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PRESENT SHOCK by Douglas Rushkoff


When Everything Happens Now

by Douglas Rushkoff

Pub Date: March 21st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59184-476-1
Publisher: Current

Media theorist Rushkoff (Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, 2011, etc.) returns with a dire prognosis of society’s ills.

Though exaggerated, many of the author’s assertions can be summed up thusly: Technology has ruined everything, and nothing is as good as it used to be. The book is divided into five overarching concepts of how modern life has changed for the worse, with wide-reaching ideas like narrative collapse (TV shows and movies exhibit an “utter lack of traditional narrative goals”) and “digiphrenia” (in which dividing attention between online and in-person modes leads to a “temporal disconnection” bordering on mental disorder). Rushkoff does offer a few noteworthy theories—e.g., that our collective interest in post-apocalyptic scenarios stems from a deep desire to return to a simpler life. However, the author repeatedly makes reference to outdated cultural touchstones—e.g., an entire page on the “dangerously mindless” show Beavis & Butthead, which last aired in 1997—while most of his conclusions are overblown. Perhaps the best example of both problems occurs in one early chapter, in which Rushkoff recalls William Hung, the man who sang “She Bangs” at a cringeworthy 2004 American Idol audition and enjoyed a few moments of fame. Rushkoff draws a direct line from how much of America had a laugh at Hung’s expense to the Milgram experiment, in which social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked study participants to purportedly administer ever-increasing electric shocks to an unwilling victim. Rushkoff claims that in today’s society, “[t]he question is not how much deadly voltage we can apply, but how shamefully low can we go?”

Sure to be loved by readers who enjoy telling kids to get off their damn lawn, but unlikely to gain traction with a wider audience.