Are you reading this on a smartphone or tablet? Even if you’re not, you’ve probably got a mobile device within reach. Congratulations. You’ve got at least one foot in a brave new world, says author and documentarian Douglas Rushkoff.
His most recent book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, explains our cultural transition to “presentism,” a post-clock society enabled by the flexibility and reach of the Internet and those ubiquitous ways to stay connected to it. In a presentist world, we’ll work less but more efficiently and be free from the need for constant economic expansion.
Rushkoff told DISCOVER Associate Editor Gemma Tarlach the future is bright for those of us willing to live in the present.
Discover: Are some people confusing the idea of “presentism,” of living in the present, with tweeting and texting and constantly updating Facebook?
Rushkoff: The faux now of Twitter updates and things pinging at you — all the pulses from digitality that we try to keep up with because we sense that there’s something going on that we need to tap into — are artifacts, or symptoms of living in this atemporal reality. And it’s not any worse than living in the “time is money” reality that we’re leaving.
D: What do you have against clocks?
DR: Time has always been used against us on a certain level. The invention of the clock made us accountable to the employer, gave us a standard measure and stopwatch management, and it also led to the requirement of interest-bearing currency to grow over time, the requirement of the expansion of our economy. That’s not really consonant with a sustainable civilization.
D: In an ideal world, how exactly would this new, post-clock era work?
DR: First and foremost it would unshackle us from this very time-based money that we’re using. Working less, making less, producing less. The mandate for efficiency of the industrial age is not to produce things more efficiently, but to produce more things over time. We’ve had to keep looking to increase.
Now, for example, the more people transact directly over things like Etsy, the worse it is for the macroeconomy. The industrial age was not about craftspeople trading peer to peer. It was about stopping that. You weren’t supposed to be a craftsperson, you were supposed to be an employee.
Take retirement: You hoard money now in order not to work when you’re older because you’re on your own. I don’t know of any other form of life that gathers up all the food it needs in the first two-thirds of its life in order to do nothing in its last third of life. In a utopian presentist society, instead of working extra hard to put money in the bank, you’d be working to provide value for the people around you. As you got old, those people would naturally want to take care of you.
D: That sounds a bit idealistic. Don’t you think people freed from the constraints of a clock-based economy and society are more likely to go a little Mad Max, especially if they have to buy their clothes on Etsy?
DR: I do believe humans can rise to the occasion. I think human beings are not necessarily ruthless. They can be. Look at those cultures that push old people off cliffs instead of caring for them. That might be the true presentist society. I guess I’ll find out.