Program or Be Programmed

By: Joshua Glenn
September 21, 2010

Three years ago, I blogged for the Boston Globe’s Ideas section about “Social Control as a Function of Media,” an algorithm (shown above) that my friend, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, had contributed to a special exhibition on “Formulae for the 21st Century” at the Serpentine Gallery in the UK.

Rushkoff explained the algorithm to me like so:

Our controllers — be they pharaohs, kings or corporations — always remain one dimensional leap beyond us. When we learn to read, they gain monopoly over the presses. As we now gain access to Internet distribution of our text, they create the framework for such publication — blogs, basically — by monopolizing the programs, interface, and conduit. Worse, we tend to remain unaware of the new context shaping all our activity.

Intrigued? From October 11 through December 19, Rushkoff will be teaching an online course about this topic at the skeptico Maybe Logic Academy. The point of “Program or Be Programmed,” Rushkoff announced today, is

to explore the main biases, or “leanings” of digital media. What is it good for, what is it bad for? How does the digital color what happens in a digital context? If conversations do tend to get more polar or over-simplified, why is that? Why do people seem content to use these technologies with little or no understanding of how they work? Does human agency increase even if we don’t recognize what the tools we are using really do? Is a new elite arising that does?

Texts by: Kevin Kelly, Jaron Lanier, Sherry Turkle, Clay Shirky, and Norbert Weiner. Plus Rushkoff’s forthcoming book, Program or Be Programmed.