Rushkoff to Google: Don’t Give Up on The Humans

Douglas Rushkoff gave a Program or Be Programmed talk at Google last fall, and the video of it is on his blog. It’s embedded below, but I’ve extracted the juiciest quotes, which churchy commentary interspersed.

“Computers are essentially anything machines.”

“After I had played with Basic for the first time, I looked at the New York city streets and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a grid pattern not because cities grow up into grids but because someone in history decided to make this a grid. And for a 12 or 13 year old that’s a profound moment, and it’s a moment that most people don’t have very often, if at all.”

Likewise, the congregation, the presbytery, the synod, and any nationally organized religious denomination is there because people in history decided to make it that way. The Christian congregation is modeled on the post-temple Jewish synagogue, which was a response to a particular historical situation. The model for it isn’t in the Bible. And the further up the associational pyramid you go, the more abstract and theoretical the decisions have been that the structure should be that way. North American Christians should all recognize this and be able to spot the biases of the structures that frame their religious participation.

“When I say, ‘program or be programmed,’ I don’t mean it just as a metaphor.”

“You wouldn’t know what an operating system was if there was only one operating system.”

The same is true of religion, isn’t it? Or of any theological construct within a religious tradition? My recent anxiety over the encounter of the youth from my quasi-liberal church with evangelical camp culture illustrates this. I want my kids to recognize that the altar call is an operating system programmed with a certain bias, just like the hymns they sing on Sunday.

“This media is biased towards binary logic, which then leads to polar conversation, which then polarizes the political landscape.”

“I so don’t care about what technology is doing to us. I care about what we’re doing to one another through technology. Technology is not doing anything to you. It’s people that are doing things to you.”

Every theory of technology has a hidden doctrine of humanity.

“Everything in the digital space is basically a snap-to grid in one way or another. You’re here or you’re here.”

“Just because you have more choices doesn’t mean you have more agency. It just means you have a wider number of choices.”

“The fact that you can keep going forever means that it doesn’t actually work.”

This pertains to the economic model of making money by getting closer and closer in what you do to the actual making of money. Abstraction is lucrative. Aggregation is the new content creation. So why not aggregate the aggregators? The problem is that with each step you get further from the creation of any real value until you have a culture of people who no longer know how to create it. How do churches help Christians actually create value in the world and not just combine and distribute value they got somewhere else?

“The more anonymity is an aberrant behavior, the better off we are.”

“The biases of our technologies matter. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, right? But guns are more biased towards killing than pillows.”

So what is the bias of the typical mainline protestant congregation? The top 15 megachurches in the United States have an 80% turnover rate. Scads of people come once or twice but don’t dig in for the long haul. That’s a bias toward occasional non-committal participation. What about your typical Methodist or Presbyterian church in anywhere, USA?


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