Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance’

Renaissance Now

June 21, 2019

This is the eleventh post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this book is identical to the title of the twelfth section of this book.

Rushkoff begins, “Built to enhance our essential interrelatedness, our digital networks could have changed everything. And the internet fostered a revolution, indeed. But it wasn’t a renaissance.

Revolutionaries act as if they are destroying the old and starting something new. More often than not, however, these revolutionaries look more like Ferris wheels: the only thing that’s truly revolving is the cast of characters at the top. The structure remains the same. So the digital revolution—however purely conceived—ultimately brought us a new crew of mostly male, white, libertarian technologists, who believed they were uniquely suited to create a set of universal rules for humans. But those rules—the rules of internet startups and venture capitalism—were really just the same old rules as before. And they supported the same sorts of inequalities, institutions, and cultural values.”

On the other hand a renaissance is a retrieval of the old. It makes no claim on the new unlike a revolution. A renaissance is a rebirth of old ideas in a new context. People are becoming aware of the ways in which these networks and the companies behind them have compromised our relationships, our values, and our thinking, and this is opening us to the possibility that something much bigger is going on.

Rushkoff suggests comparing the leaps in art, science, and technology that occurred during the original Renaissance with those we are witnessing today.

Perhaps perspective painting was the most dramatic artistic developed during the Renaissance. Artists learned how to render a three-dimensional image onto a flat, two-dimensional canvas. Rushkoff suggests that perhaps the hologram, which lets us reprint a fourth dimension of time on a flat plane, or virtual reality, which lets the viewer experience a picture as an immersive environment are comparable.

European sailors learned to navigate the globe, dispelling the conception of a flat earth and launching an era of territorial conquest during the Renaissance. We orbited and photographed our planet from space, launching a mindset of ecology and finite resources during the twentieth century. The sonnet, a form of poetry that allowed for the first extended metaphors was invented during the Renaissance. We got hypertext, which allows anything to become a metaphor for anything else during the twentieth century.
The printing press was invented during the Renaissance, which allowed for the written word to be distributed to everyone. In the twentieth century we got the computer and the internet, which distributes the power of publishing to everyone.

The original Renaissance brought us from a flat world to one with perspective and depth. Our renaissance potentially brings us from a world of objects to one of connections and patterns. The world can be understood as a fractal, while each piece reflects the whole. Nothing can be isolated or externalized since it’s already part of a larger system. Rushkoff concludes that the parallels are abundant and that this is our opportunity for a renaissance.

Rushkoff warns that a renaissance sans the retrieval of lost, essential values is just another revolution. He claims that the first individuals and organizations to capitalize on the digital era ignored the underlying values that their innovations could have retrieved. They erroneously assumed they were doing something absolutely new: disrupting existing hierarchies and replacing them with something or someone better, which was usually themselves. He claims that the early founders merely changed the ticker symbols on Wall Street from old tech companies to new tech companies, and the medium to display them from paper tape to LEDs.

Rushkoff writes, “The original Renaissance, for instance, retrieved the values of ancient Greece and Rome. This was reflected not just in the philosophy, aesthetics, and architecture of the period, but in the social agenda. Central currency favored central authorities, nation-states, and colonialism. These values had been lost since the fall of the Roman Empire. The Renaissance retrieved those ideals through its monarchies, economics, colonialism, and applied science.

He asks, what values can be retrieved by our renaissance. He suggests the values that were lost or repressed during the last one: environmentalism, women’s rights, peer-to-peer economics, and localism. He sees the over-rationalized, alienating approach to science being joined by the newly retrieved approaches of holism and connectedness. He sees peer-to-peer networks and crowdfunding replacing the top-down patronage of the Reconnaissance, retrieving a spirit of mutual aid and community.

Unfortunately, he writes that possibilities for renaissance are lost as our openness to fundamental change creates footholds for those who would exploit us. Innovations are instrumentalized in pursuit of short-term profit, and retrieved values are ignored or forcibly quashed. Without retrieval, all our work and innovations is just research and development for the existing repressive systems. The commercial uses for technology tend to emerge only after it has been around for a while..

He concludes this section by noting that the relationship between individuals and society is not a zero-sum game. He writes, “Humans, at our best, are capable of embracing seeming paradox, We push through the contradiction and find a dynamic sensibility on the other side. Each of these movements depends on our comfort with what we could call a fractal sensibility, the notion that each tiny part of a system echoes the shape and structure of the whole. Just as the veins within the leaf of a single fern reflect the branches, trees, and structure of an entire forest the thoughts and intentions of a single individual reflect the consciousness of the whole human organism. The key to experiencing one’s individuality is to perceive the way it is reflected in the whole and, in turn, resonates with something greater than oneself.”

The Digital Media Environment

June 15, 2019

This is the fifth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the fifth section of this book. Rushkoff writes, whoever controls media controls society.

“Each new media revolution appears to offer people a new opportunity to wrest control from an elite few and reestablish the social bonds that media has compromised.” But the people have always remained one entire media revolution behind those who would dominate them.

Rushkoff cites the example of ancient Egypt that was organized under the presumption that the pharaoh could directly hear the words of the gods, as if he were a god himself. On the other hand, the masses could not hear the gods at all; they could only believe.

The invention of text might have led to a literate culture. Instead text was used just to keep track of possessions and slaves. When writing eventually was used by religion, only the priests could read the texts and understand the Hebrew or Greek in which they were written. The masses could hear the Scriptures being read aloud, thus they could hear the putative words of God, but the priests kept the elites’ capability of literacy.

During the Renaissance when the printing press was invented, the people gained the ability to read, but only the king and his selected allies could produce texts. Similarly, radio and television were controlled by corporations or repressive states. So people could only listen or watch passively.

Rushkoff writes, “The problem with media revolutions is that we too easily lose sight of what is truly revolutionary. By focusing on the shiny new toys and ignoring the human empowerment potentiated by these new media—the political and social capabilities they are retrieving—we end up surrendering them to the powers that be. Then we and our new inventions become mere instruments for some other agenda.

The early internet enabled new conversations between people who might never have connected in real life. The networks compressed distance between physicists in California, hackers in Holland, philosophers in eastern Europe, and animators in Japan. These early discussion platforms leveraged the fact that unlike TV or the telephone, internet messaging didn’t happen in real time. Users would download net discussions, read them on their own time, offline, and compose a response after an evening of thought and editing. Then they would log back onto the net, upload he contribution, and wait to see what others thought. The internet was a place where people sounded and acted smarter than they do in real life. This was a virtual space where people brought their best selves, and where the high quality of the conversations was so valued that communities governed these spaces the way a farmer’s cooperative protects a common water supply. To gain access to the early internet, users had to digitally sign an agreement not to engage in any commercial activity. Rushkoff writes “Even the corporate search and social platforms that later came to monopolize the net originally vowed never to allow advertising because it would tain the humanistic cultures they were creating.”

Consider how much better this was when people actually thought for a time, rather than responding immediately. Previously, System 2 processes were involved. Currently, responses are immediate, emotional System 1 processes.

Rushkoff writes, “ Living in a digitally enforced attention economy means being subjected to a constant assault of automated manipulations. Persuasive technology is a design technology taught and developed at some of America’s leading universities and then implemented on platforms from e-commerce sites and social networks to smartphones and fitness wristbands. The goal is to generate ‘behavioral change’ and ‘habit formation,’ most often without the user’s knowledge or consent. Behavioral design theory holds that people don’t change their behavior because of shifts in their attitudes and opinions. On the contrary, people change their attitudes to match their behaviors. In this model, we are more like machines than thinking, autonomous beings.”

Much or this has been discussed in previous health memory posts, especially those based on the book “Zucked.”

Rushkof writes, “Instead of designing technologies that promote autonomy and help us make informed decisions, the persuasion engineers in charge of our biggest digital companies are hard at work creating interfaces that thwart our thinking and push us into an impulsive response where thoughtful choice—or thought itself—are nearly impossible.” This explains how Russia was able to promote successfully its own choice to be President of the United States.

Previous healthy memory blog posts have argued that we are dumber when we are using smartphones and social media. We understand and retain less information. We comprehend with less depth, and make impulsive decisions. We become less capable of distinguishing the real from the fake, the compassionate from the cruel, and the human and the non-human. Rushkoff writes, “Team Human’s real enemies, if we can call them that, are not just the people who are trying to program us into submission, but the algorithms they’ve unleashed to help them do it.”

Rushkoff concludes this section as follows: “Human ideals such as autonomy, social contact, and learning are again written out of the equation, as the algorithms’ programming steers everyone and everything toward instrumental ends. When human beings are in a digital environment they become more like machines, entities composed of digital materials—the algorithms—become more like living entities. They act as if they are our evolutionary successors. No wonder we ape their behavior.”