Book Review: Program or be programmed by Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff short book urges everyone to learn to become programmers. He writes,

“Before text, only the Pharoah could hear the words of the gods. After text, the people could gather in the town square and hear the word of God read to them by a rabbi. But only the rabbi could read the scroll. The people remained one stage behind their elite. After the printing press, a great many poeple learned to read, but only an elite with access to the presses had the ability to write. People didn’t become authors; they became the gaming equivalent of the “cheaters” who could now read the Bible for themselves and choose which laws to follow…”(145)

This is a problem.

“We teach our kids how to use software to write, but not how to write software. This means they have access to the capabilities given to them by others, but no the power to determine the value-creating capabilities of these technologies for themselves.” (19)

If we learn how to program then we can write software.

But, it’s not just about becoming programmers, we also need to learn how to live with technology. Rushkoff teaches us “10 commandments for a digital age”:

  1. Don’t always be on. Detach so that you can think deeply about something
  2. Live in Person. Email, Facebook, and other digital communication tools should assist us. But remember, nothing can replace a human, face-to-face relationship.
  3. You may always choose none of the above. “In the digital realm, everything is made into a choice. The medium is biased toward the discrete. This often leaves out things we have not chosen to notice or record, and forces choices when none need to be made.”
  4. You are never completely right. “On the net, we cast out for answers through simple search terms rather than diving into an inquiry and following extended lines of logic.”  Understand the world is complex. “Digital reduction yields maps. These maps are great for charting a course, but they are not capable of providing the journey. No matter how detailed or interactive the map gets, it cannot replace the territory.” (71)
  5. Scale- One size does not fit all. Technology favors things that scale. Some things do not scale. We must remember it. (e.g. relationships).
  6. Identity- Be yourself. Be honest and be yourself on the internet.
  7. Social- Don’t sell your friends. We all have the opportunity- Rate us 5 stars on Facebook, and we’ll give you free dessert. But, that’s not as bad as writing fake reviews because advertisers want to monetize your social clout (klout)
  8. Fact- Tell the truth.
  9. Openness. Share, Don’t steal. The more we share, the more value we can collectively create. E.g. Wikipedia, opensource programming.
  10. Purpose- Program or be programmed. The problem: “We learn what our computers already do instead of what we can make them do.” (143)

Rushkoff’s work is a short read and great for a slow Sunday morning. We should adhere to his commandments and we’ll be better off.

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