Notes on ‘Present Shock’ by Douglas Rushkoff.
Present Shock takes its title after Alvin toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ (1970) a book that predicted a pshycoligical disposition reacting to the increasing accelaration of technological development. 40 years on Rushkoff has reappropriated Toffler’s diagnosis to current social and physiological states created by conditions of digitality.
“We are not approaching some zen state of infinite moment, completely at one with our surroundings , connected to others and aeware of ourselves on a fundamental level”
(Linear) Narrative collapse Archetypal linear narratives, like the ones defined by Joseph Campbell in ‘the hero with a thousand faces’, create a temporal structure where characters make decisions based on the linearity of the past and the future. This grounds the present with a relation to the past and a progression to the future and gives the subject an informed choice based on this linearity. Rushkoff argues that a collapse of linear narrative is dangerous because of the moral insight, the relevance of time when making a decision has disappeared. News and entertainment attempt to provide 24hr coverage of things happening globally, distasters occurring anywhere in the world are broadcast to you , cutting through the traditional linearity of narrative time and destabilizing your present. The speed at which these events are broadcasted do not allow for an understanding of the event more than its relative impact on the present, Its past and future are dislocated in the associative world of real time information.
Digiphrenia Rushkoff’s diagnosed syptom of the side effects from our constant quest for digital omniscience ( or omini present – a total existence) . All information that is sent with ‘real time technology’ is so instantaneous that by the time it reaches us it has expired. You scroll though tweets looking for the most recent update, the nature of time is continually outdating now. This is the everlasting hunt to capture to time into an infinite moment, to make a now that lasts forever. Technology is being built to defy the limits created by distance and time, to allow us to be networked and absolved in connectivity. ‘Real time technology’ is an infatuation , Rushkoff makes the example of scrablling with the car radio to find some real time up tp date traffic news but the information if being processed to try and catch up with you. The irony is that while we struggle to keep up with the excess of imformation that technology is presenting us with, the technology is trying and failing to keep up with us humans. There is a parallel as we both fail to harmonize and co-exist. Present shock is an inability to inhabit and act in the moment because of the regular incoming bytes of distraction.
Time is a Technology
We can look further into the past to understand humans relationship with time and see that time is a technology itself. “The Golden age” is described in religious texts as a timeless infinite present, before spoken word or text all living things were at one with natural time. Once people began writing in the Axial age the notion of history was began, as something could be recorded and understanding the linearity of time began. Religion increasingly used time, calenders marked annual cycles and in Islam Muslims are required to pray at regular intervals. Monks were the first to create mechanical time pieces, ‘time was necessarily digital in character, always oscillating, always dividing’ and could be used to regulate and direct life. Arriving to work at the sound of the bells from the clock tower, temporal management began to punctuate and regulate workers and production.
Chronos and Kairos
The ancient greeks had two words for time. Chronos is chronological, time by the clock as in 4 o’clock time represented numerically. Kairos is more of an emotional time or the opportune moment that is decided by the human inbetween two states of chronos time. The technological demand on chronos time has left humans with no opportune moment , because each notification is dated from the moment you read it, the digital devices we communicate with have no sense of Kairos, everything from spam to break ups are given the same instantaneous urgency.
‘Everything we have lived and everyone we have met has been compressed into a virtual now’