No Time Like the Present

// Posted by on 03/30/2014 (8:13 PM)

According to Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist and author of Present Shock, everything happens now.  So, what does that really mean?  In the first two chapters of Rushkoff’s novel, we are introduced to the meaning of “present shock”.  Rushkoff argues that individuals have lost their capacity to take in the traditional narrative because the future has become “now” and we are constantly adapting to the new and unpredictable challenges it presents.  As a result, he continues, we have developed a new relationship with time on a fundamental level.  We are so preoccupied with living in the technological now, which is always active and changing constantly, that individuals are increasingly losing their sense of direction, personal goals, and future altogether.

This idea of a widespread narrative collapse is a significant aspect in the idea of present shock.  The traditional use of linear stories to attract viewers through a sort of shared journey has been replaced with unintelligent reality programming and TV shows.  I think Rushkoff’s argument is a completely accurate one.  In my generation, individuals have lost their ability to fully absorb information through this kind of story / narrative form.  We constantly feel the urge for a change, a new piece of information, a distraction.  Although it is easy to relate this to our current and most popular social media networks, we can perhaps look at something a bit different.  Take music for instance.  Even a decade ago, the process of purchasing and listening to an album or CD was an experience in itself.  You waited for the release of this album, maybe even in line at a local music shop.  After, you might go home and listen to this album with friends or alone and listen to it from beginning to end.  When is the last time you did this? You saw a friend do this? You witnessed anyone doing this?  This imagined visual might even seem abnormal or even weird in our current world.  I believe this is why mashups were created and became so popular within the last decade.  Why would you listen to one song when can get pieces of a few of your favorites within only 2 and a half minutes?  Digital technology is responsible for this ongoing change among individuals attention span and ability to be present in a moment.  In our generation, there is a sort of tangible anxiety and impatience among us that is only perpetuated by digital technology.  Think about how many people you see daily, scrolling through their Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter every few minutes waiting, almost yearning for something to grab their attention or excite them. This never-ending digital feed has caused a lack of appreciation for quality over quantity.  In turn, it depreciates our ability to focus and separate our real lives from our digital ones.

With the creation of the Internet, it was largely assumed that individuals would have more time to themselves, not less.  People might be able to work from home, from their bed even, and complete tasks that they would normally have to go into work to take care of.  This assumption, however, was based on the idea that technology would conform to our lives when, in actuality, the exact opposite happened.  As Rushkoff suggests, human time has become the new modern commodity.  People can no longer extract themselves from our overpowering digital world—they are always at its beck and call.  Whether it is a buzz from a tweet, call, or text, the interruption of technology is a common and constant one.  In turn, face-to-face conversations and meaningful opportunities are diminishing.  These shared experiences are being replaced with the “shared” experience of being distracted by technology and our devotion to it.  This relates to Rushkoff’s coined term “Digiphrenia”: this idea that because technology allows us to be in more than one place, individuals are overwhelmed until they learn how to distinguish the difference between signal and noise information.  Again going back to this idea of quality vs. quantity, it seems as though we are starting to value quantity at an ever-increasing rate.   I found this idea of being able to live in two different worlds to be particularly interesting— not only are we able to dip into different worlds at any given time, but we are able to project a different “self” as well.  As we have previously discussed, individuals can create and advertise any sort of identity they choose to and shift worlds at any point in time.

In my opinion, technology has caused us to be increasingly absent from the real “now” in order to be present in the digital ever-exisiting one.  We are collectively sharing a moment of “not sharing” that is deemed acceptable under the guise of  technology.   In turn, individuals’ ability to be completely present, mentally and physically, in any environment or situation is becoming increasingly rare.  Rather than experiencing what is happening in the moment, we find ourselves wondering what is going on in another moments, moments somewhere else with different people.  This “present sock” syndrome is only propelling feelings of constant anxiety, impatience, and seemingly unattainable satisfaction in our world, especially among my generation.  We are letting technology dictate our lives and consume our real and valuable time in exchange for mere seconds of shallow excitement, gossip, or news.


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Cassaundra said...

Many aspects of Rushkoff’s argument in his first two chapters reminds me of Turkle’s idea that technology is putting us in an age of “being alone together.” We try to keep up with the impossible pace set by technologies that are constantly trying to keep up with us, and we fear that if we do not answer every notification for Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc. that we will lose touch with this imagined present. Before reading Rushkoff, I thought Turkle’s argument was flawed. I believed that while technology, particularly smart phones, pose many distractions, it was possible to put these technologies out of sight and mind when having a conversation in real time. However, Rushkoff swayed my thinking by noting that even if we do not choose to respond to a text or alert the second it comes in, we have still distracted ourselves from whatever is happening in real time to make the choice to ignore the notification. In my experience, to which I’m sure many people can attest, even if you ignore a call, text, or notification, you are still distracted from the real-time interaction because you are preoccupied by wondering what it is about. Sometimes, this curiosity overcomes us to the point that we will later pause the real time conversation to attend to the alert that we previously ignored. Rushkoff offers a solution to the problem of digiphrenia by saying that “instead of succumbing to the schizophrenic cacophony of divided attention and temporal disconnection, we can program our machines to conform to the pace of our operations” (Rushkoff 75). To me, this solution is preferable, yet a bit idealistic. We have come to regard time as a technology so much so that we are attempting to program our bodies to keep pace. With the invention of ways to keep track of time, “the metaphor for the human being became the clock, with the heartbeat emulating the ticks of the escapement, counting off the seconds passing” (Rushkoff 81). This is not a new idea as we first saw it in Turner’s book wherein he noted that human functions were beginning to be equated with terminology for machines. We “program” ourselves to perform certain functions during the time we and others have allotted for these tasks. For example, we might drink an excessive amount of caffeine when we only have a certain amount of time to complete a task or need to be up early, or we might take a Melatonin to help us fall asleep immediately because we only have a certain amount of time to sleep. We are expected to be checking our e-mails frequently and respond to messages promptly, particularly in the workforce. Achieving Rushkoff’s vision of programming technology to suit us instead of the other way around, would require a large-scale change in attitude. We would have to stop expecting others to constantly be “on-call” via our mobile devices and realize that there needs to be some separation in our work and personal lives. It is a challenging task to reshape the way the world (or at least the U.S.) views technology, and I am interested to see how Rushkoff will flush out his proposal to make it a reality.

// 03/31/2014 at 11:51 am

Rachel said...

The one thing I found most interesting about Rushkoff’s chapter on narrative collapse was the fact that a chapter bemoaning the loss of the linear narrative was pretty non-linear in itself. I found myself overwhelmed by his constantly jumping examples, which seemed to undermine any kind of linear arc.

I guess, mostly, I disagree with the central idea Rushkoff holds, which is that we’ve lost a grasp of the future. I think, if anything, technology and the modern pace of life that’s come with it has driven us to be even more future-oriented. We’re taught to see everything not as an experience in itself, but a necessary stepping stone to the next step: you have to learn all of these skills to be a marketable college applicant so you can get a good job out of college so you can support yourself until you find a job that makes you happy… I think, if anything, our generation is more future-oriented than most generations before us.

Meg Jay wrote a book called The Defining Decade that basically argued our generation is so future-oriented that we waste our 20s because we can’t grasp the importance of the present moment.

// 03/31/2014 at 1:58 pm