If you think about digital, marketing and culture, you need to think harder.
Don’t worry. If you can’t think deeply about what’s happening in our culture today, we have Media Theorist, Douglas Rushkoff, who is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. I’ve been fortunate to know Douglas for many years. Every time he’s on the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast, my head spins. Every time I read his books (check out Throwing Rocks At The Google Bus, Present Shock and Program or Be Programmed to get started) my head spins. His thinking about our culture, and how it is being impacted by media and technology makes me want to quit writing, speaking and thinking about it entirely (he’s just that good). Every sentence he writes usually requires a re-read and a notebook handy to process it. It’s deep (true), but it’s smart and insightful.
Welcome to Team Human.
His latest book, podcast, speech and – most importantly – movement is Team Human. The book for Team Human will be out in January. In the meantime, he gave a TED Talk in September to introduce the concept. The talk is called, How to be “Team Human” in the digital future. It iterates from a place that many of us in the digital media space started at. In the early 2000s I had this sentence swirling around in my head, pushed it out into a slide during presentations, and it remained the core thesis for the work we were doing at the agency (then Twist Image, which turned into Mirum) and – most importantly – the basis for my first book, Six Pixels of Separation, which was published in 2009 (but was written in 2007): Real interactions between real human beings. Technology would be a service and platform by which we could connect to one another. Brands could connect better (and more directly) with consumers. Consumers could connect in a more meaningful (and real) way with brands. People could connect and understand and share with one another without the need for a major broadcaster or publisher to mediate. That worked out, but things have since gone haywire. The technologies and platforms turned the users into the product, with their personal data and usage being the currency and valuation.
And, here we are.
It worked, but it changed us. It worked, but it made billions for organizations. It worked, but our data is everywhere and anywhere. This is the core of Rushkoff’s pending book, Team Human: “Though created by humans, our technologies, markets, and institutions often contain an antihuman agenda. Douglas Rushkoff, digital theorist and host of the NPR-One podcast Team Human, reveals the dynamics of this antihuman machinery and invites us to remake these aspects of society in ways that foster our humanity. In 100 aphoristic statements, his manifesto exposes how forces for human connection have turned into ones of isolation and repression: money, for example, has transformed from a means of exchange to a means of exploitation, and education has become an extension of occupational training. Digital-age technologies have only amplified these trends, presenting the greatest challenges yet to our collective autonomy: robots taking our jobs, algorithms directing our attention, and social media undermining our democracy. But all is not lost. It’s time for Team Human to take a stand, regenerate the social bonds that define us and, together, make a positive impact on this earth.”
Take ten minutes and decide whose team you are on.
Last week, I wrote an article titled, Stories That Inspire Creativity. In that post, I promised more conversations that discuss (and recalibrate) the value and importance of creativity today. This is one of those. In the TED Talk, Douglas explains how human beings are no longer valued for our creativity. With all of this data being kicked around and algorithms deciding our fate, we’re only valued for our data. Rushkoff is clear (and he’s right): We need to stop using technology to optimize people for the markets, and start using it to build a future that is centered around our true values and desire for connection, creativity and respect. Or, as I (still) like to say: Real interactions between real human beings. The future can be the way that we had imagined it when the first web browser took hold. We just have to choose sides.
I’m on Team Human. How about you?