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Douglas Rushkoff

Winner of the Media Ecology Association's first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He is technology and media commentator for CNN, and has taught and lectured around the world about media, technology, culture and economics. His new book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a followup to his Frontline documentary, Digital Nation. His last book, an analysis of the corporate spectacle called Life Inc., was also made into a short, award-winning film.

Transmedia: The Future of

Collapsus Introduction from SubmarineChannel on Vimeo.

I just met Tommy Pollatta at the Open Video Conference in NY. He's the producer of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, and now the producer and filmmaker behind a "transmedia" project called Collapsus. (See this BB post on Transmedia.) Not only is Tommy about the sweetest guy you'd ever want to meet, but he's also developing some great tools and content dedicated to informing and engaging people about major issues through entertainment. His new form, what he's calling 'transmedia,' is basically documentary mixed with narrative branching off into video games and social networking. If Mafia Wars had been invented for good instead of, well, I'm-not-sure-what, it may have been able to leverage some of what Lammotta is hoping to put into the service of peak oil and energy policy. I'm not sure the above trailer does the experience justice, so please do check out the actual project, too, at coollapsus.com.

Why Johnny Can't Program

I just published this on Huffington Post. Maybe some policymakers will consider adding programming to the US public school curriculum....
Just last year, while researching a book on America's digital illiteracy, I met with the Air Force General then in charge of America's cybercommand. He said he had plenty of new recruits ready and able to operate drones or other virtual fighting machines - but no one capable of programming them, or even interested in learning how. He wasn't even getting recruits who were ready to begin basic programming classes. Meanwhile, he explained to me, colleges in Russia, China, and even Iran were churning out an order of magnitude more programmers than universities in the US. It is only a matter of time, he said - a generation at most - until our military loses its digital superiority.
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Howlingly Cute

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One of my favorite musicians and artists, Archer Prewitt, best known for the comic Sof'Boy and band Sea and Cake has just finished the latest figurine in his series for PressPop, the Allen Ginsberg doll - authorized by Ginsberg Estate. Complete with glasses, book, and beaded necklace, he should make a fine addition to anyone's collection of beat poet dolls.

The doll comes with a CD of some of Ginsberg's previously unreleased live poetry readings, including Manhattan Mayday Midnight and On William Burroughs' Work.

Richard Metzger's Dangerous Minds

Douglas Rushkoff: Program or Be Programmed from DANGEROUS MINDS on Vimeo.

Richard Metzger has always been my favorite net television maker. From his show Infinity Factory on Pseudo Networks to Disinformation on the web, Channel Four, and in real life, Metzger has penetrated the weird, bringing coherence to the esoteric. He is the thinking man's Art Bell, or the sane world's Aleister Crowley. His new web television project, Dangerous Minds, has already featured William Gibson, Mark Frauenfelder, Kim Fowley, and now - Douglas Rushkoff, via skype, trying to talk about my book from my basement office while trying to listen in case my daughter calls me from upstairs. So please don't judge this show by my own appearance.

Why I Left My Publisher in Order to Publish a Book

I'm publishing a lot of essays this week, but enjoy the conversations here more than out on the regular net. So I'll link to them when I think they're appropriate for the Boing Boing community as well.

This one, for Arthurmag, explains why - for my own current book, anyway - independent publishing may be a much better path than going through the traditional corporate route. Unlike Seth Godin, I'm not in a position to say "I've decided not to publish any more books in the traditional way. 12 for 12 and I'm done." There are reasons to go the long route, including getting an advance, getting distribution, and getting the weight of an imprint when soliciting reviews and coverage. But being able to make such definitive statements is part of what makes Seth Godin, Seth Godin.

For me, it had a whole lot to do with my impatience waiting for a book to move through the traditional, 1 1/2-year release cycle, as well as wanting to sell a book for less money. It seemed to me that if people are willing to click somewhere other than Amazon or BN for a book, then we'd be able use the web in something much closer to a p2p fashion.

There's even some good news in the failure of so much of traditional publishing: the discarded talent is still here to help us write better books, and is developing some new models for getting them out:

Meanwhile, the better editors and publicists--the ones who understand their jobs differently than the corporate publishing model now dictates--are the first to be let go when budgets are cut. Working with an author on a book takes valuable time away from the acquisition of more titles. Working a whole afternoon to get a young novelist on NPR for an hour means a lot less to the executives and their balance sheets than getting a defamed movie star two minutes with Katie Couric.

Luckily for writers, however, the editors, marketers, and publicists booted from the corporate publishing industry are starting up little companies of their own. The corporate book industry can't grow at the rate required by publicly held companies, anyway. This is why it is failing. Publishing is a sustainable business, not a growth industry. So it needs to be run by people looking for sustainable projects and careers--not runaway profits.

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Bernard Lietaer's Site Launched


And speaking of alternative currencies, Bernard Lietaer -- the man who introduced a great many of us to the inequities inherent to a monopoly currency system and the great possibilities for complementary alternatives - has finally launched a comprehensive website about his work. Above, the TEDX Berlin talk, currently on his front page.

This is a great one-stop shop for a total mind-shift on how money works and how it could.

They Live, Again

they-live-200x300.gif Softskull Press is launching a new series of books called Deep Focus, dedicated to taking some of today's wittiest writers and setting them loose on the cult film classics of the 70's and 80's.

So far, I've had the pleasure of reading galleys for the first two, Jonathan Lethem's deconstruction of John Carpenter's They Live, and Chris Sorrentino's homage to Death Wish. These are fun little books - little, meaning a hundred or so pages and in a tiny fits-in-your-back-pocket format suitable for reading anywhere at anytime. And they justify all the nights spent watching reruns of these films, never sure if we were allowed to like them as much as we do - even after we see through to their obvious faults. This book series considers such films "deliberate" B-movies.

I read Lethem's time-coded analysis of They Live on an airplane while I watched the film on my phone, for the perfect DIY mini-Criterion experience. Lethem is one of my favorite writers anyway, but experiencing him wax on about Nada and the ghouls was perhaps the highlight of my summer reading. Here he is on Shephard Fairey's original OBEY campaign, which began as a reaction to the "obey" signs revealed beneath ordinary advertisements when characters in the film wore "Hoffman glasses":

Fairey's interventions occupy the same uneasy middle ground as They Live itself: on the one hand, the termite arts of graffiti or of the deliberate B-Movie, marginal activities carrying a subversive potential past the sentries of high art. On the other, the gallery-ready postures of text-artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, or of the Cahiers table of "conscious" auteurs - Hitchcock being the supreme example - at which Carpenter may occasionally be granted a shakey seat. Too poisted and context-aware to be claimed as primitives, too crass and populist to be comfortably claimed for the high-art pantheon, Fairey and Carpenter both oscillate dismayingly in the void between.

Or, a bit later...

Kruger and Holzer's non-sequitor interventions briefly attained a gallant purity, but they'd always needed the gallery or museum context as a quarantine against recontamination. Their work degenerated anyway, refamiliarizing into po-mo moral rhetoric or reappropriated for fashion layouts. What makes Shepard Fairey's populist gesture insipid is is how self-evidently it awaited a product retrofit, a proceed-to-checkout button. When the OBEY t-shirt or CHANGE political campaign rolled out, no one, least of all the 'artworks' themselves, even hiccuped.

Mix Tape for Good Heads

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While mix tapes may no longer involve chromium dioxide passing over magnetic heads, there are still many heads who appreciate the music streams of others, and find them particularly useful when engaged in plant shamanics.

To this end, mixtape enthusiast and Arthur editor Jay Babcock has teamed up with recording engineer Bobby Tamkin to bring us Blackout, a fundraiser mix for the magazine with a "pay what thou wilt" link.

The tracks:
1. MOON DUO "Into the Trees" (from the Escape LP on Woodsist)
2. WHITE HILLS "Three Quarters" (from the White Hills LP on Thrill Jockey)
3. WHITE NOISE SOUND "Sunset" (from the White Noise Sound LP on Alive Naturalsound)
4. LORDS OF FALCONRY "Osiron" (from Lords of Falconry on Holy Mountain)
5. ENDLESS BOOGIE "Pack Your Bags" (from the Full House Head LP on No Quarter)
6. MASTERS OF REALITY "Johnny's Dream" (from the Pine/Cross'd Over LP)
7. MESSAGES "Tambura" (from the After Before LP on De Stijl)
8. ENUMCLAW "Harmonic Convergence" (from the Opening of the Dawn LP)

All available for preview at Arthurmag.

An Alt Currency that even the IRS Could Love

How superfluid works from Nathan Solomon on Vimeo.


I've been researching alternative currency systems for the past decade or so, ever since I became convinced that a 21st Century economy simply can't be run on a 13th Century printing-press-era operating system. As most of us know, the centralized currency we use today is a legacy of the early Renaissance, when kings, threatened by the rise of a merchant middle class, made all peer-to-peer and local currencies illegal. Debt-based currencies helped monarchs centralize their power and the worth of their treasuries. And these currency systems worked particularly well as colonial empires expanded via their chartered corporations.

Nowadays, however, most of us have more value we wish to transact than there is cash out there to do it. (I personally blame the derivatives markets, which now are more predictive than derivative - their bets being placed before the so-called "real" markets have a chance to operate.) But whatever the cause, there are plenty of real people willing to work and exchange value; there's just not enough money available to do it.

I've been looking hard at many of the systems out there, from exchanges like LETS and TimeDollars to reputational currencies like Whuffie. The main obstacle - usually unacknowledged, but mostly just ignored - is the tax. And I think that's what sets Superfluid apart from the rest. They've got two sides - a "community" portal for people to do favors for one another in the way a LETS system might allow. And they've also got a commerce portal through which people can begin to sell merchandise or commercial services.

What makes Superfluid interesting for the Boing Boing community, I believe, is that its philosophy and methodology - as described in the video above - is so consonant with that of the programming community. It makes sense to me that a technology based in shared computing resources would be great for administrating the sharing of programming skills. And it also seems to me that the programming community is the more likely birthplace for a robust and legal p2p currency than the kinds of communities that have attempted to scale up their currencies in the past.

See what you think. I'll try to get the founders of Superfluid here to engage in the comments if people are interested.

Fabrickit: DIY wearable computing

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This just got released at Maker Faire NYC on Sunday: a starter kit for making your own wearable computing, from a new company called Fabrick.it. The kit is broken down into modules or "bricks" for everything from light-up LED's to rechargeable batteries, all linked together with attractive sewable, washable, and solderable conductive silver ribbon.

Perhaps more valuable than the components themselves will be the instructions and tutorials for putting things together, and the community that should develop around DIY wearable technologies.

Greetings Happy Mutants

Rushkoff_PortraitEDIT.jpgDouglas Rushkoff, here. Mark graciously invited me to guest blog for the next two weeks, in celebration of the release of my first book explicitly about digital culture, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age (for which BB readers get an additional 20% discount if they type the code BOING in the discount box on the last screen).

In all honesty, the book brings me back to the core values that have been espoused here on Boing Boing since the beginning: these technologies are the most fun and the most useful if we have some idea of how they work, and if their workings remain accessible to us. Knowledge of the codes - both digital and otherwise - is the best way to begin changing them. Meanwhile, an awareness of some of the more dehumanizing biases of some of these tools and spaces helps us keep our digital communities productive, collaborative, and happily mutant.

For me, this was the core insight of using these technologies in the first place. As a kid raised on television, I was inspired by how computers allowed me to get behind the screen and change what was in there - even share what I did with others. It seemed to me that once people experienced the mutability of online spaces and systems, they'd begin to see the mutability of real world spaces and systems, too.

But over the years, as interfaces get thicker, devices get locked down, and the real programs and agendas behind the tools we use get more obtuse, I'm finding people quite willing to treat technologies as given circumstances. The cyberpunk insight I tried to share with others in religion, government, and economics seems somewhat scarce right here in cyberspace. I talk to kids - the ones I once extolled as "screenagers" - now accepting programs like Facebook at face value: they think Facebook exists primarily to help them make friends, and accept the system's embedded values as if Facebook had no agenda of its own. This is a perception I think communities like this one help to change, and I'm honored to be among you as a reader, commenter and, now, poster.

My posts over these two weeks will be likely be biased toward my own current fascination with people and organizations who are changing the rules and inviting others to do the same. But I will of course be on the lookout for anything of value to share with you for your appraisal and discussion.

(Portrait by Leland Purvis)

Where Everybody Knows Your Game


BabyCastles, the videoarcade in Ridgewood, Queens, is quickly turning into a hub for intersection of the art, technology, and culture of independent gaming. It's a place where you can sample the latest in indie videogames, like the Hungarian physics Sumotori Dreams above, or experience fully curated exhibitions - all in an atmosphere more like a hacker's coffee bar than a museum or a commercial arcade. Everybody is on the inside.

Founded by two graduates of NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, Syed Saluhuddin and Kunal Gupta, BabyCastle is basically just a wall of the music venue Silent Barn right now, featuring six video arcade cabinets with rotating content. But the extended BabyCastles collective is growing - and has launched a Kickstarter campaign for a pop-up video game, art, and music venue on 42nd Street in Manhattan, along with partnering organization Showpaper.org. Their purpose, in addition to having fun, is to change common perception of the art and culture of video games.

Yes, there is life after Gamestop.

Rushkoff on writing for a new alternate reality game

Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Life Inc., Coercion, the graphic novel Testament, and many other books.

I've written and even taught a whole lot about interactive narrative over the years, but rarely have the chance to play with this stuff.

Read the rest

Life Inc: a book against corporatism, published by a corporation

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(Douglas Rushkoff is a recent Boing Boing guest blogger -- below, a previously-planned excerpt from his new book, the last in a series of excerpts which ran during his guest-blogging period.)

Here's the final excerpts for the BoingBoing serialization of my new book Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back.

I've chosen them in response to concern from readers of the earlier excerpts, who are asking "what should we actually do about all this?" 

I think the first step is to fully comprehend how the financial mess we're in is not some aberration, but the culmination of a debt-based economy. When speculation and lending outweigh innovation and value-creation as drivers of economic activity, addiction to growth and the attendant bubbles are really the only possible long-term outcome. That's why it's important we understand how the ground rules were established, who came up with them, and why. Only then can we begin to look at how arbitrarily they were determined, and how artificially they were upheld.

But once we've done that, we need to look at mechanisms for restoring the functioning of a bottom-up economy that is at least as worthy as its top-down counterpart. Corporate foundations, while well-meaning, end up sitting on giant stores of investment that work against the very causes the foundations are supposedly working to fix. (There's a big section on how this works, using some of the LA Times terrific analysis of how the Gates Foundation invests its assets.)

It's not a matter of getting rid of corporations and centralized currency altogether, but maintaining alternative means of creating value and exchanging it. This is as much about simple participation as it is about active legislation. Finally, I'll argue, it means abandoning "causes" as abstract as the entities for which we mean to develop alternatives.

(for more on the book, movie, and tour, as well as appearances for groups such as A New Way Forward, check out lifeincorporated.net )


From Chapter 8
No Returns


The Fourth Estate is made up almost entirely of large corporations. And, operating almost entirely under the principles of debt, media companies cannot make any distinction between the market value of information and its importance. Britney Spears's latest breakdown and the invasion of Iraq are both treated as major media events deserving of equal time and space. In the face of all this, the hippest way out is to adopt the attitude of amused and quizzical cynicism worn by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

Besides, no matter how critical of corporatism some entertainers and journalists might be, the impact of their arguments is undercut by their dependence on corporatized media for dissemination. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart work for Viacom. Naomi Klein writes for a division of the German publisher Verlagsgruppe, and this book is published by a subsidiary of Bertelsmann. We all have mortgages to pay. Even most progressive journalism--just like the kind that emerged in the early 1900s--tends to frighten and isolate the middle classes rather than bring them out of their homes to improve their communities. Populists such as CNN's Lou Dobbs, and others speaking out on behalf of working stiffs, stoke more rage and discontent than thoughtful engagement. In the isolation of our living rooms and surrounded by bills, the menaces of immigrants willing to take our jobs for less pay and affirmative- action candidates offered our jobs with fewer qualifications feel all too real.

Read the rest

Life Inc: Everything's Open Source but Money


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Douglas Rushkoff - author of the book Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back - is a guest blogger.

I'm posting an excerpt from my upcoming book, Life Inc., every Monday morning until the book publishes on June 2. Two weeks ago, I published the introduction. Last week, I published the first half of Chapter One. Today, some excerpts that answer or at least address the questions and comments being raised here at BB. Next week is the final installment. I'll also be keeping the excerpts up as PDFs at LifeIncorporated.net.

from CHAPTER ONE
ONCE REMOVED: THE CORPORATE LIFE- FORM

...As a result, our physical, commercial, spiritual, and personal accomplishments came to be valued only insofar as they could serve the market. And while the market may be as good a model as any for human interaction, the corporate terrain did not represent a level playing field or a "free market" in which value might be created from anywhere. Remember--in spite of its individualistic mythology of open competition, the landscape of corporatism was first cultivated during the Renaissance, when local currencies were outlawed in favor of centralized money.

In the United States, in an assumption of centralized value creation that reached a crescendo under the Nixon administration, the Federal Reserve won the authority to create money by fiat, based on nothing but faith in its own corporate chutzpah.

The massive potential of computers and networking, technologies developed in many cases by engineers hoping to decentralize the very power structures funding their projects, was quickly recontextualized as a market opportunity--the beginning of a "long boom"--and appropriated as NASDAQ's stepchild. New rules for a new economy were invented, in which people's ability to access interactive technology for free or to create value independent of any corporation could be understood as the power of the network to leverage what were formerly "externalities." The dot- com boosters sought to reconcile the incompatibility of an abundant, decentralized media space with the legacy of a scarce, centralized monetary system.

Everything is "open source," except, of course, money itself.

Read the rest

Strange, but Never Strangers

Douglas Rushkoff was a guest blogger.

Thanks for having me aboard these past two weeks, engaging with me so honestly and provocatively, and for quickly scrolling past my posts if they just strayed too far from what it is you know and love about BoingBoing. The beauty of guest bloggers is that we are temporary. And no matter how combative we get in these spaces, sometimes it's good to remember we're all on the same side. 

I do hope I get to meet a lot of the people I engaged with in the comments sections, here. I'll be touring - both for my Life Inc book and, more importantly, to promote ideas for DIY commerce. I really do believe the BoingBoing ethos of open source and cyberpunk (make) culture dovetail perfectly with those of complementary currencies, peer-to-peer lending, and other non-outsourced finance. And I look forward to taking what I've learned into the field and into the media.

There's two more excerpts coming up to finish the serialization on BB, too - this Monday and next. 

For those of you who may want to catch up or meet up, here's where I'll be the next few weeks. You can always find out where I'm going to be via http://rushkoff.com - and I'll be on the MediaSquat via WFMU every week, as well, so call in. Please don't be strangers.

Thanks again. Your humble but happy mutant,
Douglas

Upcoming gigs:
NY: May 26th: Reading in Irvington, 8pm-9pm Chutney Masala 4 West Main Street in Irvington, NY 

NY: May 31st: Comp Currency panel, 1-5PM St. Marks Church 2nd Ave & 10th St 

Boston: June 2. Boston Public Library, book reading, 6pm 700 Boylston St.

NY: June 7th: Life Inc. Book Party, open to public Comfort Restaurant 583 Warburton Ave, Hasting-on-Hudson, NY 10706 

SF: June 9th: Booksmith, reading and signing, 7pm - 8pm PST 1644 Haight St,

Seattle, June 10th: HL2.com, Seattle talk and signing, 7pm PST www.hl2.com/ 

Redmond: June 11th: Lecture at Microsoft, 10:30 am - 11:30 am PST 

NY: June 16th McNally Jackson Books, book reading and signing, 7pm - 8pm 52 Prince Street, 

NY: June 18th: Blue Stockings, book party and talk, 7pm 172 Allen St

NY: June 29th: Personal Democracy Forum www.personaldemocracy.com/

Books about (or at least by) weird but interesting people

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

I just raced through two novels - not because I had to finish them quickly, but because they moved so quickly.

The first, by my best friend from college Walter Kirn, is an entertaining but (for me, anyway) nightmarish reminiscence on trying to make it through Princeton called Lost in the Meritocracy, based on this essay Kirn wrote for The Atlantic. Not the academics, but the culture itself. What self-conscious public school kids like Walter and me learned at Princeton was that there really super wealthy people who control a heck of a lot of the world, and that they have institutions like Princeton to help their kids find one another and then inherit their daddies' places. Yes, I know most of you already know that - but we didn't. It was a more innocent era, and these kind of things came as big, adolescent, crises of disillusionment that required ample self-medication. And Kirn's writing, if you haven't gotten to experience it before, is the most effortlessly engaging literary literature being written today.

The second is a book by novelist Jonathan Lethem, who wrote the acclaimed Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn, then went ahead and won a MacArthur genius grant which made the rest of us really jealous. It's hard to be too jealous, though, because Jonathan is a totally sweet guy and he actually is the sort of genius writer for whom such prizes were created. And, most of all, he used the time and money to create his first true work of genius, Chronic City, which - like Kirn's novel - deconstructs the hyper-competitive social landscape of eastern urbanites in a fair but viciously accurate near-future parody of manners and hermeneutics.