Douglas Rushkoff
Author of Team Human, Present Shock, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Program or Be Programmed, and host of the Team Human podcast http://medium.com/team-human

How workers unknowingly train their robot replacements

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Photo: Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images

In the future envisioned by Wall Street and Silicon Valley alike, humans are just another externality. There are too many of us, asking for salaries and health care and meaningful work. Each victory we win for human labor, such as an increase in the minimum wage, makes us that much more expensive to employ, and supports the calculus through which checkout workers are replaced by touchscreen kiosks.

Where humans remain valuable, at least temporarily, is in training their replacements. Back in the era of outsourcing, domestic workers would cry foul when they were asked to train the lower-wage foreign workers who would shortly replace them. …


On the magical power of art and storytelling

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Playing for Team Human today, storyteller and mage, Grant Morrison.

Morrison discusses the magical power of art and storytelling. How can we transform the physical world through narrative? How does the hero’s journey create narcissistic personalities, and what are alternative models of storytelling? Morrison and Rushkoff weave through magic and metaphors to envision a more distributed world.


A counterintuitively optimistic take on the first presidential debate

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Photos: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

I admit, it was a hard night. I’ve finally reached the point in my career where I get to live-tweet a debate on behalf of a publication. But now that I’ve gotten here, presidential politics has deteriorated beyond recognition. Tuesday night was a sick, depressing spectacle closer to late-stage Jerry Springer than civic discourse.

No one “won.” Not Trump, not Biden, and certainly not Americans.

But do not despair. The harder the president of the United States argues that democracy is over, that voting can’t work, that New York City is irreversibly failed, or that his thugs should “stand by” for civil war, the more certain I am that his reign is coming to an end. …


Corporate progress almost always comes at a cost to the most vulnerable

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Photo: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

We know that nothing in nature can sustain an exponential rate of growth, but this doesn’t stop many of our leading economists and scientists from perpetuating this myth. They cherry-pick evidence that supports the endless acceleration of our markets and our technologies, as if to confirm that growth-based corporate capitalism is keeping us on track for the next stage of human evolution.

To suggest we slow down, think, consider — or content ourselves with steady profits and incremental progress — is to cast oneself as an enemy of our civilization’s necessary acceleration forward. By the market’s logic, human intervention in the machine will only prevent it from growing us out of our current mess. In this read of the situation, corporations may be using extractive, scorched-earth tactics, but they are also our last best hope of solving the world’s biggest problems, such as hunger and disease. Questioning the proliferation of patented, genetically modified seeds or an upgraded arsenal of pesticides just impedes the necessary progress. Adherents of this worldview say that it’s already too late to go back. There are already too many people, too much damage, and too much dependence on energy. …


It’s time for businesses to work for people, not the other way around

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Photo: Kmatta/Getty Images

Advocates of the commons seek to optimize the economy for human beings, rather than the other way around.

One economic concept that grew out of the commons was called distributism. …


Trump has brought pranksterism to the Republican Party. That used to be liberals’ specialty.

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A Trump campaign stop in Mankato, Minnesota. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

I still remember when it was the Left who had more fun. It wasn’t just that they were younger and had better hair, music, and drugs (though all of that certainly helped); it was that the Left was fabulously irreverent. Whether nominating a pig for president, or raining dollar bills on the New York Stock Exchange, these were pranksters and media activists who tweaked their noses at authority and undermined the foundations of consensus society.

Today, it’s Trump and QAnon who have taken on that countercultural mantle, using the media available at their disposal to destabilize fact-based reality and promote conspiracy theories — and to do it all so cheekily that we can’t even tell if they actually believe what they’re saying. …


The commons is not a winner-takes-all economy, but an all-take-the-winnings economy

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Photo: Graiki/Getty Images

The economy needn’t be a war; it can be a commons. To get there, we must retrieve our innate goodwill.

The commons is a conscious implementation of reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruists, whether human or ape, reward those who cooperate with others and punish those who defect. …


On how and why to center the voices of those who are experiencing reality on the ground

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Playing for Team Human today, co-founder and co-editor of Mídia NINJA, Dríade Aguiar.

Aguiar explains how and why to center the voices of those who are experiencing reality on the ground. She looks at those who make the future and how it’s accomplished, how we can stop injustices that are happening to real people in real places, and how activist and media efforts can help to address the destruction of the Amazon in an effective way.

In his opening monologue, Rushkoff explains how the left and the right have both untethered themselves from reality in different ways. He shows us how our cybernetic feedback loops have disoriented our sensibilities, and the role that Operation Mindfuck played in our current moment.


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Illustrations: Matty Huynh

Technology gave us the dream of a cocooned future. Now we’re living it.

Editor’s note: This piece is a spiritual successor to “Survival of the Richest,” a report about how the wealthy plot to leave us behind after an apocalyptic event.


Many of us don’t like who we have become in this pandemic but feel little freedom to choose otherwise. …


The ultra-wealthy are so worried about an uprising that they feel they must continue to build up cash

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Image: Jesper Klausen/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Some of the more farsighted tech billionaires are already investing in plan B. Instead of undoing the damage, reforming their companies, or restoring the social compact, they’re busy preparing for the apocalypse.

The CEO of a typical company in 1960 made about 20 times as much as its average worker. Today, CEOs make 271 times the salary of the average worker. …


Corporations are more able than ever to extract what little value people have left

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Image: Kanok Sulaiman/Getty Images

Instead of bringing widespread prosperity, the digital economy has amplified the most extractive aspects of traditional capitalism. Connectivity may be the key to participation, but it also gives corporations more license and capacity to extract what little value people have left. Instead of retrieving the peer-to-peer marketplace, the digital economy exacerbates the division of wealth and paralyzes the social instincts for mutual aid that usually mitigate its effects.

Digital platforms amplify the power law dynamics that determine winners and losers. While digital music platforms make space for many more performers to sell their music, their architecture and recommendation engines end up promoting many fewer artists than a diverse ecosystem of record stores or FM radio did. …


On why the United States’ outdated operating system calls for a radical change to a more equitable and humane landscape

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Playing for Team Human, complexity theorist, host of the Jim Rutt Podcast series, and founder of the Santa Fe Institute, Jim Rutt.

Jim will be sharing his idea for a new civilization-era operating system. Why does the the United States’ outdated operating system call for a radical change to a more equitable and humane landscape? “If the glue that holds Game A together is competition for status through material possessions and positional goods. The status around GameB will be conviviality.” Rutt says.

In his opening monologue, Rushkoff questions whether covid-19 is leading people to embrace and insulate within digital technology, or if it has become the excuse.

Read more about Jim Rutt’s GameB on Medium:
https://medium.com/@memetic007/a-journey-to-gameb-4fb13772bcf3

You can subscribe to the Jim Rutt show here:
https://www.jimruttshow.com/


Digital monopolies end up destroying the marketplaces they depend on

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Photo: alengo/Getty Images

Growth was easy when there were new territories to conquer, resources to take, and people to exploit. Once those people and places started to push back, digital technology came to the rescue, providing virtual territory for capital’s expansion. Unfortunately, while the internet can scale almost infinitely, the human time and attention that create the real value are limited.

Digital companies work the same way as their extractive forebears. When a big box store moves to a new neighborhood, it undercuts local businesses and eventually becomes the sole retailer and employer in the region. With its local monopoly, it can then raise prices while lowering wages, reduce labor to part-time status, and externalize the costs of health care and food stamps to the government. …


Our economy has become so abstract that real people can’t afford houses because wealth funds use them as investments

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Photo: Caspar Benson/Getty Images

If central currency can be thought of as the operating system of our economy, corporations are the software that runs on top of it. They are the true natives of capitalism, which is why they are so much more at home in this environment than we humans. In perhaps the most spectacular reversal of figure and ground we’ve yet witnessed, corporations have been winning court cases that give them the rights of human beings — from personhood and property to free speech and religious convictions — while human beings now strive to brand themselves in the style of corporations. …


On challenging the very systems that drive human behavior and thought

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Playing for Team Human today, filmmaker, writer, educator, and systems thinker, Nora Bateson.

Bateson and Rushkoff interrogate our moment of global crisis to challenge the very systems that drive human behavior and thought. How do changemaker’s end up falling trap to the solutions they seek to create? Further, they explore why quantifying humans as part of a system reduces people to abstract figures rather than the complex beings they truly are. “There’s something about this possibility of recognizing living complexity in ourselves and each other that becomes this untold possibility,” Bateson says.

In his opening monologue, Rushkoff discusses why Team Human’s greatest strength is not in a specific physical space, but in the form of deeply honest, human engagement. …


People and businesses can transact in ways that make everyone more prosperous, but capitalism concentrates wealth

Close up of George Washington’s mouth on the US dollar bill.
Close up of George Washington’s mouth on the US dollar bill.
Image: David Aubrey/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Technology is not driving itself. It doesn’t want anything. Rather, there is a market expressing itself through technology — an operating system beneath our various computer interfaces and platforms that is often unrecognized by the developers themselves. This operating system is called capitalism, and it drives the antihuman agenda in our society at least as much as any technology.

Commerce is not the problem. People and businesses can transact in ways that make everyone more prosperous. …


Your value is not about utility

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Photo: Artur Debat/Getty Images

Self-improvement of the transhumanist sort requires that we adopt an entirely functional understanding of who and what we are: All of our abilities can be improved upon and all of our parts are replaceable. Upgradable.

The quirks that make us human are interpreted, instead, as faults that impede our productivity and progress. Embracing those flaws, as humanists tend to do, is judged by the transhumanists as a form of nostalgia, and a dangerously romantic misinterpretation of our savage past as a purer state of being. Nature and biology are not mysteries to embrace but limits to transcend. …


On what it’s like to live inside the reality television show that we’re all living in today

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Playing for Team Human today, musician, producer, and inventor of the music video, Michael Nesmith.

Nesmith will be sharing his insights about what it was like to live inside the reality television show that we’re all living in today. Nesmith discusses his self-awareness of existing in a television environment, the influence the Monkees’ music had on the Beatles, and the psychic effects the show had on a generation of technology and psychedelic icons.

In his opening monologue, Rushkoff explores the logics behind those who believe Covid-19 will one day disappear. “We need to see the virus as a scientific, biological, and an informational challenge.” Rushkoff says.

Michael Nesmith’s autobiography, Life After Television, is available now from Penguin Random House: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/538474/infinite-tuesday-by-michael-nesmith/


Instead of avoiding the cycles of life, we can embrace them for all they offer

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Image: John Lamb/Getty Images

The highest ideal in an unrestrained digital environment is to transcend one’s humanity altogether. It’s a straightforward logic: If humanity is a purely mechanistic affair, explicable entirely in the language of data processing, then what’s the difference whether human beings or computers are doing that processing?

Transhumanists hope to transcend—or at least improve upon—biological existence. Some want to use technology to live forever, others to perform better, and others to exit the body and find a better home for consciousness. …


When we autotune reality to digital perfection, what matters about human beings gets lost

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Photo: Patricia Marroquin/Getty Images

It’s hard for human beings to oppose the dominance of digital technology when we are becoming so highly digital ourselves. Whether by fetish or mere habit, we begin acting in ways that accommodate or imitate our machines, remaking our world and, eventually, ourselves in their image.

For instance, the manufacturers of autonomous vehicles are encouraging cities to make their streets and signals more compatible with the navigation and sensor systems of the robotic cars, changing our environment to accommodate the needs of the robots with which we will be sharing the streets, sidewalks, and, presumably, air space. This isn’t so bad in itself, but if history is any guide, remaking the physical world to accommodate a new technology — such as the automobile — favors the companies selling the technologies more than the people living alongside them. …


On neoliberalism and how we can reclaim democracy from the market

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Playing for Team Human today, author of “Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy,” and Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project, Matt Stoller.

Stoller disinters the ground of neoliberalism and looks at how we can reclaim democracy from the market. …


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Illustration: Darrell T. Watson Jr.

Black communities have for centuries harbored a spirit of support and mutual aid. It’s time the rest of the country followed their lead.

There is no level of reparation that could ever make up for the devastating impact of white cruelty on African Americans. …


If we’re going to promote connection, we’ll have to recognize the biases of the digital media environment

A red powder explosion against a blue background
A red powder explosion against a blue background
Photo: Artur Debat/Getty Images

Digital media pushes us apart, but it also seems to push us backward. Something about this landscape has encouraged the regressive sentiments of the populist, nationalist, and nativist movements characterizing our time. …


On how people can bring elements of their psychedelic experiences into their everyday lives

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Playing for Team Human today, psychiatrist and author of “Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics,” Julie Holland, M.D.

Holland explores how people can bring elements of their psychedelic experiences into their everyday lives. She looks at the role compassion plays in the psychedelic experience and how developmental disorders can be aided by these experiences. Further, Rushkoff and Holland look at ways that humans have been polarized into their own personalized silos, and the importance of lifting people out of isolation so they can be more empathetic and better learn about one another.

In his monologue, Rushkoff discusses how Twitter’s modus operandi of rigid binaries attempts to simplify a world that can’t be deduced beyond its lived experience.


How different media environments create different societies

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Image: xavierarnau/Getty Images

All media environments have better and worse things about them. Television helped us think of the planet as one big organism, but also promoted consumerism and neoliberalism. The internet helps decentralize power and thought leadership, but also atomizes and isolates us from one another. Neither environment is necessarily better, but each new one requires a different response.

The hardest part of learning to respond to a new medium is being able to see its effects in their own right, rather than through the lens of the prior era. When the internet emerged, most of us were living under the influence of the television media environment. The TV era was about globalism, international cooperation, and the open society. Television let people see for the first time what was happening in other places, often broadcast live, just as it happened. The whole world witnessed the same wars, floods, and revolutions together, in real time. …

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