Rushkoff challenges Gleick’s idea

Browsing my Google Reader on Sunday, I found a Q&A on Wired with Douglas Rushkoff discussing Program or be Programmed, a book I’d recommend to everyone.

Now before you leave because you don’t care about programming (you should care) or you think this will be too technical (it’s not), I need to clarify that the book is not so much about computer programming as it is about the more general concept of programming, plus understanding the biases of digital technology. As Rushkoff says, you either use the software or you are the software; you’re either the passenger or the driver, but not necessarily the mechanic.

I read the Program or Be Programmed (as an ebook, of course) in November 2010 and try to keep up with new things Rushkoff writes or says on the topic. Why? As Daniel Bachhuber once said to me (I’m paraphrasing): an author’s talking about a book after it’s published can be better than reading the book itself because the ideas are not only more clear and concise, but also because the author has reflected more after writing the book. To invoke Steven Johnson, the ideas grow over time.

After reading the Q&A, I watched Rushkoff’s Webvision 2011 keynote embedded at the end of the Wired post (and re-embedded here):

I highly recommend watching the entire hour-long remarks (or at least an older six-minute version or this post). As someone who has read Program or Be Programmed, I still found it well worth my time to hear the concepts reiterated and expanded upon, plus the additional insights he shares.

One insight that stuck out the most is the following rebuttal of James Gleick’s The Information, which I read in June and also recommend:

“But this is still a human-focused world. We are still in charge here. James Gleick is just wrong — he is wrong. It’s not ‘The Information.’ Human beings are not just the latest and temporary container of information on its way to higher forms on silicon. If information decides to reside in silicon rather than in people, then it will be unaware and unconscious information. It’s not the information — it’s the communication. These are communication technologies, not content delivery systems. The information is the content. […] The humans are the message.”

I’m not sure if Rushkoff is referring to a specific part of Gleick’s book (I re-read some highlights I’d made in The Information to check with no luck) that relates to humans or the overall thesis (seems unlikely), but I’d be very interested to seem them discuss this together. I know the SXSW 2012 panel picker is closed, but is it too late to propose this as some kind of keynote conversation?

More on The Information

For some background on The Information, read Nicholas Carr’s and The New York Times’ reviews. Also, here’s a video of Gleick discussing the history of information and how the role of the Internet:

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