The False Dichotomy

Douglas Rushkoff is a brilliant thinker, writer and media theorist. He is the author of Life Inc, Get Back in The Box, Playing The Future, Cyberia and Media Virus, among others. His latest book, however, is centered around an either-or fallacy, and while it contains good points throughout, Program or Be Programmed falls short of a great read.

In the introduction Rushkoff writes, “…we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them…you will either create the software or you will be the software…” While knowing how to program is an incredibly valuable skill, I don’t believe it’s up there with reading and writing. We must be a computer literate society, and those of us in the computer and internet space should be able to communicate clearly with programmers and those writing code, we don’t all need to be fluent in HTML. Rushkoff does an admirable job of raising awareness about the importance of programming, yet presents a false choice that makes for an attention-grabbing title yet a slightly extreme thesis.

The bulk of the book is an explanation of Rushkoff’s “Ten Commands for a Digital Age.” Most of the commands are interesting and can in fact serve as, in Rushkoff’s words, a “poetics” of digital media. He writes, “…ten simple commands that can help us forge a path through the digital realm. Each one of the commands are based on one of the tendencies or “biases” of digital media, and suggests how to balance that bias with the needs of real people living and working in both physical and virtual spaces – sometimes at the very same time.” The Ten are as follows: 1. Time: Do not be always on, 2. Place: Live in person, 3. Choice: You may always choose none of the above, 4. Complexity: You are never completely right, 5. Scale: One size does not fit all, 6. Identity: Be yourself, 7. Social: Do not sell your friends, 8. Fact: Tell the truth, 9. Openness: Share, don’t steal, 10: Purpose: Program or be Programmed.

I agree with principles 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9, somewhat agree with principles 3, 4, 5 and disagree with his final and most central point, number 10. Overall, Rushkoff does a fine job of presenting his views and uses history, politics, psychology, sociology, and economics to tell an interesting story about the unfolding of digital technology and how we may best move in this new and evolving space. I’d recommend the read, despite its title and tenth command (which in fact seems to contradict his third principle, discouraging such digital choices). While not terrific, I think it is a good book.

Here is a link to Rushkoff’s site. Be sure to check it out.



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