Following discussions around the future of technology use and media consumption at this year’s festival, we have published the third and final of a series of interviews with FutureFest 2018 speaker Douglas Rushkoff.
How do you think society’s addictive, love-hate relationship with the internet and social media will evolve in the future?
If I had to guess, I think it would go one of two ways. Either we move into increasing addiction and unconsciousness. Or enough of us choose to wake up and try to steer our civilisation towards a more sustainable outcome. The problem is that the algorithms and platforms that we’re obeying right now are really programmed purely for the growth of capital.
A functioning economy needs to have more going on than the growth and abstraction of capital.
For the last 75 years, corporate profit over corporate size has been going down. Corporations are good at extracting all the money off the table but they’re bad at deploying it. So eventually they end up bankrupting the markets on which they’re depending, and when they run out of capital to extract, that’s real trouble for them. If we stay in this trend, then we will miss out on the real potentials of the digital age, which are participation and de-centralised value creation. But I do see some green shoots – young people being raised in this digital sphere will be digital natives. They will speak the language, and like Neo in the matrix, they’ll see through the code and the agendas of these platforms.
The very first kids who played with this stuff were from the 80s and 90s– the next generation were the Zuckerbergs, the ones who wanted to make a billion dollars off it, the third generation now sees the futility of that.
If Zuckerberg is giving back 95% of his money anyway, then maybe he shouldn’t have taken so much to begin with.
You have explored “digiphrenia,” the idea that information overload and the speed at which we receive information reduces wisdom, analysis and long-term thinking. Do you think generation Z’s desire for instant gratification has resulted in a less engaged generation?
No, as a college professor, I do see kids on Facebook in class because they’re bored. But that’s no different from how we used to be bored. There were very elaborate engravings in the wooden desks when I was a student in Princeton. But I do think that standardisation, testing and corporatized assessment systems have devalued the education system.
If I’m concerned about education, it’s because we’ve turned it from a deep, intentional enrichment of a human being to a superficial training for the current job market.
This approach in fact makes people less able to participate in the future job market because they don’t understand learning as an ideal. Look at the original metrics of education – particularly in the UK, where public education was compensation for workers such as coal miners. If you’re going to be stuck digging coal out of a cave, you should at least have the benefit of a decent humanities and liberal arts education so that you can read a book or enjoy a play. Education was also designed to engender an informed electorate. If you’re living in a democratic system, you want people voting who at least understand the basic issues. School used to be compensation for work, but today it has become preparation for work. It’s about job readiness. It’s an extension of labour or a way for corporations to externalise the cost of training their workers.
You can watch Douglas Rushkoff’s full talk here