Douglas Rushkoff's Thought Virus #3

BB pal Douglas Rushkoff has posted the third excerpt from his coming book Get Back In The Box: Innovation From The Inside Out. From Doug's post:

Thanks to the emergence of the Internet and its networked culture, a whole lot about our needs – both as consumers and as workers–has been put into perspective. Success has a variety of definitions and dimensions, and many of them are changing.

For instance, the most respected kids in the culture of computer games are not the ones who play the best; they're the ones who program the best. For they, even more than Nintendo champions, give the rest the players something to talk about, something to play with, and something through which they can connect with others. The driving force behind all of the authorship and creative energy of the networked age is the need to create what I've come to call social currency.

Networks are great, but until we can move through them ourselves, we'll need proxies in the form of ideas, images, words, and other constructs that can be exchanged through our wires and screens. Even in the real, physical world, our engagements with one another are almost always predicated on something else. A party starts with a few good jokes to break the ice. "Invite Sam," we remind ourselves, "he tells good jokes."

Observe yourself the next time you're listening to a joke. You may start by listening to the joke for the humor – because you really want the belly laugh at the end. But chances are, a few sentences in, you will find yourself not only listening, but attempting to remember its whole sequence. You'll do this tentatively at first, until you've decided whether or not it's really a good joke. And if it is, you'll commit the entire thing to memory – maybe even with a personalized variation, or a mental note to yourself to fix that racist part. This is because the joke is a gift – it's a form of social currency that you'll be able to take with you to the next party.

So is the great majority of the media we watch and even the products we buy. HBO understood this well enough to base an entire season's advertising campaign on the "water cooler" effect. In a series of fake ads, the water cooler industry thanks HBO for giving workers something to talk about the next day at the water cooler. The message of these ads was clear: watch these shows to gain social currency.