As we shuffle in this morning, we're all gathering on a plane of electrons, held together by... well, for most of us it might as well be library paste and fairy dust. But hey, who needs to understand how all this technical stuff works? After all, you don't need to know how a television works to catch Law & Order: Yet Another. You don't need to know how a combustion engine works to drive your car to work. Why should you need to know anything about the programming behind the pixels just to get around the web?
Because, as Douglas Rushkoff reminds us in this slim volume, the web is different. It's both medium and content. It delivers us to work, delivers our entertainment, hosts our conversation, and more often than not, shapes our opinions. It's medium and message, highway, vehicle, post office, confidant, and huckster.
We don't just put our ideas into the web, we also draw ideas out. And the difference in being able to place messages in the medium, and realizing how the medium shapes the message, is the difference between tossing a pebble into water and digging a canal. This is not a coffee maker you're using, and the web is not the Sunday paper. What you do in here can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.
We like to think that we're old hands at the information age, but what Douglas Rushkoff shows is that those who march into the web thinking that knowledge of the "outside world" will be enough to use this new conduit, have been sadly mistaken over and over. Retail powerhouses in the brick & mortar world find that not only are they unable to easily leverage the web to their advantage, simply putting their prices online makes it easier for companies that only exist in this new universe to quick trump their prices and take their customers. Newspapers find that their ability to aggregate information can't keep up with tools available to their (former) readers. Politicians find that rather than giving them a simple super-phone-bank-money-extractor, operating in the web can also mean being mired in a bog of electronic overload and inaction.
What's the difference between being able to operate in the web, and being able to thrive there? The difference is in being able to understand the how and why of this new world. In ten chapters or "commands" Douglas Rushkoff lays out how to live in this new world. Some of this advice will seem straightforward, some of it will need explanation, and some of it will seem more than a little counterintuitive. But all of it is delivered with verve and insight that makes you rethink your interactions on the web.
Are you driving your life here, or only a passenger? If you want to get your hands on the wheel, this book is a good place to start.
Program or be Programmed: ten commands for a digital age by Douglas Rushkoff is available only at the Or Books.
This morning, Douglas Rushkoff joins us for live Q&A right now. So rub that sleep from your eyes and get your questions into the comments.