Questions for Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed
Directions: Answer the following questions. You will be asked to read your responses in class and to post one from each chapter on your WordPress site.
Chapter V. Scale, “One Size Does Not Fit All”
1. What does the term “abstraction” mean?
Removed from reality, generally to represent the big picture or to bring a particular aspect into focus.
2. What does Rushkoff mean when he says that “[d]igital technologies are biased toward abstraction?”
Digital technology is an abstraction. While it can work very well with concrete products, those things need to translate well into abstract ideas. (3d printing seems like a good example.)
3. What example does Rushkoff use for highlighting the idea that the “net has turned scalability from a business option to a business requirement?”
Tom’s small music store. Tom’s business did not scale well, at least in part because in an online environment his expertise (available on his blog) was easily separated from his product line—leaving his customers with no reason to purchase from him.
4. What is a “vertical” and “horizontal” approach to business?
Vertical – offering a specific set of good or services to a particular market. Example: a dental technician making crowns for local dentist offices.
Horizontal – offering a services to many customers. Example: Paypal.
5. Why are neither vertical or horizontal approaches perfect because of digital technologies?
Because it is easy to be under cut by a small change in the market.
6. How did scaling up result in a loss of manufacturing, according to Rushkoff?
The economics of central currency are biased toward the lender, not the producer. Thus, the most ambitious businesses attempt to enter the lending markets—or step above that to the derivative markets. (These steps are levels of abstraction, where each step increases the separation between the business and a real product.)
7. Rushkoff writes, “What all this abstraction does accomplish here on earth, however, is make everyone and everything more dependent on highly centralized standards.” Can you give a concrete example of what he means?
Rushkoff mentions the computer’s role in disconnecting print from paper. Ebooks are a perfect example: they only work because they are constructed using well-defined standards.
8. Rushkoff backtracks a bit from his argument against the biases of digital media by including all media in the problem with abstraction. He cites language as an example. Explain.
Language is an abstraction. I approach you and ask how to bake cookies. You explain. Then I go home and try it. Language disconnects learning from deeds.
9. What makes digital technologies “one further removed from what we think of as reality” than other media?
Hypertext—the ability to link to other documents means that readers may enter or exit the text at many points.
Type-setting, which is not unique to digital works, removes one of the personal aspects of writing.
Further thoughts on Chapter 5:
Rushkoff: “The invention of text allowed for contracts, the law, codes of ethics, and even the Bible—a written agreement or “covenant” between people and their new, highly abstracted God.”
One goal of biblical writing was to make God less abstract and more personal. “Good” is an amorphous concept. “Brought you out of the land of Egypt” is specific and concrete. Rushkoff’s analysis of Biblical meta-data is not entirely wrong, but seems to mis-represent the core intent of the material. Given Rushkoff’s cautions over loss of context, this is a significant lapse.
I think Rushkoff should have lead with this point: Abstraction and hierarchy are beneficial—so long as we use them correctly. (p. 119, nook)
Chapter VI. Identity, “Be Yourself”
1. How are our “digital experiences” “out of body?”
They rarely have any physical impact on us.
2. What makes anonymity dangerous and “identity” a “liability” in online spaces?
Because ethics are frequently tied to risk. If no one knows who I am, why shouldn’t I make threats, call names, and twist facts? Who will stop me? Ethics are difficult to maintain, and anonymity tends to lead people to show us their worst side. Rushkoff’s story is amazing because he “got in trouble” by defending people who turned on him for his trouble. Sadly, his example is common. Visit the comments under any news article (that allows anonymous comments) and there will be several—sometimes dozens—of people saying awful things.
3. Give one example where someone using digital media many “act without personal consequences.”
Any chat or comment board, or other form of social media, where accounts can be created and abandoned quickly and easily. Such accounts can be used to spew hatred and personal abuse that would, under real-life conditions, demand social—and possibly legal—penalties.
4. Rushkoff connects conduct in online gaming environments with Asperger’s Syndrome. What is Asperger’s Syndrome and why does he connect it to this form of digital technology?
Aspergers is an autism-spectrum disorder characterized by strong reliance on verbal communication and low recognition of visual queues like body language.
5. What are the “real costs” of anonymity on the net?
It seems to disconnect us from our normal senses of empathy and responsibility. Rushkoff says teens who get caught doing something bad online will admit their guilt, but they never apologize. This tells me that some aspects of online lifestyle are dehumanizing, though I’m not yet convinced anonymity is the core problem.
Chapter VII. Social, “Do Not Sell Your Friends”
1. What does he mean by “the coevolution between people and technologies?”
He has probably read Hayles (though the text does not say so.) This is what Dr. Hayles called technogenesis. It is the feedback loop of human invention, where we shape tools, but using the tools reshapes us, causing us to redesign our tools…
2. What was the original intent of the internet and why did it catch on beyond this intended use?
It was intended as a fault-tolerant communications system that could remain functional during a nuclear war. It grew beyond that because it is just so darn useful—and thank God we haven’t needed it for its intended purpose.
3. “[C]ontent is not king––contact is.” Cite an example that makes this point clear.
The Internet is a social medium. People use it to communicate with other people. Most of the content on sites like Facebook has little or no intrinsic value—but this same “worthless” content has enormous value to us and the friends we share it with.
4. How do social media cause us to monetize and exploit our friends?
We are encouraged to recruit our friends. You can get points, or free product, or cash rewards for referrals. If you don’t block them, requests to play FarmVille or Candy Crush will take up more space in your news feed than genuine posts.
5. What then is the driving force behind our use of social media, really, according to Rushkoff?
The driving force behind social media is our desire to stay in contact. Humans are built to be social.