Likening the internet transformation to the intellectual and technological ferment of the Enlightment, Rushkoff suggests we have a remarkable opportunity to re-integrate our new perspective with the work we actually do. Instead of running around trying to "think out of the box," Rushkoff demonstrates, now is the time to "get back in the box" and improve the way we do our jobs, run our operations and drive innovation from the ground up.
Combining stories gleaned from his consulting with a thrilling tour of history's dramatic moments and clever readings of cultural shift we've just experienced, Rushkoff offers a compelling vision of the simple and effective ways businesses can re-invigorate themselves.
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Get Back in the BoxInnovation from the Inside Out
By Douglas Rushkoff
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Douglas Rushkoff
All right reserved.
The Nature of Technology
Yes, the Internet changed the world; but no, not in the way most people think.
Truth is, most people -- especially people in business -- still don't get the Internet. They tend to think of all our computers and networks as an extension of the industrialization and automation of the workplace and market, when they are actually the very opposite. They restore new life and unpredictability to pretty much anything they touch. That's because these technologies are not so important for any particular thing they can do, but for how they change our perspective on everything else.
To orient to the new interactive landscape of culture, commerce, and even consciousness, you don't have to understand how any single piece of technology works. But you do have to understand how the proliferation of all this stuff has worked to change the way people relate to everything from television and brands to business and, most of all, one another. The Internet is not a technological or even a media phenomenon: it is a social phenomenon. And in this sense, interactivity has changed everything.
Part of the reason why this is so hard to get is that most of us still think of technology and media less as ways of empowering people than as a way of controlling them. We invented technology, after all, as a way of defeating the rhythms of nature. Fire allows us to live in regions where the seasons would otherwise prevent us. Electric lights permit us to defeat the darkness of sundown. Airplanes let us cross 10 time zones in as many hours. We have alcohol and Ambien to defeat our natural sleep cycle, stimulants from caffeine to amphetamines to enforce our waking hours, and Prozac to adjust our emotional cycle to a life spent so disconnected from the circadian rhythm.
Of course, just as the use of drugs has diminishing returns, so does the use of technology to still the ebb and flow of nature. Unintended consequences, like side effects, tend to reinforce one another until we end up with a new set of circumstances as daunting as the one we were trying to control in the first place. But we hang on as long as we believe in the plan, and that there's an end to suffering in sight.
As long as each new technology we develop can serve to increase centralized authority over the unruly periphery, this can go on forever. The tremendous foundries required to produce metal canons, for example, kept the weapons of warfare in the hands of nation states. The complex and expensive presses required to print money, it is hoped, prevent anyone other than a central bank from issuing currency.
But somewhere along the way, many of the best new technologies found their way from the center to the edges. That's when the disconnected world of Ford and Sloan and the managed population changed into the connected world of Jobs and Gates and the new interactive culture they helped to spawn.
Industrial Old Age
Even if we wanted to avoid the new renaissance, we wouldn't stand a chance. For the big news is that we really have arrived at the end of the Industrial Age. It's just over. No matter what set of metrics we use to measure them, mass production, mass media, and mass marketing are all in decline. This is because the basic premise of the Industrial Age -- that technology can or even should be used to reduce complexity and repress natural, emergent patterns -- is obsolete.
Of course, we only developed such notions about technology because -- for a long time, anyway -- they worked. Well. The Industrial Age was made possible, first and foremost, by the ability to find and exploit new forms of energy and technology, usually just in the nick of time. Empires are subject to the law of diminishing returns, and can continue to expand only until the people or places they hope to dominate become too expensive to control. The Roman Empire, like that of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and even the Mayans, collapsed because the return on investment for foreign conquests declined, and the amount of effort required to keep their populations in line wasn't worth the price.1 What made industrial society different -- at least for a while -- was our ability to find new energy sources when we needed them.
In fact, energy tells the story of the rise and impending fall of the industrial model. Before anyone knew to drill for fossil fuels, people burned wood for heat. In the process, they depleted many of the world's old-growth forests by as early as the thirteenth century. That's when Europeans turned to coal. Ironically, perhaps, it was the tremendous energy required to suck water out of mineshafts that inspired inventors like Thomas Savery and Samuel Newcomen to develop the steam engine.
Initially, however, they saw no role for this contraption in agriculture or industry, where the human body was still the primary energy source. Animals were occasionally used as beasts of burden, but they actually required more food than their human counterparts, as well as more direction. That's why, sadly, slave energy was exploited to build most of Egypt, Rome, and the early American empires: slaves were the most efficient form of energy available. Colonialism was, at its heart, a way of securing more of these human energy resources, even if it meant exploiting them from afar.
When slavery became untenable in the 1800s to Western society, it probably felt something like an energy crisis; its repercussions even led to the Civil War. A reconfigured steam engine rose to this new occasion, accomplishing with coal what used to be done with indentured muscle, and what we now call the Industrial Revolution began.2 Coal allowed for the mechanized factory, the locomotive, and, perhaps most importantly, the steamships. With coal-powered boats, newly industrialized Western nations -- predominantly England -- were capable of distributing their manufactured goods to their colonies, as well as enforcing military superiority and the trade policies that go along . . .
Excerpted from Get Back in the Box by Douglas Rushkoff Copyright © 2005 by Douglas Rushkoff. Excerpted by permission.
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