opinion, the book as a whole is well structured and very thoughtful, it makes the reader understand a little better the technological world in which we live nowadays, and it is a great guide to help us make the right choices and act  accordingly to the moral code, in other words, it helps us program technology, instead of being programmed by  it.

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