Program or be Programmed

Ten Commands for a Digital Age

Douglas Rushkoff

With illustrations by Leland Purvis

“Thinking twice about our use of digital media, what our practices are doing to us, and what we are doing to each other, is one of the most important priorities people have today—and Douglas Rushkoff gives us great guidelines for doing that thinking. Read this before and after you Tweet, Facebook, email or YouTube.” —Howard Rheingold

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About the Book

The debate over whether the Net is good or bad for us fills the airwaves and the blogosphere. But for all the heat of claim and counter-claim, the argument is essentially beside the point: it’s here; it’s everywhere. The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.” In ten chapters, composed of ten “commands” accompanied by original illustrations from comic artist Leland Purvis, Rushkoff provides cyberenthusiasts and technophobes alike with the guidelines to navigate this new universe.

In this spirited, accessible poetics of new media, Rushkoff picks up where Marshall McLuhan left off, helping readers come to recognize programming as the new literacy of the digital age––and as a template through which to see beyond social conventions and power structures that have vexed us for centuries. This is a friendly little book with a big and actionable message.

World-renowned media theorist and counterculture figure Douglas Rushkoff is the originator of ideas such as “viral media,” “social currency” and “screenagers.” He has been at the forefront of digital society from its beginning, correctly predicting the rise of the net, the dotcom boom and bust, as well as the current financial crisis. He is a familiar voice on NPR, face on PBS, and writer in publications from Discover Magazine to the New York Times.

“Douglas Rushkoff is one of the great thinkers––and writers––of our time.” —Timothy Leary

“Rushkoff is damn smart. As someone who understood the digital revolution faster and better than almost anyone, he shows how the internet is a social transformer that should change the way your business culture operates.” —Walter Isaacson

Publication November 1st 2010 • 152 pages
paperback ISBN 978-1-935928-15-7 • ebook ISBN 978-1-935928-16-4

About the Author

Winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff has written a dozen best-selling books on media and society, including Cyberia, Media Virus, Coercion (winner of the Marshall McLuhan Award), Get Back in the Box, and Life Inc. He has made the PBS “Frontline” documentaries Digital Nation, The Persuaders, and Merchants of Cool.

A columnist for The Daily Beast and Arthur Magazine, his articles have been regularly published in The New York Times and Discover, among many other publications. His radio commentaries air on NPR and WFMU, his opeds appear in the New York Times, and he is a familiar face on television, from ABC News to The Colbert Report.

Rushkoff has taught at New York University and the New School, played keyboards for the industrial band PsychicTV, directed for theater and film, and worked as a stage fight choreographer. He lives in New York State with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

Doug Rushkoff Homepage

In the Media

CNN, September 7th 2011

Wired Magazine, July 29th 2011, June 7th 2011

CNN, April 14th 2011

Wisconsin Public Radio, January 21st 2011

Mashable, January 6th 2011

Ibishblog, January 6th 2011

Barnes & Noble Review, December 17th 2010

Great Documents, December 15th 2010

Heeb, December 2010

The Raw Story, December 12th 2010

Steppin Off the Edge, December 10th 2010

CNN, December 10th 2010

Writers ‘n Readers, December 9th 2010

Equal Time for Freethought, December 5th 2010

Glass Tire, December 2nd 2010

BlogTalk Radio, December 1st 2010

Wired, November 29th 2010

Concurring Opinions, November 29th 2010

Dave Lucas Blog, November 29th 2010

Metaviews, November 26th 2010

Miami Herald, November 22nd 2010

GRITv, November 19th 2010

800 CEO Read, November 18th 2010

Copper Robot, November 18th 2010

The Brian Lehrer Show, November 17th 2010

BBC Radio, November 2nd 2010, October 15th 2010

Moby Lives, October 12th 2010

Publishers Weekly, October 5th 2010

The Bookseller,
October 5th 2010

Beattie’s Book Blog, October 5th 2010

Publishing Perspectives , October 5th 2010 , October 5th 2010

Daily Kos, October 3th 2010

MediaBistro’s Fishbowl LA , October 1st 2010

MPR, October 1st 2010

Dangerous Minds, October 1st 2010

Huffington Post, September 30th 2010

Arthur, September 29th 2010

New Jersey News Room, September 28th 2010

Boing Boing, September 27th 2010

HiLoBrow, September 21th 2010, September 12th 2010

NewsReal Blog, September 12th 2010

Galleycat, September 7th 2010

Hermenautic Circle Blog, August 26th 2010

Four Sides, August 27th 2010, June 22th 2010

Table of Contents

Do Not Be “Always On”


Live in Person


You May Always Choose “None of the Above”


You Are Never Completely Right


One Size Does Not Fit All


Be Yourself


Do Not Sell Your Friends


Tell the Truth


Share, Don’t Steal


Program or Be Programmed

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 1

by Douglas Rushkoff

When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them.

In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed. Choose the former, and you gain access to the control panel of civilization. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make.
For while digital technologies are in many ways a natural outgrowth of what went before, they are also markedly different. Computers and networks are more than mere tools: they are like living things, themselves. Unlike a rake, a pen, or even a jackhammer, a digital technology is programmed. This means it comes with instructions not just for its use, but also for itself. And as such technologies come to characterize the future of the way we live and work, the people programming them take on an increasingly important role in shaping our world and how it works. After that, it’s the digital technologies themselves that will be shaping our world, both with and without our explicit cooperation.

That’s why this moment matters. We are creating a blueprint together—a design for our collective future. The possibilities for social, economic, practical, artistic, and even spiritual progress are tremendous. Just as words gave people the ability to pass on knowledge for the first time and launch what we now call civilization, networked activity could soon offer us access to shared thinking—an extension of consciousness still inconceivable to most of us today. The operating principles of commerce and culture—from supply and demand to command and control—could conceivably give way to an entirely more engaged, connected, and collaborative mode of participation.
But so far, anyway, too many of us are finding our digital networks responding unpredictably, or even opposed to our intentions.

Retailers migrate online only to find their prices undercut by automatic shopping aggregators. Culture creators seize interactive distribution channels only to grow incapable of finding people willing to pay for content they were happy to purchase before. Educators who looked forward to accessing the world’s bounty of information for their lessons are faced with students who believe that finding an answer on Wikipedia is the satisfactory fulfillment of an inquiry. Parents who believed their kids would intuitively multitask their way to professional success are now concerned those same kids are losing the ability to focus on any one thing.

Political organizers who believed the Internet would consolidate their constituencies find that net petitions and self-referential blogging now serve as substitutes for action. Young people who saw in social networks a way to redefine themselves and their allegiances across formerly sacrosanct boundaries are now conforming to the logic of social networking profiles and finding themselves the victims of marketers and character assassination. Bankers who believed that digital entrepreneurship would revive a sagging industrial age economy are instead finding it impossible to generate new value through capital investment. A news media that saw in information networks new opportunities for citizen journalism and responsive, twenty-four-hour news gathering has grown sensationalist, unprofitable, and devoid of useful facts.

Cultural creators who saw in the net a new opportunity for amateur participation in previously cordoned-off sectors of media and society instead see the indiscriminate mashing and mixing up of pretty much everything, in an environment where the loud and lewd drown out anything that takes more than a few moments to understand. Social and community organizers who saw in social media a new, safe way for people to gather, voice their opinions, and effect bottom-up change are often recoiling at the way networked anonymity breeds mob behavior, merciless attack, and thoughtless responses.

A society that looked at the Internet as a path toward highly articulated connections and new methods of creating meaning is instead finding itself disconnected, denied deep thinking, and drained of enduring values.
It doesn’t have to turn out this way. And it won’t, if we simply learn the biases of the technologies we are using and become conscious participants in the ways they are deployed.

View Sample Illustrations

Original illustrations for Program or be Programmed

by Leland Purvis




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