01.28.2019

Author Douglas Rushkoff on Why Tech is Tearing Us Apart

Michel Martin sits down with media theorist and host of the “Team Human” podcast Douglas Rushkoff to discuss why technology which once brought us together is now tearing us apart.

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OUR NEXT GUEST, THOUGH, EXPLORES HOW DIGNITY AND DEMOCRACY WILL BE DEFINED BY OUR DIGITAL AGE.

DOUGLAS, TEAM HUMAN, RELEASED A BOOK WITH THE SAME NAME.

BREAKS DOWN ANTI-HUMAN AGENDA FROM ROBOTS TO ALGORITHMS.

HE TELLS OUR MICHELLE MARTIN THAT HUMANITY IS A TEAM SUPPORT.

DOUGLAS, THANK YOU FOR TALKING WITH US.

YOU'VE WRITTEN 10 BOOKS.

PEOPLE HAVE HAVE READ ALL OF THEM HAVE NOTICED AN ESCALATING SENSE OF URGENCY.

WHAT IS IT YOU'RE MOST CONCERNED ABOUT?

WHAT SCARES YOU?

WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?

I GUESS INSTEAD OF PEOPLE USING TECHNOLOGY, TECHNOLOGY IS USING PEOPLE.

THE ORIENTATION HAS CHANGED.

WE DON'T GO OUT OLT INTERNET TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING OR FIND SOMEONE OR CONNECT TO ANOTHER PERSON BUT THE INTERNET IS KIND OF THIS ALGORITHMIC LANDSCAPE THAT IS TRYING TO PERSUADE US OR INFLUENCE US OR FIND OUR EXPLOITS AND GET US TO ACT AGAINST OUR OWN BETTER JUDGMENT.

IS THAT -- WAS THERE A EUREKA MOMENT FOR YOU, WHERE YOU CAME TO BELIEVE IT HAD -- TECHNOLOGY HAD KIND OF MOVED FROM SOMETHING WE OWN TO SOMETHING THAT'S OWNING US?

AFTER THE DOT-COM CRASH AROUND 2000, IT LOOKED LIKE THE INTERNET WAS GOING TO COME BACK AS A SOCIAL MEDIUM.

WE SAW BLOGGER AND FACEBOOK AND I THOUGHT, OH, GOOD.

BUSINESS IS GONE, THE PEOPLE ARE BACK.

BUT THESE COMPANIES TOOK SO MUCH INVESTMENT THAT BY 2007, 2008, WE SAW COMPANIES LIKE FACEBOOK AND TWITTER MAKING SEVERAL BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR BEING CALLED ABJECT FAILURES BY WALL STREET BECAUSE THEY HAD PEAKED.

THE ONLY WAY THEY COULD EXTRACT MORE MONEY FROM THEIR USERS WAS BY TURNING KIND OF NASTY.

SO ARE THEY THE PROBLEM, OR IS IT WALL STREET?

I DON'T THINK DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY IS THE PROBLEM.

I THINK THE ONLY AGENDA WE'RE EXPRESSING THROUGH IT RIGHT NOW IS THE GROWTH MANDATE OF WALL STREET.

IF YOU COULD ACTUALLY INFORM AS OPPOSED TO REACTING VISCERALLY.

IT'S BECAUSE THE BUSINESS PLANS OF THE PLATFORMS THEMSELVES ARE DESIGNED TO DISCOURAGE THAT KIND OF BEHAVIOR.

THE BUSINESS PLANS ENCOURAGE US TO ACT AS IMPULSIVELY AND AS MANIPULATED AND PASSIVE A FASHION AS POSSIBLE.

THAT'S FIXABLE.

THAT'S PROGRAMMING.

THAT'S WHAT -- IT'S FUNNY THAT PEOPLE ALWAYS THINK ABOUT, OH, LOOK HOW THE RUSSIAN HACKERS OR THE BRAZILIAN HACKERS HAVE GONE IN AND DONE THIS BAD STUFF WITH AMERICAN MEDIA.

YOU KNOW, THEY HAVE NOT HACKED THE TECHNOLOGY.

THEY HACKED THE BUSINESS PLANS.

THAT'S ALL WE REALLY HAVE TO CHANGE.

I HAVE TO ASK IF THERE'S ANY WAY IN WHICH YOU FEEL RESPONSIBLE?WERE KIND OF AN EVAT FOR THAT DIGITAL WORLD AT THE BEGINNING.

I KNOW YOU WERE KIND OF ONE LONELY VOICE OUT THERE BUT ONE OF MANY HAD REALLY THOUGHT THAT DIGITAL FUTURE WAS GOING TO DO IT WAS GOING TO ENHANCE DEMOCRACY.

IT WAS GOING TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD.

IT WAS ALMOST BIBLICAL, THE OPPRESSED WERE GOING TO RISE, THE MIGHTY WERE GOING TO FALL.

IF I REGRET EVERYTHING, IT WAS NOT TELLING PEOPLE, COME ON IN, THE WATER IS FINE, BECAUSE IT WAS.

IF I REGRET ANYTHING, IT'S NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT WAS HAPPENING AROUND '94, '95.

A GUY NAMED JOHN BARLOW.

HE WROTE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE OF CYBERSPACE.

IN THAT HE WAS SAYING GOVERNMENTS OF THE WAR STAY THE INTERNET IS A FREE ZONE.

WE'RE JUST GOING TO BE A PEOPLE-DRIVEN THING.

AT THE TIME THE GOVERNMENT SEEMED LIKE THE ENEMY OF THE THEY USED PORNOGRAPHY AS AN EXCUSE TO SHUT DOWN CERTAIN KINDS OF WEBSITES.

WHAT I DIDN'T REALIZE IF YOU GET READY FOR GOVERNMENT YOU CREATE A FREE ZONE FOR THE THEY KIND OF BALANCE EACH OTHER THE WAY BACTERIA AND FUNGUS BALANCE EACH OTHER IN YOUR BODY.

IF YOU TAKE TOO MANY ANTIBIOTICS THE FUNGUS IS GOING TO COME UP.

WE GOT RID OF THE GOVERNMENT AND THE INTERNET, WHICH WAS A PLACE WHEN I WAS EVANGELIZING IT, THE INTERNET WAS A PLACE YOU HAD TO SIGN AN AGREEMENT SAYING YOU WOULDN'T DO ANY COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY ONLINE.

YOU WERE GOING TO USE IT FOR RESEARCH ONLY AND CONNECT WITH PEOPLE IN NONCOMMERCIAL WAYS.

IT BECAME A COMMERCIAL FREE ZONE.

REALLY FROM '95, '96, AS SOON AS I SAW WHERE IT WAS GOING, I WAS SAYING, NO, NO, NO.

THIS IS A GREAT THING WE CAN DO.

THE INTERNET DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THE POSTER CHILD FOR NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE.

THE INTERNET CAN STILL BE A PEOPLE'S MEDIUM.

IF WE DON'T TAKE CARE, WE'RE GOING TO LOSE THIS MOMENT OF OPPORTUNITY.

I'M GOING TO TALK MORE ABOUT A TED TALK YOU GAVE WHERE YOU ELABORATE ON THIS, WHICH WAS ACTUALLY QUITE HILARIOUS, I HAVE TO SAY.

I GOT INVITED TO AN EXCLUSIVE RESORT TO DELIVER A TALK ABOUT THE DIGITAL FUTURE TO WHAT I ASSUMED WOULD BE A COUPLE HUNDRED TECH EXECUTIVES.

I WAS IN THE GREENROOM WAITING TO GO ON.

INSTEAD OF BRINGING ME TO THE STAGE, THEY BROUGHT FIVE MEN INTO THE GREENROOM WHO SAT AROUND THIS LITTLE TABLE WITH ME.

THEY WERE TECH BILLIONAIRES.

THEY STARTED PEPPERING ME WITH QUESTIONS.

BITCOIN, VISUAL REALITY OR AUGMENTED REALITY.

I DON'T KNOW IF THEY WERE TAKING BETS OR NOT.

AS THEY GOT MORE COMFORTABLE WITH ME THEY EDGED TOWARD THEIR REAL AREA OF CONCERN.

ALASKA OR NEW ZEALAND.

THAT'S RIGHT.

THESE TECH BILLIONAIRES WERE ASKINGED MEDIA THEORIST WHERE TO PUT THEIR DOOMSDAY BUNKERS.

WE SPENT THE HOUR, HOW DO I MAINTAIN CONTROL OF MY SECURITY STAFF AFTER THE EVENT.

BY THE EVENT THEY MEAN THE THERMONUCLEAR WAR OR CLIMATE CATASTROPHE OR SOCIAL UNREST THAT ENDS THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT AND MORE IMPORTANTLY MAKES THEIR MONEY OBSOLETE.

ON THE ONE HAND, YOU THINK THESE GUYS ARE FUTURISTS.

THAT'S THE WORLD THEY LIVE IN, THE WORLD IS GOING TO END.

ON THE OTHER HAND, THE APOM -- APOCALYPSE, THEY ARE REALLY SMART, THEY AREN'T DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT EXCEPT SAVING THEMSELVES.

IS THAT'S WHAT'S UP?

THEY THINK THAT'S WHAT'S UP.

THE THING THAT STRUCK ME, THESE WERE THE WEALTHIEST MORE POWERFUL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD BUT FEEL UTTERLY HELPLESS TO AFFECT THE FUTURE.

THEY COME TO SOMEBODY LIKE ME TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE FUTURE IS INEVITABLY GOING TO BE AND THEN POSITION THEMSELVES FOR IT.

THE FUTURE WENT FROM THIS THING WE CREATED TOGETHER, THAT'S WHAT WE THOUGHT IN THE EARLY INTERNET DAYS.

WE'RE MAKING THE FUTURE.

THE FUTURE IS THIS VERB, TO THIS THING YOU BET ON.

IF YOU'RE A BILLIONAIRE, I'M GOING TO TAKE 20% OF MY MONEY AND HEDGE AGAINST -- WELL I'M GOING TO HEDGE AGAINST THE IMPACT OF WHAT I'M DOING.

THE SICK THING ABOUT THESE MEN IS THEY HAVE INTERNALIZED WHAT I CALL THE INSULATION EQUATION.

THEY WANT TO KNOW HOW MUCH MOPE DO I HAVE TO EARN IN ORDER TO INSULATE MYSELF FROM THE REALITY I'M CREATING BY EARNING MONEY IN THIS WAY.

LET ME READ SOMETHING FROM THE BOOK.

YOU SAID THE MORE WE EXPERIENCE PEOPLE AS DEHUMANIZED REPLICATORS OF MEMES, THE MORE LIKELY WE ARE TO TREAT ONE ANOTHER AS PIERS TO COLLABORATE.

COMBINED WITH OTHER STYLES OF MANIPULATION AND TRIGGERING WE ENDED UP WHERE SUCCESS, BUSINESS AND DATING APPEARS ON OUR ABILITY TO CONTROL OTHERS.

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES BECOME ENTIRELY INSTRUMENTLIZED LOSINGR PURPOSE UNDER PRETENSE OF OPTIMIZING CAPITALABILITIES OR BROADER CHOICE WE SURRENDER REAL CONNECTION AND MEANING.

WE BECOME MERE INSTRUMENTS.

I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS.

THE HARD PART ABOUT THIS, THIS IS WHY IT'S HARD FOR ME TO TALK ABOUT IT IN AMERICA, THERE'S ALMOST A SPIRITUAL ARGUMENT TO MAKE HERE.

THAT'S DANGEROUS TO MAKE IN OUR SCIENTIFIC REALITY.

I'M ALMOST TRYING TO MAKE A MR.

ROGERS ARGUMENT.

YOU'RE SPECIAL WHO YOU ARE.

THE MORE WE TRAY TO APE OUR MACHINES, MEASURE OURSELF WITH UTILITY VALUE RATHER THAN ESSENTIAL THAT'S WHY I END UP ON PANELS ARGUING FOR A PLACE FOR HUMANS IN THE FUTURE.

THERE ARE MANY TECHNOLOGISTS WHO SAY HUMAN BEINGS NEED TO PASS TO TECHNOLOGY.

WHEN THE SING LART COMES AND THEY ARE SMARTER THEN WE ARE THEY ARE THE NEXT LIFE FORM.

NO, WE SHOULD HAVE A PLACE FOR PEOPLE.

PEOPLE ARE WEIRD AND FUNKY AND STRANGE.

THERE'S SOME ESSENTIAL VALUE TO HUMANS.

WE PERCEIVE REALITY.

WE CAN SUSTAIN AMBIGUITY.

HE SAID TO ME, OH, RUSHKOV, YOU SAY THAT YOU'RE YOU'RE HUMAN.

I SAID, FINE, GUILTY.

I'M ON TEAM HUMAN THEN.

I'M GOING TO ARPG HUMAN BEINGS HAVE SOME ESSENTIAL VALUE.

THAT'S FIGHTING WORDS.

FIX THIS THING, DOUGLAS.

FIX IT FOR US.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO, THE COLLECTIVE WE AND THE INDIVIDUAL WE.

I NOTICE IN ONE ARTICLE YOU SAID MAYBE YOU SHOULD GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA.

RIGHT?

WELL, PEOPLE SHOULD -- THEY REALLY SHOULD FEEL AT LIBERTY TO USE WHAT TECHNOLOGIES THEY WANT AND NOT USE ONES THEY DON'T THEY HAVE TO START TO UNDERSTAND THESE TECHNOLOGIES ARE AS POWERFUL AS DRUGS.

YOU KNOW, THAT YOU'RE ON FACEBOOK, YOU'RE ON GOOGLE.

THAT'S ONE.

TWO, I'M REALLY ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO USE WHATEVER TIME THEY HAVE WHERE THEY ARE CONGREGAING WITH OTHERS.

WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

DO THEY DO IT.

SOME EXPERIENCE 10 MINUTES WITH A PERSON AND THEY ARE LIKE, OH, MY GOSH, THIS ISN'T SO BAD.

DO YOU EVER WORRY ABOUT -- YOU AND I BOTH HAVE CHILDREN OF SIMILAR AGE.

DO YOU EVER WORRY WHO ARE THEY GOING TO MARRY.

ARE THEY GOING TO BE ABLE TO FIND PEOPLE TO LIVE IN THAT COMPANION WAY THAT HAS SUSTAINED US WITH THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF SOCIETY?

ARE THEY GOING TO BE ABLE TO LIVE TOGETHER?

IS EVERYBODY GOING TO HAVE SEPARATE APARTMENTS AND THEY WILL TEXT EACH OTHER.

IT IS TRICKY.

IT DOES FEEL LIKE THE LAST 500,000 YEARS OF EVOLUTION WHERE WE DEVELOP THE WAYS TO ESTABLISH RAPPORT, THOSE ARE BEING EITHER NUMBED BY SOCIETY OR EXPLOITED BY ALGORITHMS.

SO THEY HAVE BECOME OUR VULNERABILITIES RATHER THAN OUR STRENGTH.

YOU ARE ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHO SAW THE POSSIBILITIES.

NOW YOU ARE TELLING US ABOUT THE VERY PROFOUND CONCERNS.

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

I'M GOING TO CONTINUE BELIEVING WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF A RENAISSANCE.

I STILL DO.

THAT'S WHAT I ARGUED IN 1994, AND THAT'S WHAT I'M SAYING NOW.

A RENAISSANCE IS REALLY THE RETRIEVAL OF OLD VALUES AND THEIR REBIRTH IN A NEW CONTEXT.

RENAISSANCE, MEANS REBIRTH.

WHAT VALUES DO WE WANT TO RETRIEVE AND REBIRTH TODAY?

DO WE WANT TO CONTINUE ON WITH THE ONES FROM THE LAST RENAISSANCE, THE CORPORATION AND CHARTERED MONOPOLY, COLONIALISM AND POWER OR DO WE -- WHAT WERE THE VALUES THAT GOT REPRESSED IN THE LAST RENAISSANCE.

WHOLISM, WOMEN, CONNECTIVITY, THE CITY, ALL OF THESE SORTS OF THINGS I'M SAYING A REBIRTH OF THESE THINGS.

FOR ME IT'S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO OPERATE AT SCALE IN ORDER TO BE SUCCESSFUL.

SO MANY KIDS NOW THINK IF I'M NOT MAKING THE WEBSITE THAT EVERYBODY KNOWS, IF I DON'T HAVE LIKES FROM EVERY CORNER OF THE WORLD, THAT WHAT I'M DOING DOESN'T MATTER.

IT DOES.

WHAT MATTERS IS NOT THAT.

WHAT MATTERS IS ARE YOU CONNECTING WITH REAL PEOPLE BECAUSE THAT WILL ACTUALLY SCALE.

DOUG LAGS RUSHKOFF, IT'S BEEN GREAT MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH YOU.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WHAT YOU DO.

OH, WELL, YOU'RE WELCOME.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with Sean McFate & Gen. Stanley McChrystal about the changing face of war; and opera singer Plácido Domingo about his opera career. Michel Martin speaks with author Douglas Rushkoff about how technology is tearing us apart.

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