Program Or Be Programmed - first thoughts

Douglas Rushkoff’s new book “Program Or Be Programmed” is remarkable in many ways. It tries to guide you through the special period of the computer age we all happen to live in by 10 basic advices – which he aptly calls commands.

Reading the introduction, Rushkoff’s point gets quite clear: we are living in an highly programmed landscape. We all use various types of computer programs on a daily basis.

Soothingly, it does not seem the first media revolution we’re undergoing. The author lists examples, from language over the alphabet through the printing press. The common discriminator of all the past media revolutions: the access to the creation of the different media types was limited to a small elite, be it the handwritten word or the printed book.

As far as I can see, there’s a major difference – the past revolutions were driven by religious, political and corporate leaders who were also able to strictly apply access rules to the emerging technologies. Right now, we are all able to shape the face of the digital age. But the majority of our contemporaries prefer consuming of producing – digital natives included.

But let’s get back to the book: The alphabet lead to a society of listeners, the invention of the printing press to one of readers.

The big question is: how are we going to be judged by our ancestors? Will the digital age be considered “The Age Of Programming”, or “The Age Of The Programmed”? Could this age become a digital renaissance?

As a professional software designer, I have to strongly agree when Rushkoff sums the situation up by writing:

“We teach kids how to use software to write, but not how to write software.”

(Douglas Rushkoff, Program Or Be Programmed)

Surprisingly, the first two commands are not about programming – but address the general use of the internet and how we interact. Rushkoff’s ten commands for a digital age are focused on different biases of new media we are all using. Let’s have a look at the first command concerning the temporal bias of the digital media we are all using:

I. Time: Do Not Be Always On

Tough one – I’m an online addict. I’m the type of guy who buys a new phone charging device at the airport when realizing to have forgotten mine at home. My mobile mail client updates my private mail account every 30 minutes, my business account is checked during office hours accordingly. Replying on twitter the next day? No way!

So what’s the point anyway? The point is: by accelerating our own response times, we also accelerate the volume of our daily online communication. Neither budget nor time do increase, so how are we funding the increase of communication? Right, by a lowered quality of our conversations.

Not only our replies are of a lower quality, but also our ability to absorb high quality content. Who still reads long blog posts like mine? I love the fact that there are still some people out there who do – but they’re an steadily decreasing minority.

Rushkoff’s recalls the old times – when you used your phone line to dial-up and connect to the internet, loaded most of the content you were going to read in offline readers and you just took your time to respond. Which lead to quality conversations. Those were the days ;–).

This point reminded me of an oddity I grant myself: I don’t use instant messaging services. It’s not that I don’t like to chat online, but Jabber, ICQ & the likes just eat up too much precious time. And if I think about it, using my mobile to check e-mails kind of accelerated my e-mail-account into an instant messaging service.

So – what can I do about it? I started to decelerate my online conversations by setting my mobile client to update all of my mail accounts only three times a day. Including my business account. Let’s see if that has some positive effect.

Concerning twitter… I started firing up my twitter client only from time to time in contrary to running it in the background all day. I still love to tag the city with Foursquare & show off nice places I visit via TwitPic. Which is a smooth transition to the next command…

But I prefer to continue to read right now & leave the second command open for the next post. Dramatization: Since I’m offline right now & typing these lines on my text editor, I am not in a hurry but able to produce some well thought quality content ;–).

I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on the subject!


Sven Kräuter | 5v3n