Distributed: A New OS for the Digital Economy

“The increased surface area for corporate capitalism is human attention. So we spend more and more of our time feeding the market place. Central currency and chartered monopoly — corporate capitalism — is not a condition of nature. It is an operating system that was invented by certain people at a certain moment in history and they’ve long since left the building.”

“It was such a good little thing”

“How much is our data worth if we don’t have any money?”

“If we’re all doing everything for advertising, what’s left to advertise?”

Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity

Life, Inc: The Gruen Transfer

“Follow-up researchers, using video cameras to capture shoppers’ faces, discovered something even more interesting: shortly after entering a mall, a person’s expression went blank. The jaw dropped, the eyes glazed over, and the shopper’s path through the mall became less directed. This phenomenon, named the Gruen Transfer, was defined as the moment when a person changes from a customer with a particular product in mind to an undirected impulse buyer.”

“Retail architects developed a subspecialty called “atmospherics,” the science of manipulating shopper’s senses to make them buy more. They discovered that obscuring the time of day led customers to spend more time in the mall. Forcing people to make three turns when walking from the parking lot into the mall led them to forget in which direction they had parked the car (and you thought it was just you). Without this sense of an anchor, customers walked around more aimlessly. The floors in the corridors were made of harder materials than the floors in the stores, subtly encouraging tired shoppers inside. Studies on smell led corporations to concoct trademarked scents for each of their store brands. Muzak’s research teams developed soundtracks capable of making people chew food faster, try on more clothes and spend more money.”

“By the 1990′s retailers were exploiting more than just the five sense, and moving on to a higher order of behavioral manipulation. Stores for teenagers were all put in on section of the mall, so that kids could be more easily isolated from their parents and targeted without adult interference. Companies with names such as Envirosell used security camera tapes to analyze many kinds of consumer behavior. Bigger sales counters make people feel self-conscious about purchasing only one small item; if a women is accidentally “butt-brushed” by another shopper while stoop over to inspect an item, she won’t buy the item; people tend to move to the right when entering a store rather than to the left. These studies led to theories about how to sell more stuff to more people in less time.”

From Life, Inc. by Douglas Rushkoff

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

present-shock“We tend to exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before us are ignored.”

“The minute the ‘now’ is apprehended it has already passed. […] The more forcefully we attempt to stop the passage of time the less available we are to the very moment we seek to preserve.”

“Which ‘now’ is important: the now I just lived or the now I’m in right now?”

“Digiphrenida – the way our media and technologies encourage us to be in more than one place at the same time.”

“Not only have our devices outpaced us, they don’t even reflect a here and now that may constitute any legitimate sort of present tense. They are reports from the periphery, of things that happened moments ago. […] By dividing our attention between our digital extensions, we sacrifice our connection to the truer present in which we are living.”

“Humans once lived without any concept of time at all. In this early, hunter-gatherer existence, information was exchanged physically, either orally or with gestures, in person. People lived in an eternal present, without any notion of before or after, much less history or progress. Things just were. […] While they had to worry about where their next meal was coming from, they felt no pressure to succeed or to progress, to achieve or to improve. They had nowhere to go, since the very notion of a future hadn’t yet been invented. This stasis lasted several thousand years.”

“Like a digital file, a spelled word is the same everywhere it goes and does not decay.”

“Where calendars led people to think in terms of history, clocks led people to think in terms of productivity. Only after the proliferation of the clock did the word ‘speed’ (spelled spede) enter the English vocabulary.”

“Digital technology is more like a still-life picture. A sample. It is frozen in time. Sound, on the other hand, is audible only over time. We hear sound as it decays. […] The digital universe is a visual one: people staring silently at screens, where the only sounds in the room are the keys and mouse clicks.”

“While there is tremendous value in group thinking, shared platforms, and networked collaboration, there is also value in a single mind contemplating a problem.”

“We must retrain ourselves to see the reward in the amount of time we get to spend in the reverie of solo contemplation or live engagement with another human being. Whatever is vibrating on the iPhone just isn’t as valuable as the eye contact you are making right now.”

“In the space of one childhood, we can learn what it took humanity many centuries to figure out.”

“Catching up with Twitter is like staying up all night to catch up on live streaming stock quotes from yesterday. The value was in the now — which at this point is really just a then.”

“When everything is rendered instantly accessible via Google and iTunes, the entirety of culture becomes a single layer deep. The journey disappears, and all knowledge is brought into the present tense.”

“Our recorded past competes with our experienced present for dominance over the moment. […] What isn’t coming at us from the past is crashing in at us from the future.”

“Big data companies collect seemingly innocuous data on everyone, such as the frequency of our text messages, the books we’ve bought, the number of rings it takes us co pick up the phone, the number of doors on our cars, the terms we use in our Web searches, in order to create a giant profile. They then compare this profile against those of everyone else. For reasons no one understands, the data may show that people who have two-door cars, answer the phone in three or more rings, and own cats are extremely likely to respond favorably to ads for soup. So these people will Ье shown lots of soup advertisements. The market researchers don’t care about the data points themselves or the logic connecting one behavior to another. They only care care about predicting what a person is statistically likely to do.”

“For the first time, people engaged with products completely divorced from the people who actually made them. Technologies masked not just the labor, but also the time that went into an item’s production. […] This new way of interacting with things defined a new human identity for the very first time — that of the consumer.”

“Consumption makes up about half of all economic activity in America.”

“In a digitally enhanced consumer reality, we not only work to keep up with the latest products and service options, we purchase products and services that serve no purpose other than to help us better keep up. Our iPads and Adroids are nothing like the productivity-computing tools on which they may once have been based but are instead purchasing platforms designed to increase the ease and speed with which we consume.”

“We are so good at making stuff and providing services that we no longer require all of us to do it.”

“It is now usually cheaper to just try something than to sit around and try to figure out whether to try something.” — Joichi Ito

“The individual is flow, and the community is storage. Only the individual can take actions. Only the community can absorb their impact over time.”

“Fractalnoia – Relating on thing to another, even when the relationship is forced or imagined.”

“Ideas don’t generally emerge from individuals, but from groups (liquid networks).” – Social critic Steven Johnson

“In a networked ideascape, the ownership of an idea becomes as quaint and indefensible a notion as copyright or patents. Since ideas are built on the logic of others, there is no way to trace their independent origins. It’s all just access to shared consciousness. Everything is everything.”

“Consumers don’t want to speak with companies through social media; we want to speak with one another. We don’t even think of ourselves as consumers anymore, but as people.”

“As long as people didn’t engage with one another and were instead kept happily competing with one another, their actions, votes, and emotions remained fairly predictable.”

“The human body is a space suit for something that could be stored quite differently.”

“I find myself unable to let go of the sense that human beings are somehow special, and that moment-to-moment human experience contains a certain unquantifiable essence. I still suspect there is something to quirky, too paradoxical, or too interpersonal to be imitated or re-created by machine life.”


Are jobs obsolete?

That’s the bold question posed by Douglas Rushkoff. I know this is heresy for many, but as Kevin Kelly might suggest, this is “what technology wants.” A few snippets from the CNN op-ed:

I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?

We’re living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That’s because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working.

Our problem is not that we don’t have enough stuff — it’s that we don’t have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff.

The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?

We start by accepting that food and shelter are basic human rights. The work we do — the value we create — is for the rest of what we want: the stuff that makes life fun, meaningful, and purposeful.

This sort of work isn’t so much employment as it is creative activity. Unlike Industrial Age employment, digital production can be done from the home, independently, and even in a peer-to-peer fashion without going through big corporations.

I plan to eat right, exercise and live as long as I can because I can’t wait to see how this comes out.

Books: 2009

Yes, the list is a little skimpy but this blog will not write itself. I plan to read more fiction in twenty-ten.

  • Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe
  • The Chaos Scenario, Bob Garfield
  • The Ultimate Happiness Prescription: 7 Keeys to Joy and Enlightenment, Deepak Chopra
  • The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson
  • Life Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back, Douglas Rushkoff
  • Road Dogs, Elmore Leonard
  • The Increment, David Ignatius
  • Wicked Prey, John Sanford
  • What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis
  • Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible, Bart D. Ehrman
  • Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, DonTapscott
  • God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment, Scott Adams

On the bedside table

The Increment, David Ignatius

“The CIA has zero assets in Iran until a message is sent to the agency’s Web site that indicates that the Iranians are making real progress toward a bomb. It falls to veteran spy Harry Pappas to identify the sender and weigh the validity of the information, while the bellicose White House gears up for war. Pappas is disheartened and disaffected; he knew the Iraq War would be a disaster, and he lost his marine son there. To carry out his assignment, he must go rogue and seek the aid of British intelligence.”

Life, Inc., Douglas Rushkoff

“In the twenty-first century, we continue to consider corporations as role models and saviors but engage other people as competitors to be beaten or resources to be exploited. Our lives are overextended, and there is no time, energy, or commitment to do anything but work and perhaps consider family.”

Making radio relevant again

I’ve been reading Douglas Rushkoff’s latest book (Get Back In theBox: Innovation from the Inside Out) and was delighted to come across an interview with Rushkoff at Radio Marketing Nexus. Mark Ramsey talked with Rushkoff about “how to make radio relevant again.” Ruskoff misses the same things about radio that I do. AUDIO

“Because of my book tours I’ve been in a lot of radio stations, and even from 1995 to 2005 the amount of change I’ve seen has been shocking. There used to be this kind of quality to an FM radio station – I hate to be stereotypical, but there was a certain kind of chick who would be the receptionist at an FM radio station. There was a certain kind of guy that worked in the album room organizing the albums. There was a certain kind of geek figuring out the emphasis rack.

But FM stations are not really like that anymore. They feel much more like almost any other office, and if you didn’t see the control room you wouldn’t know you were in a radio station at all. They don’t ooze their culture anymore.

There was a smell and a quality and a texture to everything radio that I think was the fun of the industry. There was something so real about it. In the early days when I was a kid, you had Ron Lundy and Cousin Brucie – you just somehow knew those guys were there even though they were playing top 40 stuff. You knew it was a world of guys with records and personalities. And there’s so little of that on the radio today.

There’s almost nothing in mainstream radio that has that sense of this as a club of people in a cool place having a great time sharing some of their ecstasy with those of us driving to work or sitting in our bedrooms who wanted to have a taste of what it’s like to be an adult who understands music, who reads “Rolling Stone,” who understands why we’re fighting the Gulf War, or whatever it is. And I want to piece of that.

When I turn on the radio now I don’t feel that these folks have a piece of anything that I can’t get a piece of by going into Allstate to work in the morning. It’s just another working stiff with some computer telling them what to play and when to play it and when to read the ads.

I don’t trust the voice behind the music anymore because I don’t know that he’s really an expert or that he really cares. He’s not part of a living, breathing, fertile culture whereas if I go online and look at these Podcasts I know these people have done it not for the money but for the love of it. And radio is going to have to go a long way now to convince me that there’s somebody there who cares about what they’re doing for some reason other than the cash.

Finally, I would say the purpose of radio is to keep people company. And in order to keep people company there’s got to be a human being on the other side of it. The more truly human your radio station is the better it is at keeping people company. And the more computerized and business-like it is the farther outside the box you’ll find yourself.”

So there you have it. The pure, distilled essence of what’s wrong with radio today. And it seems like it would be very easy to fix. To get back in the box. But I fear we don’t even remember where we put the box.

Outside the box. Inside the box. Which is it?

In his latest book, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from Inside Out, Douglas Rushkoff says “smart businesses hire employees who are deeply familiar with the company’s core products and encourage innovation by cultivating a fun, collaborative work environment.” I’m highlighting something on almost every page and will share some nuggets here when I get a few minutes. Here’s an interview (MP3) with Mr. Rushkoff by Bazooka Joe at Smallworld.

Stock market prediction

Douglas Rushkoff’s “official and not-to-be-wagered-upon stock market prediction is a 10-15% rise in the S&P by the end of February, and then freefall down to 6500 before the war starts. Then, a blip up with that sense of certainty that always accompanies a good ariel bombardment, and a blip back down when we realize that in a globally networked economy, war is bad for business, too.”