What if we had to learn to reinhabit the present?
Today’s post is dedicated to Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock: When everything happens now. Douglas Rushkoff, expert author of the digital and media world, has written over ten books including The GenX Reader and Open Source Democracy. He is credited for having first coined the term “viral media” in 1994, and for having predicted in 1997 the bursting of the Internet bubble in the 2000’s. He is also a brilliant orator, and I recommend taking the necessary 45 minutes to watch the entirety of his remarkable speech at Austin’s SXSW 2013. The video (below) was published in 2014. The title ‘Present Shock’ is a direct reference to the famous book published in 1970 by Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, in order to stigmatize our ‘presentism,’ which leads us to not only no longer believe in the long term, but more importantly to live a new rapport with time, which Rushkoff describes through five phenomena that he names “Collapse of narrative,” “Digiphrenia,” “Owerwinding,” “Fractalonia” and “Apocalypto.” In doing so, he invites us to realize the limits of rampant presentism, which we are led to through new technologies that transform us into data, and to rediscover the human dimension based on interpersonal relationships: “Whatever is vibrating on the iPhone just isn’t as valuable as the eye contact you are making right now!”
Everything happens as if our entire future should now be in our present. At this digital hour, we live in a state of perpetual urgency that fundamentally challenges our understanding of time. We have gone from the industrial age when time was in the form of a dial divided into periods, to a digital age where time is presented like a pulse. And in the emergency that has become our lives, the “Chronos” (measured time) has taken over the “Kairos” (past time). The first syndrome described by Douglas Rushkoff is the “collapse of narrative”: storytelling has been transformed and has lost a sense of beginning and a sense of ending. “Game of Thrones” is an infinite novel that develops in all sorts of directions. Netflix now allows us to watch every episode of a series like “House of Cards” all at once. This disintegration of the story in favor of immediacy translates into all sectors of human activity, whether it be political (everything, all at once), or in consumerism (fruits and vegetables available everywhere all year-round, regardless of natural cultivation rhythms). The second phenomenon described by Douglas Rushkoff is “Digiphrenia.” Digiphrenia is the idea that our digital personality has now developed in our different avatars and in our various applications, and makes us lead multiple, parallel lives: “Today, media and technology encourage us to be in more than one place at the same time.” The third phenomenon studied by Rushkoff called “Overwinding” consists of wanting to compress large temporal spaces into super intense moments, like Black Friday for instance (when hyper consumption is reduced into a condensed time frame), or even the effects of botox and plastic surgery, which aim to concentrate our own body history into an ageless, unfading face. Rushkoff calls the fourth symptom “Fractolania,” which is our tendency to look too quickly for relationships of cause & effect, even when they don’t exist, which stems all sorts of theories, all the way to conspiracy theories. The last tendency described by Rushkoff is what he calls “Apocalypto,” and it is the idea that, due to a lack of progressive vision, which he believes is because of the infinite plateau in which we live, we see the end of the story in an apocalyptic manner (hence the success of disaster movies). While recognizing the contribution of digital in our lives, Rushkoff invites us to re-examine the way we live now, by regiving, in a world increasingly divided into immediate data, priority to human relationships, emotions, a sense of long term, and everything that makes mankind – mankind.