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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.

Going Places: Capitalism cartoon from 1948


(Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.) One of the best things about spending the bulk of a decade researching a single topic is how much cool stuff you find. While working on the film version of Life Inc., we became addicted to Internet Archive's film libraries.

This one, a cartoon produced by John Sutherland, defends the principles of capitalism against the anti-competitive ideas of Lefties. The most honest aspect of the film is that it readily admits that for capitalism to work, industry must continue to grow.

For more about this movie, read the background at archive.org

The End of Personal Finance

200905051218.jpg(Douglas Rushkoff, the author of Life Inc., is a guest blogger.)

My friend and neighbor Helaine Olen just got a nice piece into Slate about the way that our finance gurus let us down. It's the same story I've been looking at for the past decade, but told in a pretty immediately accessible way - particularly for Slate's audience. While Helaine concludes that she'd be satisfied with a genuine apology from the finance industry for how badly they served personal investors, I feel like I want more: an admission that they were actually successful in their industry's greater quest, which was to enact the greatest redistribution of wealth to the wealthy since about 1300. Let's hope it isn't followed by disastrous unemployment and a plague this time, too. Excerpt:

Years ago, when I wrote a popular financial makeover feature for a major national newspaper, one of our subjects asked if he should be plowing his more than $50,000 in savings into gold. It was 1997 and gold was trading at a little more than $300 an ounce. The financial planner assisting with the piece laughed dismissively, and the question never made it into the final write-up. Well, my bad. As I write, gold is hovering around $900 an ounce.

For more than two decades, as income inequality increased and job security decreased, Americans lapped up personal finance columns, books, and television shows. We thrilled to stock tips and swooned at sensible strategies for using dollar-cost averaging to invest in no-load index funds. Buy and hold, my friends! The annualized gain for the S&P 500 stock index over time is more than 10 percent! You, too, can turn into the millionaire next door. Carpe diem, folks! Seize the financial day!

The advice proffered by the vast majority of analysts, would-be gurus, and television pundits came down to one word: stocks. Some, like CNBC's infamous Jim Cramer, advocated stock-picking strategies. Others encouraged mutual funds. But very few--at least of those that could get publicity via mainstream outlets--doubted the efficacy of the market.

The End of Personal Finance (Slate / The Big Money)

Life Inc

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(Author Douglas Rushkoff is a Boing Boing guestblogger.)

I'm going to be posting most or perhaps all of my upcoming book, Life Inc: How the world became a corporation and how to take it back, over the next two weeks. I'll put the beginning of each excerpt here, along with a link to where you can read or download the rest. So, let's start at the beginning.

Life Inc (Amazon)

Your Money or Your Life: A Lesson on the Front Stoop

I got mugged on Christmas Eve.

I was in front of my Brooklyn apartment house taking out the trash when a man pulled a gun and told me to empty my pockets. I gave him my money, wallet, and cell phone. But then--remembering something I'd seen in a movie about a hostage negotiator--I begged him to let me keep my medical insurance card. If I could humanize myself in his perception, I figured, he'd be less likely to kill me.

He accepted my argument about how hard it would be for me to get "care" without it, and handed me back the card. Now it was us two against the establishment, and we made something of a deal: in exchange for his mercy, I wasn't to report him--even though I had plainly seen his face. I agreed, and he ran off down the street. I foolishly but steadfastly stood by my side of the bargain, however coerced it may have been, for a few hours. As if I could have actually entered into a binding contract at gunpoint.

In the meantime, I posted a note about my strange and frightening experience to the Park Slope Parents list--a rather crunchy Internet community of moms, food co-op members, and other leftie types ded- icated to the health and well- being of their families and their decidedly progressive, gentrifying neighborhood. It seemed the responsible thing to do, and I suppose I also expected some expression of sympathy and support.

Amazingly, the very first two emails I received were from people angry that I had posted the name of the street on which the crime had occurred. Didn't I realize that this publicity could adversely affect all of our property values? The "sellers' market" was already difficult enough! With a famous actor reportedly leaving the area for Manhattan, does Brooklyn's real estate market need more bad press? And this was beforethe real estate crash.

I was stunned. Had it really come to this? Did people care more about the market value of their neighborhood than what was actually taking place within it? Besides, it didn't even make good business sense to bury the issue. In the long run, an open and honest conversation about crime and how to prevent it should make the neighborhood safer. Property values would go up in the end, not down. So these homeowners were more concerned about the immediate liquidity of their town houses than their long-term asset value -- not to mention the actual experience of living in them. And these were among the wealthiest people in New York, who shouldn't have to be worrying about such things. What had happened to make them behave this way?

(...post continues after the jump)

Read the rest

Rushkoff is Back

It's with joy, trepidation, love and paranoia that I return to BoingBoing for two weeks of happy mutantdom.

Blogging at BoingBoing is truly one of the most rewarding and overwhelming experiences I've ever had as a writer. It's an extended feeling, where each thought shared in a seemingly quiet, casual, and social space is actually broadcast to a universe of many different kinds of people. Some kind, some interested, some intrigued - others acerbic, quick to judge, and already possessing pretty established perspectives on the way things are. And four million of them, each coming to BoingBoing for his or her own reasons - some for knowledge, some for entertainment, some for connection, and some for a good fight.

I return to BoingBoing a changed man - indeed, changed from the experience of being here. I used the platform both as a way of propagandizing my own opinions about our culture and economy, as well as to get honest feedback on what I should spend my time and energy on. As a result of the conversations here, I started a radio show on WFMU, began working on an alternative currency project, wrote a very different book than I would have otherwise, sponsored a short film about the book for those who don't read, began a column for the new online-only version of Arthur, started a new Frontline documentary about digital culture, and - in an effort to practice some 'new' media rather than just write about it, I even signed up to write some back story and graphic novels for a new video game. I decided to teach at the New School, where you don't have to be matriculated as a full-time student to take a class. And I'm gardening vegetables on what used to be a suburban lawn.

While I may have done a couple of those things, anyway, I certainly wouldn't be doing them the way I am - and the feedback and comments I got through my experiences at BoingBoing catalyzed and informed each of these decisions. I still hear the voices in my head.

I'm back for the same sorts of reasons I came before: to promote bottom-up, cyberpunk, mutant culture, and to extend these approaches into the economy. I think we are in one of those rare moments of opportunity where the bank-based speculative economy is imperiled and ineffective enough to make alternative currencies and collaborations seem more reasonable. The more we experience putting food on the table and smiles on our faces by exchanging something other than bank-issued cash, the more we will begin to believe in our own ability to create value for ourselves and one another, without intermediary institutions.

I am here to promote the hacking of the economy, one step at a time. Not crashing the economy that exists, or even negating its usefulness for certain kinds of exchanges and efforts - just building something else from the bottom up that addresses the myriad needs ignored or repressed by the one-sided system we have today.

An economy that actually worked would be a wonderful thing - and I believe we can make it right here.

mutant but not mute,

Douglas Rushkoff

---

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

Obsessive Housing Disorder

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

Here's a terrific piece by Steven Malanga of City Journal, summarizing the long history of misguided housing policy in the United States. It goes over a lot of the same material I do in a big chapter in Life Inc. called "From Place to Property," and I can vouch for the factual accuracy of Malanga's work - at least as far as the Congressional Record goes.

What continually amazes is how both well-meaning housing policy and ruthless speculation-driven markets quite often lead to the same place. That's because, in both cases, the goal of "home ownership" is really just a stand-in for a much more complex relationship between people and the places in which they live. While owning a home might, in itself, be a noble thing to help people do, in most cases it's still a bank owning a home, or a person's retirement savings depending on the maintenance of redlining rules.

In December, the New York Times published a 5,100-word article charging that the Bush administration’s housing policies had “stoked” the foreclosure crisis–and thus the financial meltdown. By pushing for lax lending standards, encouraging government enterprises to make mortgages more available, and leaning on private lenders to come up with innovative ways to lend to ever more Americans–using “the mighty muscle of the federal government,” as the president himself put it–Bush had lured millions of people into bad mortgages that they ultimately couldn’t afford, the Times said.

Yet almost everything that the Times accused the Bush administration of doing has been pursued many times by earlier administrations, both Democratic and Republican–and often with calamitous results. The Times’s analysis exemplified our collective amnesia about Washington’s repeated attempts to expand homeownership and the disasters they’ve caused. The ideal of homeownership has become so sacrosanct, it seems, that we never learn from these disasters. Instead, we clean them up and then–as if under some strange compulsion–set in motion the mechanisms of the next housing catastrophe.

City Journal

Life Incorporated

My fortnight is over today, so I thought I'd share with you what I'm doing now and next - as well as how to stay in touch if you want to.

In June I'll be releasing a new book and short film, Life Incorporated: How we traded meaning for markets, society for self-interest, and citizenship for customer service. They both look at the way human beings and corporations traded places, and how we came to accept corporatism as our dominant value system.

What I conclude is that our society didn't just end up this way. This landscape was cultivated over time. We are living on a playing field sloped towards corporate interests. Every day, we negotiate the slope to the best of our ability. Still, many of us fail to measure up to the people we'd like to be, and succumb to the tilt of the landscape. We buy from Wal-Mart and supermarket instead of the local druggist and farmer who they put out of business. We save to send our kids to private school instead of investing our time to make the public ones better. We spend our money insulating ourselves from the crime in our neighborhoods instead of our energy reducing the poverty and resentment feeding it. When things are tough, it’s every man for himself.

And the more decisions we make in this way, the more we contribute to the very conditions leading to this awfully sloped landscape. All things being equal, we’d rather be doing things differently.

But all things are not equal. Our choices are being made under painstakingly manufactured duress. We think this is just the way things are. But it’s not.

My book chronicles the way we got here, who wanted it this way, and why no one remembers what happened - from the renaissance era of corporate charters, centralized currency, and colonial expansion through industrial age experiments with fascism, right up to the inventions of public relations, self-interest, target marketing, and behavioral finance. Finally, I look at alternatives to corporatism - the kinds of bottom-up, local, and human-scaled efforts at meeting our shared needs that take place beyond the reach of centralized authorities, corporate monopolies, or interest-charging central banks. In many cases, these interactions transcend commerce altogether.

Until the book comes out and hopefully long after, I'm hosting a set of conversations at http://www.corporatized.net (or just go to rushkoff.com and click on Forums). I'm hoping it can be a place we can both deconstruct corporatized society and share our experiences of alternative strategies. I'll also be teaching a course on corporatism through the MaybeLogicAcademy.

With any luck, I'll be allowed to contribute to (or interfere with) the goings on at BoingBoing again next summer when the book is out and I'm on the road trying to pitch these ideas to the world at large.

In any case, it's been an honor and a pleasure to engage as a writer with BoingBoing - a publication and community I've been reading, admiring, and (to the best of my ability) emulating for over nineteen years. You are the shit.

Douglas Rushkoff was a guest blogger.

Bible as Glossy

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So I thought I was breaking some new ground in Testament by interpreting the Bible through the comics medium. It gave me the chance to play with a near-future frighteningly like the deep past being described in the ancient mythical stories.

Now, a Swedish adman and former CEO Dag Soderberg is leading a team called Illuminated World that's reinterpreting the Bible as a magazine - complete with sidebars, coverlines, and subheads. He's using the straight text, for the most part, but embellishing it with Bennetton-style photos and pull quotes.

On the one hand, I feel like objecting to the project outright. Something about the combination of an advertising perspective with the Bible feels like a contradiction. This project is provocative, but it's also oh-so slick, and comes off a bit like what happens when an adman hires a team of people to manifest his vision for selling the Bible to a new generation. The Illumination is there to make the Bible easier and trendier, not truer. On the other hand, I tend to feel about St. Paul's modifications on Judaism much the same way.

As someone who reworked Bible stories to promote my own cultural agendas, I'm in no position to criticize someone else for doing the same - even if the agendas are a bit different than my own. Plus, it's only the New Testament Soderberg has reworked (in English) so far. And the message there is a bit different than the one in the Hebrew Bible - which he's releasing shortly.

This is an interesting object to peruse, and it does make you consider both the Bible - and efforts to illuminate it - in a new light.

Annual Alfred Korzybski Lecture

About ten years ago, Genesis P-Orridge, Richard Metzger, Parker Posey, and I hopped in a cab to see Robert Anton Wilson give the Annual Alfred Korzybski Lecture in New York on behalf of the Institute for General Semantics. None of us knew much about general semantics at the time, but it was a fun talk in a swank location, completely free, and decidedly mind opening.

General Semantics spawned everything from cognitive psychology to NLP, and informed everyone from William Burroughs to Richard Bandler.

This year, I was invited to present the 56th Annual Alfred Korzybski Lecture. Besides being a tremendous honor, it's also an opportunity for me to take everything I've been talking about and rethink it in the context of general semantics - which might really mean beyond any context at all.

In any case, the talk itself is free, it's an important annual event even if I'm not as important as the usual annual speaker, and you're all invited. It's followed by a one-day symposium that I plan on attending as well. Here's the way they described my talk after I described it to them - as well as the details.

We are in the midst of a new renaissance fostered largely by a revolution in the way that we relate to our symbols and symbol systems. The new media of computers and computer networks invites an ethos of interactivity that empowers users and invites creativity, an ethos that might best be characterized as playfulness.

With our newfound access to participation and collective authorship, we now have the potential to gain control over our symbolic communication and semantic environment, and thereby promote true agency and more responsive social and public institutions. To do so requires that we become conscious of the biases of the languages and technologies through which we choose to perceive and create, and that we ask ourselves the question: Are we willing to play the future?

$90 per person for dinner and lecture

Lecture alone, free.

Friday, November 14, 2008, 6PM at the Princeton Club
15 West 43rd Street, NYC
(A Symposium titled Creating the Future: Conscious Time-Binding for a Better Tomorrow will be held on Nov. 15 and Nov. 16 at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus. Admission is free.)

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Wonderful Non-skid Sticker Things

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My two-weeks is almost up (I heard that), but not before I post my first actual wonderful thing to this blog of wonderful things. Graphic designer Jesse Milden's Subhead Premium Grip Anti-Slip Stickers!

These are the flat black things you'd usually see applied to an outdoor deck or staircase - someplace that might get wet and become dangerous. Even the edge of a subway platform. Seeing an opportunity for graphical treatment where none was envisioned before, Milden designed some cool and retro patterns, making these stickers suitable as a functional decor statement - or even a customized skateboard grip.

I'm using them in strategic locations for toddler traction.

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

If McLuhan Were Alive

...he'd be a member of the Media Ecology Association. Marshall actually came up with the term Media Ecology, and worked with Neil Postman to create the Media Ecology program at NYU. While the program went to the great beyond with Postman's passing, it has morphed into an international organization of people from a wide range of fields who look at the way media and culture influence one another.

Their conferences fall somewhere between a traditional academic conference and a DisinfoCon. And, best of all, they're open to papers and presentations from anyone. My favorites of the past few years were one by Lian Amaris on the World of Warcraft funeral raid, and Corey Anton on the Tao and media.

I just received the call for submissions for the next conference, and I encourage anyone with interesting ideas about any aspect of media to make a submission. This isn't one of those stodgy academic groups, so you don't have to present in any officially recognized format. Just tell them what you want to talk about, or do. I can promise you'll have an audience of smart, weird, and friendly people giving feedback you can use. In the flesh.

Call for papers Media Ecology Association 2009 Annual Convention June 18-21, 2009 Saint Louis University St. Louis, Missouri

"Ecology" a word derived from the Greek words meaning "household knowledge." For the 2009 MEA convention, we seek papers on any aspect of media ecology. Special interest in the places and spaces of media interactions: Silicon Valley or St. Louis; screen, studio, library, or street. Does place matter? Local systems, larger systems, and changing relationships in the ecology of media. The role(s) of media in different ecological systems. The changing geography of media: Why do some forms emerge and others recede? The ethics of (not) setting boundaries. Living in information systems: Are we the center, the web, the flaneur? What is the I in the culture of iPods, iPhones, and iGames? Because the 2009 MEA Convention will meet at Saint Louis University, where Walter J. Ong was a faculty member, papers on any aspect of his work are especially welcome. Papers and session proposals should be sent by January 15 to Prof. Sara van den Berg, Dept. of English, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO 63108-3414. Electronic submissions (preferred) to vandens@slu.edu. All submissions will be acknowledged.

This meeting will be sponsored by the Walter J. Ong Center for Language and Culture, the Department of English, and the Department of Communication at Saint Louis University. This conference will feature special exhibits and tours of the Walter J. Ong Archives and a reception at the Pius XII Library. Housing (single rooms/private bath) will be available at Reinert Hall ($44/night) or the Water Tower Inn ($85/night).

http://www.media-ecology.org

Round Up

My time is almost over and there's still gobs of stuff I wanted to share with you. So here's a brief list of things I would feel just terrible if I didn't let you know about.

1. Robots and Monsters: A Charitable Menagerie, is back. They launched in 2007 to fundraise for SF AIDS Foundation, and now they're relaunching to support the EFF. For fifty dollars, Joe Alterio or another fabulous artist will pen a custom robot or monster for you - defined by three words you supply - and send it to your door. You get a cool picture and the EFF gets fifty bucks to help keep the net a happy and good place.

2. Scott Draves Software Artworks, 1992-2008. This short film chronicles the work of software artist Scott Draves. And it's pretty cool. Dreams in High Fidelity.

3. Consumatron. Do you know this guy? He writes down and reviews everything he buys. It's kind of obsessive, but tells a story.

4. Trajal Harrell Dance Style is a totally different approach to dance - an effort to rewrite the language of dance by using real world movement (from fashion show walks to bar room swagger) instead of whatever that stuff is we usually think of as "dance." His performances are infrequent, but there's one coming up this month at DanceTheater Workshop and if you're near NYC I'd suggest you be there.

5. The Atheon: A Temple of Science for Rational Belief. If I were going to join a church, this would probably be it. It's like a church for brights, but it's not as serious or anti-God as Richard Dawkins. Just an effort to make faith rational - but still fun and inspiring.

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Trip with Rick

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Rick Veitch is the comics writer and artist who got famous for the Swamp Thing issues he drew for Alan Moore, and is probably still best known for a later issue he planned (the infamous cancelled #88) in which Swamp Thing went back in time, met Jesus and served as the cross on which the messiah was crucified. Although Moore resurrected Swamp Thing, it was Veitch who wrote that story about a hippy actually eating one of the monster's tubers and tripping Veitch continued the series' psychedelic path and took it in some even more dangerous directions.

Veitch split from DC for many years, and became a sensation on his own, publishing extremely bizarre yet resonant psychedelic fables. Psychedelic being the operative word.

Now they're back - bigger and brighter than ever before. And in my experience, it's the first time a second dose has packed more wallop than the first. His seminal 1980's graphic novel Brat Pack which will finally be republished in a deluxe edition in spring 2009, read like Teen Titans on crank, and served as a template for those super-bad-ass do-gooders in The Boys, Authority, and Kick Ass. He's also reprinting very high quality editions of his classics The Maximortal (free preview) and my personal favorite, Heartburst (which includes a reprint of the almost forgotten “Mirror Of Love” with Alan Moore and S.R. Bissette).

Veitch also drew a story for Harvey Pekar in Smith's fabulous ongoing Next Door Neighbor series (disclosure, my wife has one coming up, as well), and is starting his second year of a disturbingly entertaining war comedy-horror series for Vertigo called Army @ Love.

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Two Fast Reads

...with surprisingly enduring flavor.

I'm a slow reader so I particularly like books that read fast. Prose that "leans forward" in a way that makes it easy to keep going. Both of these books had that quality for me, yet manage to pull off some nice social commentary and human pathos at the same time.

Personal Days, by Ed Park, is a post-Dilbert, post-Microserfs look at office culture. It's like the show The Office, except populated by people who, for the most part, understand what is happening to them. What I like best about the book is Ed Park's use of cliché phrases. You know how that first song on Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom album (Beyond Belief) strings together known phrases into something entirely bigger? Or the way Delmore Schwartz would italicize a phrase as if to show it was a saying instead of just words? Know what I'm saying? Park does this throughout his text, creating a gentle, phantom hypertext that required no further explanation. And this black comedy about downsizing brings an almost Beckett-like sense of reduction to the dwindling office.

The Rules for Hearts, a family drama, by Flytrap comics writer Sara Ryan, reads a bit like one of those young adult novels I'm so very fond of, even though its characters experience some of the kinds of sex reversals and confusion usually postponed until one's late twenties or early thirties. I hate memoirs (just because) so I depend on short novels with characters I can relate to for that necessary shot of personal narrative. Sara Ryan isn't a totally new voice, but this, her third book, still reads with that freshness of someone's first novel.

Comfort Dollars

Here's a great example of what we could easily call a "local currency" - that doesn't involve any of the bloody, anti-corporate revolution that detractors of this idea seem to think will attend any such effort.

A great, tiny organic cafe in my town, Comfort, decided to expand to a second, larger location last year. The owner, John Halko, has been renovating the new space for a year, and - thanks to the credit crisis - has been unable to raise the cash required to finish and finally open. With currency unavailable from traditional, centralized money-lending banks, Halko has turned instead to his community - to us - for support.

Granted, this is a small town. Pretty much everybody goes to Comfort - the only restaurant of its kind on the small strip - and we all have a stake in its success. Any extension of Comfort would bring more activity, vitality, and commerce to a tiny downtown (commercially devastated in the 1970s by the chain stores and strip malls of automobile-friendly Central Avenue).

So Halko's idea is to sell VIP cards. For every dollar a customer spends on a card, they receive the equivalent of $1.20 worth of credit at either restaurant. If I buy a thousand dollar card, I get twelve hundred dollars worth of food: a 20% rate of return on the investment of dollars. Halko gets the cash infusion he needs to build the new restaurant - and since he's paying for it in 20% tab adjustments, it just comes out of profits. He gets the money a lot cheaper than if he were borrowing it from the bank, paying back in cash over time. Meanwhile, customers get more food for less money.

But wait, there's more: the entire scheme refocuses a community's energy and cash on itself. Because our money goes further at our own restaurant than a restaurant somewhere else, we are biased towards eating locally. Since we have a stake in the success (and the non-failure) of the restaurant in whose food we have invested, we'll also be more likely to promote it to our friends. And since we have already spent a big chunk of money on Comfort's food, we're more likely go get food there than dish out more cash for a meal somewhere else.

When it gets really interesting is when other businesses begin to accept Comfort's VIP card and dollars for their services as well. But even in its current, limited incarnation, it's easy to see how the math of an extremely simple alternative currency works, why its existence gets cheaper money into the hands of people who need it, and how it circumvents centralized control over commerce.

Admittedly, this isn't a Boingworthy phenomenon in itself. It's simply not "scalable" the way Internet and tech things are. It's a local activity. But it can be modeled by other communities, and the Internet is a great way to share these experiments in social hacking, measure their results, and mutate them further.

American Memory

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American Memory is a new and compelling DVD coming from extended Skinny Puppy posse members William Morrison and Justin Bennett later this year. It took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on (and exactly who was responsible), but that didn't detract from this hypnotic and ultimately forceful piece.

The voice in the clip on the DVD's trailer is that of former slave Alice Gaston, interviewed in her eighties for the Library of Congress in 1941. The actress is lip-synching to her dialogue. Videomaker William Morrison explains that the whole project works this way, using audio from the American Memory Archive along with new and processed footage. And, of course, delicious and eerie post-industrial music.

According to Morrison: "The theoretical context of the project is that some time in the very distance future, long after America is gone, some artists scouring the backwater of whatever the net has become discover the American Memory Archive. They have no context for it's meaning but are intrigued by the sights and sounds. They create surreal impressions of the material they find and broadcast it back through time. A quantum radio channel beamed into the sub conscious minds of the 21st century."

A few different permutations of the band will be playing a show on December 4 at the Gramercy in NYC, with special guests Doug Mesner and, if I can get my act and gear together, me.

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Beanworld is Back!

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If you're as old and drawn to the strange as I am, you were probably a fan of comics artists such as Jim Woodring and R. Crumb long before the indie revival of the mid-90's. Back when this work was more an offshoot of Mad magazine than some crossover of the New York Times Magazine and intellectual outsider art. It's the lineage between Will Elder, Ralph Bakshi on the one end, and Kaz on the other.

Indie comics were indie because they were too scatological, too trippy, or too honest for most people to get. Some were sexy, but in an entirely non-arousing way: stretched flesh and stubble. Some were cosmic and revealing, but also penetratingly funny and self-critical. And, for me anyway, no one better balanced the priorities of this genre better than my personal hero and occasional role model Larry Marder, whose classic comic Beanworld is about to be resurrected by DarkHorse.

Although the books won't start coming out until the end of the year, web versions of some new Beanworld stories are going up on a special MySpace page.

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Eclectic Methodology and their New Toy

Bob Marley - Eclectic Method vMIX - Imeem Exclusive -

Video remix artists Eclectic Method cut and paste music videos, movies, current events, and video games into a danceable stream of sound and heady stretch of images. It's fun to watch them "scratch" DVD's live, and their recorded work makes for great YouTube fare.

Here's my favorite examples of their video mashup:
BOB MARLEY - (an official video mix for the Marley Family)
OBAMA VS. CLINTON: MEDIA HYPE OVERLOAD
ENTOURAGE HBO: Ari Gold says F*%K
ZEITGHOST #2 - Eclectic Method's Signature Music Video Remixtape
TONY SOPRANO's Video Remix
KILL BILL - Movie Fight Remix

But it's even more fun to play with this stuff oneself. In true DIY fashion, they've created a super-easy video remixer that lets the least experienced or most stoned computer users to play mash-up with images from their last video.

(All you do is click on the image, and then use your number keys to jam.)

It may not be the most deeply creative computer experience available, but it is kinda fun - and accessible to all. Even my 3-year-old.

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

No Money Down

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Because of current events, Arthur magazine just posted the column I wrote for their upcoming issue, written a month or so ago, about what's happening right now. I figured I'd share it with you here:

I poked my head up from writing my book a couple of months ago to engage with Arthur readers about the subject I was working on: the credit crunch and what to do about it [see “Riding Out the Credit Crisis” in Arthur No. 29/May 2008]. I got more email about that piece than anything I have written since a column threatening to defect from the Mac community back in the Quadra days.

Many readers thought I was hinting at something under the surface–a conspiracy, of sorts, to take money from the poor and give it to the rich. It sounded to many like I was describing an economic system actually designed–planned–to redistribute income in the worst possible ways.

I guess I’d have to agree with that premise. Only it’s not a secret conspiracy. It’s an overt one, and playing out in full view of anyone who has time (time is money, after all) to observe it.

The mortgage and credit crisis wasn’t merely predictable; it was predicted. And not by a market bear or conspiracy theorist, but by the people and institutions responsible. The record number of foreclosures, credit defaults, and, now, institutional collapses is not the result of the churn of random market forces, but rather a series of highly lobbied changes to law, highly promoted ideologies of wealth and home ownership, and monetary policies highly biased toward corporate greed.

It all started to make sense to me when I attended Learning Annex’s Wealth Expo earlier this year–a seminar where teachers of The Secret, the hosts of Flip This House, George Foreman, Tony Robbins and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan [pictured above in banner from Learning Annex website] purportedly taught the thousands in attendance how to take advantage of the current foreclosure boom....

read more...
or if that's overwhelmed
here

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

The Great Schlep


The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Here's an easy way to help Obama and progressive Judaism at the same time! The Great Schlep, brainchild of my good friend Ari Wallach, "aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor. Don’t have grandparents in Florida? Not Jewish? No problem! You can still become a schlepper and make change happen in 2008, simply by talking to your relatives about Obama."

Whether or not one supports Obama, it's probably a good idea to dispel the myths (one group I spoke with at an Upper East Side New York synagogue believed that Obama had already committed to placing Farrakhan in his cabinet), and at least make sure Floridians understand exactly who and what they're voting for.

Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

Riding Out the Credit Crisis

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There seems to be some appetite on BoingBoing for a more comprehensive but quick-to-grok analysis of the credit crisis and what to do about it. While "I told you so's" are fun in a sick sort of way, I'm passing on this link to my last spring's Arthur Magazine columns(if Dreamhost is still unable to meet the demand for links on that page or here, then see the whole piece in the extended post, below). I'm sharing it as a way to review the steps that led to our current fiasco, explain it in the greater context of centralized currency, and help people not feel so very terrible about it all. (I also mean to introduce you to Arthur magazine, a free coffee-shop distribution I'm proud to write for alongside folks including Erik Davis, Thurston Moore, and Peter Lamborn Wilson - who all write for free, like me.)

...Bush’s tax cuts and other measures favoring the rich led to the biggest redistribution of wealth from poor to rich in American history. The result was that the wealthy–the investment class–had more money to invest, or lend, than there were people and businesses looking to borrow.

The easiest way to bring more borrowers into the system–and to create more of a market for money–was to promote homeownership in America. This is precisely what the Bush administration did, touting home ownership as an American right. Of course, they weren’t talking about home ownership at all, but rather pushing people to borrow money tied to the value of a house. If people could be persuaded to take mortgages on homes, real estate values would go up for those already invested (like land trusts and real estate funds) and banks would have a market for the excess money they had accumulated.

In short, there was a surplus of credit in the system. Americans were encouraged to borrow in the form of mortgages, which created demand for the credit banks wanted to sell. In many cases the credit itself wasn’t even real, but leveraged off some other inflated commodity that the bank or investor may have owned.

Banks and mortgage companies invented some really shady and difficult-to-understand mortgage contracts, designed to get people to borrow more money than they could . Banks didn’t care so much about lending money to people who wouldn’t be able to pay it back, because that’s not how they were going to earn their money, anyway. They provided the money for mortgage companies to lend, and in return won the rights to underwrite the loans when they were packaged and sold to other people and institutions.

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Bail In or Bail Out?

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As I write this, the DowJones is down 600 points, largely in reaction to the House defeating the federal bailout of the credit industry.

What should we think and do about this?

If you've got no money and no debt, then just go about your business normally. I think the smartest long-term positioning is to begin looking at the goods and services you can provide to other people in your community without involving long distance transport or complex supply chains involving multiple creditors and borrowers. In other words, try to make what you do as real as possible.

If you do have money, well, either sit tight through the "capitulation" or do some bottom feeding of favorite underpriced stocks in industries that provide real goods or services to real people, and that don't need to borrow lots of money to do it. If you've got more than 100k in a single bank account, you might spread it out.

The reality of the (failed) bailout plan is so very different from the way people are thinking about it, though, that I thought I might offer some clarity. (I'm sure some of you will interpret this as additional obscurity, so ymmv.)

The main point of the original plan was for the federal government to buy distressed assets - like mortgages - from banks and other institutions. "Distressed" doesn't necessarily mean these are bad assets, or that the mortgages won't be paid back. It simply means these are debts that are selling way way below their longterm value. No one wants to pick up anyone's mortgages because housing prices are going down, foreclosures are going up, and shareholders of banks don't want them on the books.

So a package of mortgages that might be worth a million bucks in the long term if they're all paid back is only getting, say, $200,000 on the market. That's what's shrinking the credit markets. So the Federal government wanted to buy all this credit at a higher rate, bail out the creditors, and take on the mortgages. In the best of worlds, the Treasury would have made money off all this. They'd be using what government has over business (time) to purchase depressed investments and wait out the decades it takes for them to earn out.

The deal almost went through until McCain made his highly publicized drop in to DC, accidentally highlighted the leftist underpinnings of any government intervention, and polarized the parties involved. He left, but the damage was done. (It may have failed without McCain's help, but I enjoy blaming him.) America now saw the bill as an anti-populist bail out of banks. Call it socialism if you like but it was really just business. Democrats compromised by turning the investments into loan guarantees, but conservatives saw the whole plan as much too much like the way FDR got America out of the Depression last time: namely, socialism.

The bigger fact, though, is that even with a short-term bailout, the underlying mega-economy is in the dumps. Government can help lubricate the gears of the economy by utilizing its capacity to engage in longterm investing, as with the failed bailout bill. But this entire effort was really just a balance sheet adjustment. Unless we are also investing our time, energy, and remaining money in productive industries, education, and renewable resources, we will not have changed the real economy at all.

Hyperwords.net

I'm interested in what people think of this browser approach and Firefox plugin, Hyperwords, now in version 5.0

There's both a user-driven version, demonstrated above, as well as a client-side version that turns every word on a website into a hotlink. The former seems like a great way to be carrying a little toolset with your cursor everywhere you go. The latter seems like a great way to build a giant hypertext community around a book Finnegans Wake or even the Torah.

Is this a dimensional leap for web browsing, just another plug-in, or somewhere in-between?

Heaven is Her/e: Genesis Goes Further Still

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When I first came online at BB, a few people kindly asked for me to share some of what it was like to play keyboards for Psychic TV. It was magnificent, life-affirming, a bit grueling, but as total an experience as transcendent sex. For me, rehearsals were actually more fulfilling than performance - it felt like we could experiment more freely there than onstage with real paying people listening and watching. Plus, it's a hell of a harder harder to hear what you're doing in most stage settings with monitors and everything going on than it is in a little rehearsal room with an amp and a beer.

But still, onstage with Genesis, there was this overwhelming sense of fun. Pure joy, even during the most aggro songs. That was unexpected. This sense of being part of a family of weird, loving, geeks just trying to bring everyone into the spirit of shared celebration and experimentation. Very much the way I see BoingBoing. But it was scary as well, and having a front man as self-assured and quick-witted as Gen made us all feel safe. He was the interface between us and the potentially unruly crowd; in the realm of musical performance, which was quite new to me, his was a very welcome presence.

I managed to co-write and record one song, "Lies and Then." Then responsibilities of new fatherhood forced me to pass the keyboards onto to Marcus, who has been with the band for the past two years, and bringing the sound to all sorts of new places.

Last year, Gen's partner in art and life, the amazing Jackie Breyer P-Orridge (Lady Jaye), died of a sudden seizure. Gen and I met to speak shortly after - he wanted to get down a lot of his first feelings before they changed. That whole conversation will appear in The Believer in January. They've kindly given permission for me share an advance snippet from the part where we're talking about our first PTV show after Gen's "big change."

Rushkoff: And when we played that first PTV show at the Coral Room, right after you got the breasts - to be on stage and see those guys' faces then they have to come to terms with seeing Gen like this. They were all modeling what they thought was Gen’s - for lack of a better word, machismo. ‘Oh, he can stick a spike in his balls and survive… Okay, now, the person I’ve been ‘modeling on’, whose tattoos I have on my skin, is now crossing a boundary that is really frightening to me. That was sort of the greatest gift, I thought…

Genesis: "Even further…"

R: Yeah…"even further."

G: Well, that was one of the reasons we terminated the ‘Topy’ project in 1991 was exactly that; the people who were doing the whole ‘accessorizing’ again; just as we did ‘industrial’ 10 years before… and the final postcard that we sent out, as you know, just said ‘changed priorities ahead’. Which was a traffic sign I saw as we were driving along one day and I looked up and there was this sign and I thought ‘That’s it’!

R: I wonder what that even means in the context of traffic. It's a great sign off, though: changed priorities.

G: …and that was it; that was the last message. Oh, I though it was great; it was an enigmatic final message from this huge network which says ‘change priorities ahead’.

R: And now the priorities change again….

G: Yes.

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Great Books by Men

Meanwhile, among the most interesting and intelligent stuff I've received this week are three new books by some guys who I'd immediately like to invite to join an imagined secret society with members like Joshua Glenn, Richard Nash, Emma Taylor, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled by Randomness was labeled by Fortune magazine as "one of the smartest books of all time." But I wouldn't hold that against Taleb, who writes brilliantly on the way we attempt to impose logic or causality onto stuff that's coincidental or mere luck. It's more relevant and less unnecessarily provocative than Dawkins' God Delusion - and by avoiding religion (something I should have learned to do) manages to communicate more healing to its intended audience.

Mark Kingwell's Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City is the Canadian social theorist's most engaging read to date. Although ostensibly about the urban terrain, the book is less Mike Davis (City of Quartz) or even Jane Jacobs (Death and Life of Great American Cities) than it is like Robert Venturi's Learning from Las Vegas: Kingwell uses the physical city as a launching point for an extended meditation on the nature of local and non-local consciousness.

The Threat to Reason, by Dan Hind, is an entertaining and fast-paced book-length essay on the abuse of Enlightenment rhetoric and reasoning - by both ends of the political and social spectrum. Hind conducts an equally sharp deconstruction of the logic and language employed creationists/brights, right/left, globalists/environmentalists in an effort to liberate what worked about the Enlightenment from the way it has been worked over.

What if he'd called it PIGS?

I just got this email from John Langley, the guy who made the uber-reality show Cops. I see it as an acknowledgement of all of us who tend to read more into TV programs and their creators' intent than they might suggest on the surface.

Dear Mr. Rushkoff:

It was refreshing to recently read "Media Virus" and your take on "Cops," which I happen to produce and for which I'm responsible as the guy who created it. I can't tell you how tiresome it is to read traditional criticism and critiques of "Cops" as an expression of this or that, usually far from the mark (or at least in terms of my intentions). As a kid of the '60s, I was more likely to name the show "Pigs" than "Cops," so it was indeed rewarding to read that you positioned the program more accurately in its existential realm of relativism. All I do is feebly hack away at trying -- emphasis on trying -- to capture some version of "reality" that will speak for itself, including the echolalia of the very media influence that filters it by the act of recording it. (Viva Heisenberg!) Anyone with half a brain should recognize the social, political and philosophic issues it sometimes reveals in the quotidian pursuit of law and order and the meaning of street crime.

In any case, keep up the good work! And apologies for getting to you so late in the day. Your book is no less valid for the delay.

Regards,

John Langley
Executive Producer - "Cops"

Not only does an email like that make my month, but restores my faith in the notion that absolutely mainstream programs might still be intended to have a rehabilitative or even noxious effect on the overculture. The fact that Langley made Cops in the spirit that Albert Maysles made Salesman means that we can cut through the clutter and expose mass audiences to virulent memes - even in the darkest of times.

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)

Play, Cheat, Program

There are three main relationships kids have to gaming, and they seem to correspond to three main relationships people have to culture.

A kid initially plays a game the way it was released. He (or she) gets as far as he can, and if he gets too stuck, his play is over. What then? He either practices, quits, or goes online to find the cheat codes.

Now he's playing beyond the frame of the original game. He's cheating. But since these codes were written by game designers and released, he's not really breaking anything but the rules of the inner game. He's simply choosing a new perspective from which to engage, beyond the original boundaries of play.

With infinite ammunition or impenetrable shields, he can make it through to the end of the game, which again means the end of play, or maybe an opportunity to go back and practice again as a player.

If he's really inspired by the game (or, conversely, incensed by it) he will go back online, find the modification tools (if the game company was smart enough to make this easy) and program his own version of the game. Now, instead of the game taking place in a dungeon, it can happen in a simulation of his high school, or instead of killing one another players can transform one another into angels.

Of course, in all likelihood he's not just creating the new level for himself to play. He finishes his version of the game and the posts it online, where he hopes other people will find it, play it, and love it.

For me, the development of a gamer from player to cheater to programmer mirrors our development as a society....

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My-- *Our* BoingBoing Future

Okay, then. Going 'meta' on the participatory thing, I'm making an open appeal for people to participate in the process through [which] I attempt to produce some participatory media.

Now that I've got a toe in the door at BoingBoing, I'm going to pitch them hard on a longer-term relationship. The regular bloggers' positions are pretty well filled, but there are some opportunities for a bit of engaged cultural critique and collective problem solving - especially as BoingBoing expands into BBTV, IRC, and other forms of media.

I know what I'm hoping to accomplish. Here's a snip from my first pitch email to Xeni:

Interactive, interpersonal meadia can not only expose the artificial nature of the entities currently in control of the social and economic landscape - they can restore human agency, create the right conversations, connect people, and fight fear with fun.

Happy mutants are not unaware of the problems plaguing mankind, but they are committed to confronting them through collective, uninhibited, engineered transformation (mutation) and light-hearted, kind, and amused interactions (happiness).

So, I want to create pieces that initiate the conversations and behaviors that engage people in these processes. Each one would be the beginning of a discussion, and part of an expanding wiki of resources, supporting material, and user-generated content. A piece on "local currency" would branch out to embrace the local currency efforts, discussions, and tools out there. How *does* a person create a currency for his or her town? And where are the other people interested in doing this? Who has the best solar solutions, the most interesting way of organizing labor, the best free local Wi-Max network? Let's talk to the CEO's of GE and BP about their green efforts, and whether they believe their own hype. How about urban planning? Bike lanes? Ads on school buses and Coke machines in the cafeteria? What's in those textbooks, anyway?

This isn't pure 60's or Whole Earth radicalism and self-sufficiency (though it's certainly related) but a 21st Century, cyberpunk reclamation of all technologies and social contracts as essentially open source, up for discussion, and open to modification. It's an application of the hacker ethic and net collectivism to everything, done in the spirit of fun and adventure.

The question is, which medium? Instinctually, I'm drawn towards radio, which would enable interviews and live call-in. Is this hopelessly old fashioned, or is it a reflection of the bias of radio compared with TV? Is there a way to do video that's as interactive as voice? Or should interaction be kept on the margins of something more produced and standalone? More importantly, what sort of resource or engagement would you prefer (if any)? This is for you, after all.

Help?

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)

Lamps Everywhere

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I'm teaching at NYU's ITP this semester - just one course called Narrative Lab, where we look at the way the elements of story change for interactive media. It's fun stuff, and always yields some great experiments in collaboration and structure that challenge the sense of inevitability intrinsic to traditional (or at least today's market-friendly) story. Think of it as a place to engage with everything from GPS to FRPs, or both at the same time. We look at Greek drama, happenings, games, and holodecks.

But since we're only in the first couple of weeks, I've got nothing to show here. Instead, I'm delighted to share a project by a co-conspirator at ITP, Marianne Petit (the teacher who moderated the discussion between me and Scott McCloud at Comic-con this year) has been curating, hosting, and promoting some marvelously obsessive art shows.

This one, by Matt Belanger, Sean Riley, and Ven Voisey, is called Lumens, and collects lamps from people of two separate neighborhoods, bringing them together in a single reactive space. There's nothing like seeing a baby light up from the inside when you get close.

Scores of personal lamps that usually inhabit and illuminate the interiors of homes and shops have been borrowed from the residents of Adams and North Adams, Massachusetts, filling two gallery spaces: Greylock Arts in Adams and MCLA Gallery 51 Annex in North Adams. In addition to the lamps, the personal stories and histories that accompany the lamps have also been collected. These are represented in a virtual gallery on turbulence.org, which also serves to connect the two locations telematically. As an individual wanders through the gallery space, clusters of lamps illuminate in response to their presence and simultaneously illuminate lamps in the counterpart spaces. It is in this way that an individual in Adams can communicate his/her presence to an individual in North Adams, and vice versa. Additionally, as visitors investigate the history of a particular lamp online it also illuminates in the physical gallery space.

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)

Speaking of Zizek

I just got an email from Christopher Lydon, with a link to his audio interview with Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian post-Marxist philosopher and Lacanian scholar whose monologues are as refreshing as they are exposing.
This is all just the same bullshit...The true message to Republican voters is: you have the right not to understand what is going on. What fascinating me about Palin. Did you notice how until now feminist politicians played the phallic game. Up to and including Hillary Clinton. Here it's a different phenomenon. Sarah Palin proudly displays her femininity. She wins over men by mobilizing this typical feminine sarcastic undermining of male authority. Community organizers...ha ha ha.

Great Books By Women

If I were ever invited to join a secret cabal of culturally wise writers - the kind of club where you'd find Erik Davis, Douglas Wolk, Jonathan Lethem, or Luc Sante all sipping absinthe while deconstructing reruns of Man From Uncle - I imagine it would also host the kinds of women who are writing the books that have ended up in my mailbox this month.

Jessica Helfand's Scrapbooks is a well-documented by highly visual history of the American scrapbook, using photos and scans from books by creative figures such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman, Anne Sexton, Hilda Doolittle, and Carl Van Vechten. The book is as informative as it is trippy, and chronicles an under-appreciated lineage of smart craft culture.

Columbia complit prof Jenny Davidson just wrote a young adult novel, The Explosionist, with a premise that I was going to use myself for a graphic novel: someone sets off a bomb at a boarding school. Now call it a guilty pleasure, but I like today's young adult novels better than most of what is passing for literary fiction these days. (Blake Nelson's Paranoid Park became a weird Gus Van Sant film, remember.) And in Davidson's hands, the genre transcends expectations for a safe read.

Dubravka Ugresic, the Yugoslavian exile, wrote a collection of essays I hadn't heard of before called Nobody's Home, translated recently from Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac (and having nothing to do with the Avril Lavigne single of the same name). She's best known for her fiction, but this collection of essays puts her on par with Zizek or Baudrillard for observation and critique - and maybe a cut above for courage to speak the truth. There's something decidedly female about this writing as well, which exposes a bit of the bias of the rest of post-modernism.

(Douglas Rushkoff is a guestblogger)