Douglas Rushkoff emerged as a media commentator in 1994 with his first book, Cyberia. He has published 10 books detailing an increasingly fierce critique of digital society.
Along the way Rushkoff has coined terms that have slipped into the lexicon such as “digital natives”, “social currency” and “viral media”. He has also made several documentaries and written novels both graphic and regular; consulted for organisations from the UN to the US government and composed music with Genesis P-Orridge.
His latest book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity, is published by Portfolio Penguin.
What do you find most objectionable about the kind of economy that technology appears to create?
What’s most pernicious about it is that we are developing companies that are designed to do little more than take money out of the system — they are all extractive. There’s this universal assumption that we have to turn working currency into share price.
You call this the “growth trap”?
The growth trap is the assumption of business that growth and health are the same thing — and I understand how they got back that way — that when you have a debt-based monetary system it has to pay back to the central banks more than was borrowed and that requires growth. So if you have a currency that requires growth in order to have value you’re going to have all these businesses biased towards growth rather than everything else.
Uber has nothing to do with helping people get rides in towns. Uber is a business plan. It’s a platform monopoly getting ready to leverage that monopoly into another vertical whether it be delivery, drones or logistics. The prosperity of all the people who used to be in the cabbie industry ends up sacrificed to the growth of this company. Corporations are like these obese people, they suck money out of our economy and store it in the fat of share price. That’s not business, that’s value extraction.
You left Facebook in 2013. How is that working out for you?
Professionally, I’m thinking it may be good for one’s career and business to be off social media altogether. Chris Anderson was wrong. “Free” doesn’t lead to anything but more free. Working for free isn’t leverage to do a talk for loads of money; now they even want you to talk for free. What am I supposed to do? Join YouTube and get three cents for every 100,000 views of my video? That is crap; that is insane!
So business-wise I’m thinking that every time I post an article summarising what my book is about I’m hurting the sales and I end up delivering my ideas in a piecemeal, context-less fashion which ends up communicating less. And it makes my ideas much more easily applied for evil by corporations. That’s the lesson I should have learned in 1994 when I published Media Virus and my concept got turned into “viral marketing”, which took a slither of an idea and used it for pernicious applications.
Do you still advocate taking a digital sabbath?
I came up with this thing which I now don’t like: the digital sabbath. It feels a little forced and arbitrary, and it frames digital detox as a deprivation. I would much rather help people learn to value looking into other people’s eyes. To sit in a room talking to people — I want people to value that, not because they aren’t being interrupted by digital media but because it’s valuable in its own right.