Present Shock and the Loss of History and Context

One of the few observers who is able to articulate a coherent critical account of American culture is Douglas Rushkoff. His new must-read book is Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (print edition) and (Kindle edition).I have long found inspiration and insight in Rushkoff's work, especially his keen understanding of the pathologies of consumerism.

Rushkoff's reply to an interview question on the consequences of ubiquitous marketing reveals how media/marketing has created an unquestioned politics of experience in which one's identity and sense of self is constructed almost entirely by what one buys:

"Children are being adultified because our economy is depending on them to make purchasing decisions. So they're essentially the victims of a marketing and capitalist machine gone awry. You know, we need to expand, expand, expand. There is no such thing as enough in our current economic model and kids are bearing the brunt of that.... So they're isolated, they're alone, they're desperate. It's a sad and lonely feeling....

The net effect of all of this marketing, all of this disorienting marketing, all of the shock media, all of this programming designed to untether us from a sense of self, is a loss of autonomy. You know, we no longer are the active source of our own experience or our own choices. Instead, we succumb to the notion that life is a series of product purchases that have been laid out and whose qualities and parameters have been pre-established."

In my view, this is a brilliant analysis of the rot at the heart of the American project.

In his new book, Rushkoff examines the telescoping of time and context wrought by ubiquitous digital technologies. We're always accessible, always connected and every channel is always on; this overload affects not just our ability to process information but our culture and the way media and marketing are designed and delivered.

The title consciously plays off the influential 1970 book by Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, which posited that our innate ability to process change was limited even as the rate of change in our post-industrial world increased. That rate of change would soon overwhelm our capacity to process new inputs and adapt to them.

In Rushkoff's view, we've reached that future: the speed of change and the demands of the present are disorienting us in profound ways.

We all know what stress feels like: it often causes our view to narrow to the present stressor, and we lose perspective and the ability to "make sense" of anything beyond managing the immediate situation.

Rushkoff identifies five symptoms of present shock:

1. Narrative collapse - the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and post-narrative shows like The Simpsons.

2. Digiphrenia – digitally provoked mental chaos as technology lets us be in more than one place at any one moment. As Rushkoff notes in this chapter: Our boss isn't the guy in the corner office, but the PDA in our pocket. Our taskmaster is depersonalized and internalized.

3. Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, for example, packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event.

4. Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things with weak causal relationships, for example Big Data, which excels at identifying correlations but is utterly incapable of identifying cause amidst the correlations.

5. Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale, the cultural equivalent of a "market-clearing event."

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmay13/present-shock5-13.html

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