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Douglas Rushkoff - Computers for Humans

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    So yeah, being one of the first net culture or computers in society writers was strategically a poor move for me
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    And I'm living proof, though, you can still survive it, if you can get through it somehow, by answering e-mail more slowly
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    It's funny, I wrote some notes because I thought I should be responsible, because you guys are real computer studies
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    computer science people, as opposed to just, you know, your average, digitally illiterate audience.
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    So I don't really need to make the case - I probably don't - on why learning something about digital technology is a smart thing
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    Because you guys have already made that choice.
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    But something that occurred to me on the way here, actually, that you might not realize as young people
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    if you don't mind being called that
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    ...is that it's very hard to get a very accurate sense of the biases of the digital media environment...
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    ...when you've been raised inside it.
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    In other words, what I want to suggest to you is that those of us who are old enough to have experienced and consciously experienced
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    the shift from a pre-digital media environment to a digital media environment actually understand something
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    or sense something or experience something about the biases of digital technology that is relatively difficult for those of you who have been raised
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    with digital technology to get.
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    Right now this is the opposite argument I made through most of my career.
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    In 1995, I wrote a book called, Playing the Future, where I argued that,
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    "Don't worry, you grown ups, digital technology is coming and you feel overwhelmed.
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    But you guys are digital immigrants whereas kids are digital natives.
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    So you're going to speak the language like an immigrant, they're going to speak like a native.
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    You're always going to feel slightly out of place and unsure, and everytime you have a hypertext link, you're gonna be a disoriented
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    because we're not used to that, whereas kids are going to experience that very naturally.
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    That what looks disjointed to us, will be a natural terrain for them.
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    And they will have command, don't worry, the kids are alright."
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    But as I've grown older, and as I've watched where cyberspace has gone,
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    and where our culture has gone, or hasn't, I realize that some of my elders were actually more right about this than I was
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    And in reading all the - finally catching up with who I was supposed to read,
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    when I was younger, you know, McCluen and Ong, and all the great media theorists, you know,
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    I would read about the digital environ- or the media environments, and this notion that McCluen had,
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    that, you know, if you ask a fish about water he wouldn't be able to tell you what it is, right?
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    Because the fish is swimming in the water. He's not aware of the water.
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    You know, so if you ask someone who is raised in a television environment, "Oh, what about the impact television on you?"
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    You can't say it because you're living in it. You're living in that media environment.
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    Likewise, those of us living in a digital media environment, it's very difficult for us to parse it's effect
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    For us to feel what it is
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    For us to understand the difference between what it is to be a human being
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    and what it is to be a digital being
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    And, being able to parse it, though, being able to begin to look at that
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    What Norbert Weinert used to call, "the human use of human beings." He was one of the first people to talk about cybernetics
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    I think he invented the word, actually, back when, cybernetics. Even though it got stolen.
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    He was really looking at as we develop a computer environment, how will we recognize what is the difference between humans and the machines that we're in?
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    How will we understand how to create a human, or a humanity-encouraging, digital media environment?
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    Now the reason why I think this is important is because most of my peers strongly disagree with this sentiment
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    Most of my peers, and call them the sort of, the Negroponte, Kevin Kelley, Wired Magazine, Chris Anderson,
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    all the way to Ray Kurzwhile on that spectrum, Clay Shirkey - there's this sense, this sort of letter ripped sense about technology
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    that's uncomfortably consonant with corporate capitalism, but that's another story
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    That human beings are merely one stage in information's inevitable evolution towards greater states of complexity, right?
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    And they tell this very compelling story about the beginning of time all the way through now.
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    That matter has been groping toward greater states of complexity, right?
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    That we had atoms became molecules, and molecules became, you know, sort of these weird pre-proto-life things which became cells
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    And now we have this whole life thing that happened
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    And life got very complex through evolution
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    And we had people
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    And people built machines, and machines are just sort of in that big, blue, overtake humanity moment,
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    and when they do, then machines, our computers, our networks will be the real host for the evolution of information
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    and we human beings can tend to those machines, or, at best, upload our consciousness
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    and then they will continue that journey for us
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    You know, and each one has a different metaphor for explaining it
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    You know, whether it's Kevin talking about what technology wants, right? What technology wants, like it really wants.
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    Not, it's not bias towards something, but it wants something, we've made this thing.
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    Just as God made people, people made technology, and this child will go on wanting something.
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    Or Ray Kurzwhile who will talk about the singularity, which I'm sure you've all read or heard about, even on, you know,
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    you can find out about it in Vice Magazine or anything, at this point
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    You know, the idea that technology reaches this point of, not self-consciousness or self-awareness necessarily, but it just surpasses us
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    It becomes this thing and can keep going.
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    It's a... I don't know... for me it's a discomforting view of humanity
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    but it's also, I would argue, an incorrect one, you know?
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    It's one that is - it's one that is a result of living unconsciously in a digital media environment
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    It's one where you let the digital media environment dictate what you are and how you think about the world
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    rather than maintaining some sense of humanity in that.
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    Alright? So, what's interesting to me as I look at the history of computing, which now we have
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    and as we look at computers in society, which is a real thing.
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    I mean, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, when we taught courses like this, it was futurism.
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    Computers in Society was a course was a course in, "What's it gonna be like someday when people have e-mail?"
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    I mean, there were times, and I'm sure you were in those conversations
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    when people like me used to go to a cocktail party or go to a publisher, or explain to a magazine editor.
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    Someday people are going to have their own computers
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    They are gonna send messages to eachother using little text editors
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    using, you know, word processors,
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    and they would literally laugh us out of the room.
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    They did not - they - it seemed so outrageous, that - Or they'd walk around
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    No, you're not gonna have to implant chips in people, they're gonna walk around with phones that are gonna track them everywhere they go
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    and they're gonna do this voluntarily
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    They're gonna give all their information - it's all just - and no one believed us. But, of course that happened.
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    But, the thing that's interesting to me about computer history, if we're gonna follow it from the history of humanity
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    rather than the history of technology, right? Let's not worry about paper tape to punch cards to tape to discs to hard drives to RAM.
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    Let's not worry about machine evolution. But you look at the difference in people, right?
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    If we look at history as the human story rather than the story of stuff
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    then the interesting thing becomes - the big switch, I think, is the shift from a pre-literate to a literate society, right?
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    When we look at the impact of the printing press.
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    Do we talk about it in terms of, "Oh, look! These rooms filled up with books!"
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    No, that's not the part that's interesting.
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    The part that is interesting is people learned to read
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    and then when they learned to read, they had personal interpretations of the Bible, right?
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    So we had a Protestant Reformation, with people rebelling against the Church,
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    So we had the idea of "one man, one vote," because everyone has their own perspective.
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    It coincided with prospective painting.
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    It coincided with central banking.
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    And all of these other, very, analagous human inventions that were all about people having individual perspectives,
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    "One man, one vote," it led to the Enlightenment, and all this other stuff.
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    Consumerism, Industrial Era and everything else.
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    When we look at digital technology I think we have to look at it that way.
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    In other words, what is the difference between a pre-literate digital society and a post-literate digital society?
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    You know, I'm over arguing for digital literacy. I think digital literacy is inevitable, you know?
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    I feel like I'm making that - when I, and I, it's my main talk that I do.
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    It's like, you know, "Programmer be programmed!" And I wrote this book, Programmer Be Programmed.
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    We have to learn to program. If you don't learn how to program, you're just swimming blindly in a sea of information.
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    Kids don't understand the biases of the technologies they use.
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    You know, if you ask a kid what Facebook is for, he'll say Facebook is here to help him make friends.
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    But we all know Facebook is really not here - it's really here to monetize the social graft and all that.
Douglas Rushkoff - Computers for Humans

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF talk "Computers for Humans" in the Computers & Society Speaker Series at the Courant Institute NYC on Nov 27 2012.

Users do not know how to program their computers, nor do they care. They spend much more time and energy trying to figure out how to use them to program one another, instead. And this is a potentially grave mistake. Just as the invention of text utterly transformed human society, disconnecting us from much of what we held sacred, our migration to the digital realm will also require a new template for
maintaining our humanity. In this talk, Dr. Douglas Rushkoff -- author of Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc, and the upcoming Present Shock, shares the biases of digital media, and what that means for how we should use and make them.

Additional Camera: Brittany Vanbibber



Webcast Support: NYI http://nyi.net

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