Get Back in the Box
April 22, 2005 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Get Back in the Box says Douglas Rushkoff in his upcoming book of the same name. Kris Krug interviewed Rushkoff last week just after he wrapped up writing. Apparently the author is going to explore how we're undergoing a renaissance of collaboration where identity is defined by connection to others. Douglas seems to be pulling together a lot of ideas that have been bubbling up in the blogosphere (a connected creative/technology class, social networks) but is business ready to hear his message? Sounds like he'll be well received by many webby people, but it remains to be seen how long the traditional definitions he challenges will remain - one generation, two maybe?

You may remember Rushkoff from the PBS Frontline series' Merchants of Cool and Persuaders. He's been discussed quite a bit before here on MeFi, 9 times in fact.
posted by will (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...where identity is defined by connection to others.

Yeah, it's called "tribalism" and it's quite a mixed bag.
posted by Slothrup at 3:27 PM on April 22, 2005

Wasn't nine times enough?
posted by nj_subgenius at 3:41 PM on April 22, 2005

I liked Rushkoff back in the "Idea Virus" days, but as he's grown in popularity, he seems to be less essential as of late. (Even "Idea Virus" itself seems to have been supplanted by Gladwell's "Tipping Point.")
posted by ph00dz at 3:43 PM on April 22, 2005

Could we, instead of looking at how cool he is or not, judge him based on his ideas?

The "coolest" ideas, I find, are usually the ones people want or need to believe, and as such are very often not very tightly connected with underlying realities. Put another way: Cool is what we want to be. Occasionally, you can talk about what we are in ways that make it resonate with what we want to be, but if you're committed to the former, eventually you're going to start saying stuff that gets flagged as "not cool."
posted by lodurr at 4:32 PM on April 22, 2005

Rushkoff, soon to be found in used bookstores next to The Greening Of America. He may be more interesting then because distance will give us some perspective on all the ephemeral techno-hubris/paranoia of our era.
posted by jonmc at 4:58 PM on April 22, 2005

Any particular reason why you think that, jonmc?
posted by lodurr at 5:35 PM on April 22, 2005

Well, books written during some social "revolution" or upheaval, whether it's the hippie years or the Internet boom tend to packed with hubris and/or paranoia that years later seems ridiculous or at least overstated. But the ephemera of an era is usually better than it's lasting, timeless works for capturing the mood of a time.
posted by jonmc at 5:45 PM on April 22, 2005

So what aspects of this work do you think smack particularly of hubris or paranoia? And do they differ in kind or quantity from the hubris of, say, the Cluetrain Manifesto?
posted by lodurr at 5:58 PM on April 22, 2005

lodurr, it's friday night and I'm a little bit drunk, and I have to go to a seder and my inlaws tommorrow so I'm not about to go on a fishing expedition through my copy of Coercion, but let me put it to you this way: as a bookstore clerk during the internet boom and then a PC salesman, I saw plenty of books proclaiming that "the internet will save the universe/end civilization" and from today's vantage point they all seem a mite silly, although they'll be great ways to show my grandkids what that time was like.
posted by jonmc at 6:10 PM on April 22, 2005

Alright, alright, it's Friday; I'm not drunk, but I sympathize and yes, I too was in The Industry during the dotcom/techboom. (Hell, I worked for ZD when they went public. Talk about irrational expectations!) The Cluetrain is my own particular hot button, but the Kevin Kelly's "Long Boom" is right up there.

The reason I push it is that I've always thought that Rushkoff was relatively conservative, and suspected that's what made people react coolly to him.
posted by lodurr at 6:15 PM on April 22, 2005

He wrote the book for business people I think his use of "Renaissance" is more rhetorical than visionary. The book looks like a generation bridge for those less clued in, than a great new vision/manifesto. He's good at explaining how things work and the state of the art in an industry to those without much experience or background.
posted by stbalbach at 8:40 PM on April 22, 2005

use of the non-word 'blogosphere' should be cause for immediate bannination. as it is, we just have to settle for a bit of merciless ridicule.
posted by quonsar at 11:21 PM on April 22, 2005

... cause for immediate bannination ...

What about use of the non-word 'bannination'?

Come on, people: Can we find something specific that's wanting in his ideas? Or is the best we've got a bunch of content-free put-downs?
posted by lodurr at 3:19 AM on April 23, 2005

Well, the early comment about 'tribalism' is a good start. Is this just McLuhan's new tribalism? I don't think so.

In my work, I've been attempting to describe something much more complex than tribalism. Think back to Walter Ong's work, for example. Pre-literate cultures (oral cultures) existed in tribes. Identity was a group thing, for sure. Then we got literate cultures, and with them the beginnings of abstract thinking. Now, the "listener" no longer needed to be in the same space as the "speaker," and a long march towards fragmentation (Ong would say alienation) began.

The original Renaissance, with its printing press, did great things like spread literacy even further - but it also invented (or revived) the notion of the individual. The Renaissance Man. This led to the Enlightenment's celebration of the individual and his agency, as a participant in the democratic process. And most of us in America (well, 48 percent) are still Enlightenment proponents, ourselves.

The problem (one of them, anyway) is that Enlightenment idealism about the agency of the individual have gotten a bit mixed up in our current identities as consumers. This is the way most of us express our individuality which, itself, is something of an illusion, anyway. Even the enlightenment's notion of individuality had more to do with the right to interpret or to choose, rather than to author new models.

The trick - and it's a big trick, mind you - would be to be able to engage with genuine collectivism from a position of awareness rather than our former, tribal naivete. There's a big difference between the twelve person tribe and a several thousand or million-person fractal.

The whole point of bringing Renaissance back into this discussion is not to play optimist or techno-utopian at all, but rather to highlight the way that our increased ability to contend with dimension might allow us to conceive of new kinds of groupings with more complex hierarchical structures than tribes, traditional nation-states, or corporations.

And I think among the many keys to getting there is helping dissemble some of our assumptions about progress, business, transactions, and even currency. Learning to see them as social constructions (which they are) and as potentially open source, participatory activities.

This is more than tribalism or even neo-tribalism, but mutual groping towards hypercomplexity, enabled as much by a restoration of intuition and core competencies than by any postulating by a cultural theorist like me.

So that's why I wrote a book (or am writing a book) that's attempting to encourage a more integrative approach to work and business.
posted by rushkoff at 7:12 AM on April 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

posted by rushkoff at 7:12 AM PST on April 23

Now that's what I like to see.

The problem (one of them, anyway) is that Enlightenment idealism about the agency of the individual have gotten a bit mixed up in our current identities as consumers

That's putting it mildly. I'd put it a little more central to the whirling centre of it, I think. The seed that becomes the tree that grows the branch that we cut and whittle to a sharp point, and then thrust through the undead heart of things.

Sometimes you've gotta destroy the village tribe to save it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:34 AM on April 23, 2005

And I think among the many keys to getting there is helping dissemble some of our assumptions about progress, business, transactions, and even currency. Learning to see them as social constructions (which they are) and as potentially open source, participatory activities.

While I agree with you about the social construction of these assumptions, I think there's a big hurdle to overcome before the activities they represent can be "open-sourced." This relates, also, to my main objections to the Cluetrain, also. Basically, it seems clear to me that smartly-managed economies of scale will tend to trump smart aggregations of individuals.

Which is to say that a large and well-managed company will be able to fool most of the people most of the time, and that's more than good enough.

I get that you're looking for something more complex than what we've got now; but the advantages of that will accrue not only to the new "collectives" (an unfortunate term, BTW, I think), but to the old collectives -- i.e., corporations and nation-states. In some cases, the new entities will be more nimble and will survive; but I would imagine that the few that did would end up looking more like corporations at the end of the day.

One could argue that, as modern corporations emerged from the Rennaissance, so we should expect new entitites to emerge from this new "rennaissance". But that's the fallacy of repeating history; we say that history repeats because we need to find a narrative in it, but it's really different every time around.

To (what i think is) stavros's point, the old village relies on a profound mystification of individual agency; what you seem to me to be looking for is a de-mystification (or maybe a re-mystification in a different mode), and i guess my point is that there are a great many powerful interests that would oppose that, and a lot of fear of anything new -- you're suggesting a real upheaval. I don't see anything in recent or near-modern history that tells me that's likely.
posted by lodurr at 1:10 PM on April 23, 2005

Right. Which is why, I suppose, the question becomes whether corporations incorporating some collaborative themes and processes is better than them incorporating none at all.

I don't mean this facetiously, either. Do we teach the people in corporations how to allow for more feedback, or does that merely give them more ability to "fake" it?

I certainly agree that an open source model or some bottom-up collaborative ethos won't just take over corporate America. But I'm also hoping for the people within corporations to remember that the entities they think they're working for are just sets of rules on paper, and capable of being changed.

I hadn't thought of comparing this effort to Cluetrain (they seem so cool and cynical to me) but maybe that was just my 'leftie' reading of what appeared to be just another way to make hay on corporate confusion.

Still, what I'm looking at - the downside of outsourcing, the limitations of Fordism, the alienation implicit in hyper-efficiency and industrial age processes - this is covered to some extent in their manifesto.

Interestingly (at least to me) I first considered making this more of a spiritual/self-help sort of book. More like Po Bronson's "What am I doing with my life?" than a book directed to businesspeople and entrepreneurs. But I started to feel like people working in business may offer a better leverage point.
posted by rushkoff at 4:59 AM on April 24, 2005

What about the 50% + of American non-governmental workers who are employed by small businesses? This segment is growing -- 75% of the net new jobs added to the economy are in small business.
posted by Cassford at 7:59 AM on April 25, 2005

What about them, indeed. This redistribution of participation from giant corps to smaller entities should make for more interesting partnerships and clusters.

Moreover, it makes workers more aware of their participation in the whole, I'd say, than if they were just on a giant assembly line at Ford. In a smaller business, everyone is more likely to have some interaction with the people in charge, more of a sense of what the purpose of the organization might be, and more opportunity for direct feedback.

If anything, that's why a discussion about the role of business in our affairs might be more relevant now than, say, thirty years ago.
posted by rushkoff at 1:05 PM on April 26, 2005

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