The Slovenia Times

"I am not optimistic"



Rushkoff's first book, Cyberia, dealt with the early psychedelic roots of digital technology. He was thinking about the digital society, stressing that the internet will play a leading role. Publishers back in 1993 disagreed and refused to publish the book, saying that the internet was doomed to die. When Cyberia came out in 1994, Douglas Rushkoff established himself as one of the major experts in the area of the new technology. He is the father of the terms - digital native, social currency and viral media. In 2013, MIT anointed him the sixth most important thinker in the world.

What has been the major shift in technology since the dawn of the internet in the 1990's?

We have yet to see. The birth of technology is as big a deal as the invention of the alphabet, the written word. In the beginning of the written word, for many centuries, the only thing done with the written word was to list people's possessions and to keep track of slavery. While it seemed at the dawn of internet that we were going to use it to enhance communication and connectivity between people in order to really create a global brain of some kind, we now use digital technology to accelerate corporate capitalism. 

Do you think that the technology, social media, smart algorithms, AI that we have at hand is benefitting us or exploiting us? 

In the short term we are benefitting, but in the long term we are using technology that have been intentionally designed to make us more automatic. The hate and polarisation that you see in the USA right now is the direct result of the media environment in which we live. 

What are then the biggest challenges we are facing in the digital era?

We are facing challenges as individuals rather than collectively. Individualism is a part of the problem; what we took from the enlightenment, how liberalism married too well to individualism and consumerism and competition and "go it alone" and bad interpretations of how evolution works. The main challenge right now is to realise that being human is a team sport, that it is a collective enterprise and it's going to be harder and harder for people to insulate themselves from reality. Instead, they may actually have to look at making reality a better place.

Collective consciousness has died according to social scientists. In an era of modern technology, is there a chance to revive it? 

I don't know if there's a big chance, but any chance we have, we should use. Now our multibillion-dollar technology businesses are programmed to do the opposite; to prevent that kind of realisation. In the beginning, Apple built the so-called e-world, now it's about 'I'. And that is a fundamental difference.

Is social media also to blame for the changes or is it perhaps the stepping-stone for change to happen? 

I don't feel like the social media base is real. I feel it's something else, like reality TV. However, I believe you can make a change regardless of what social media is saying at a certain time. We can take back the real world. 

But Facebook was blamed for contributing to the election of Donald Trump.

Facebook is running on a business plan, its technology wasn't hacked but its business was. They looked at how Facebook is making money and realised they have to create things that help this platform make money, and algorithms promoted their propaganda. That's pretty easy. I don't know how responsible for Trump's election Facebook really was. Just because it was an engine of Trump and Russian propaganda doesn't mean it shifted the election. I feel the cable news networks did that - they were so hungry for ratings and covered Trump whenever he did something. Trump was funny, he was a comedian running for president and they covered the comedian, and they covered him 30 times more than anyone else. What did you expect? This is what the Frankfurt group wrote in the 40's and everyone laughed at them saying that your entertainment culture and political culture become the same. 

Do you think that with the rise of augmented reality (AR) it's going to be even harder to be present in this reality and to take is back? Or, are we going to be completely alienated from reality once AR and VR become a part of our everyday lives?

I don't know. I think it is easy to overestimate the quality and pervasiveness of some of these fantasy technologies. I am not worried about human beings being sucked into an entertaining matrix simulation that then leave everyone behind. If that happened, it would be just for people that get to be there. Maybe Elon Musk and Peter Thiel might live in that world, but you can't maintain the fictions of that on that level - you still need food and water, and soil to walk on. I think that the carrying capacity of the planet would get overwhelmed long before we could build enough servers for virtual reality devices.

Do the tech gurus inflate the stories of AR and AI and make them bigger than they actually are?

The whole thing is hype. The best VR developed so far were the forums and bulletin board system (BBS) in the early 90's. Since then, it has all become less intimate and humane. The internet is just an advertisement for the stock of the companies that really don't make money. If you'll talk to the venture capitalists, some will say the AI is the next big thing, others will say its language processing or VR or AR or robots. The amount of time it actually takes to develop these things in any realistic compelling way are decades out as far as I can tell. And people's problems are getting more severe. There's not enough cash for people who pay these things. 

Aren't you afraid of the forecasts of the studies that by 2025 we are going to lose a lot of jobs due to automation and robotisation? That we won't need journalists or writers as algorithms can write better?

Sure I am. But it's not that we won't need jobs, it's that the corporations that run the planet won't need humans. How do human journalists serve corporatism? They don't. Real journalist might see something, feel something, might be said that children in Africa are affected by the exploration of rare earth metals that we need to make smartphones. Algorithmic journalists don't care about that. What's the purpose of employment right now? It's to produce things, but that the individual can participate in this world of capitalism. There's enough food, houses and other things that you need to justify getting them by having a job. The job doesn't have to actually contribute to anything. You just have to have a job. What if we realise that the entire employment economy is based on the false premise of economic growth? When you get there, you realise let's just stop that economic growth, because is killing us. But how do we then get food to people, if they don't have jobs? And there's more than enough work to go around - there's ill people that need to be taken care of, old people that need companions to walk with them, children that need education, ... 

What kind of future do you see in regards to everything you've said?

I am not optimistic. I feel the event is coming; be it a nuclear war, environmental collapse or economic collapse, social upheaval. But I think that we can try and push this event as far into the future as possible and to get ourselves as resilient as possible between now and then.


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