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TitleRushkoff_ Douglas - Program or Be Programmed. Ten Commands for a Digital Age
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Page 2

PROGRAM
OR BE
PROGRAMMED
Ten Commands for a Digital Age

Page 75

74 DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF

to printing, the single author can reach everyone�even

though neither he nor the ink from his pen come into contact

with them.

Finally, the digital age brings us hypertext�the ability

for any piece of writing to be disconnected not just from its

author but from its original context. Each link we encounter

allows us to exit from a document at any point and, more

importantly, o� ers us access to the bits and pieces of anyone�s

text that might ma� er at that moment. In a universe of words

where the laws of hypertext are truly in e� ect, anything

can link to anything else. Or, in other words, everything is

everything�the ultimate abstraction.

Of course this can be beautiful and even inspiring.

The entirety of human thought becomes a hologram, where

any piece might re� ect on any other, or even recapitulate

its entirety. From a Taoist perspective, perhaps this is true.

But from a practical and experiential perspective, we are not

talking about the real world being so very connected and

self-referential, but a world of symbols about symbols. Our

mediating technologies do connect us, but on increasingly

abstracted levels.

Walter Benjamin, a German philosopher of the early

twentieth century, wrote a seminal essay about the way

photography and other reproduction technologies change our

relationship to art. His observation was that the preponderance

of photographs of a work of art in a mass-produced book have

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75 PROGRAM OR BE PROGRAMMED

a strange e� ect on the original: While they are themselves

u� erly divorced from the context in which the original

artwork exists, they actually make the original work more

sacred. The original painting, hanging in the very cathedral for

which it was painted perhaps, has what Benjamin called an

�aura,� which is at least partly dependent on its context and

location. A tourist, having seen its image again and again in

books, might travel thousands of miles to encounter the real

painting in its home se� ing and soak in the aura with which it

is imbued.

On the other hand, the reproduction is a rather profane

imitation, existing in the more abstract and commercial

world of mass-produced goods and mass culture. It�s not

that Benjamin despises popular culture�it�s that he sees real

art and artifacts being absorbed by a bigger spectacle, and

audiences losing the ability and desire to tell the di� erence

between that spectacle and real world.

Strangely enough, as we migrate from his world of mass-

produced objects to the realm of even more highly abstracted

digital facsimiles, we nostalgically collect the artifacts of

midcentury mass production as if they were works of art. Each

Philco radio, Heywood Wake� eld dresser, or Chambers stove is

treasured as if it were an original. We can only wonder if cloud

computing may make us nostalgic one day for having a real

�� le� on the hard drive of one�s own computer�or if silicon

brain implants may make us wax poetic for the days when

Page 149

148 DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF

the beginner. htt p://msdn.microsoft .com/en-us/vbasic/

ms789097.aspx.

LOGOS —For educators interested in a very easy programming
language to teach elementary school children, visit

htt p://www.terrapinlogo.com for a system to purchase or

htt p://www.soft ronix.com/logo.html for free resources.

For more up-to-date information, see

htt p://rushkoff .com/program.

Page 150

149 PROGRAM OR BE PROGRAMMED

Winner of the fi rst Neil Postman award for Career

Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff

has writt en a dozen best-selling books on media and society,

including Cyberia, Media Virus, Coercion (winner of the
Marshall McLuhan Award), Get Back in the Box, and Life Inc. He
has made the PBS “Frontline” documentaries Digital Nation,
The Persuaders, and Merchants of Cool.

A columnist for The Daily Beast and Arthur Magazine,
his articles have been regularly published in The New York
Times and Discover, among many other publications. His radio
commentaries air on NPR and WFMU, his opeds appear in the

New York Times, and he is a familiar face on television, from
ABC News to The Colbert Report.

Rushkoff has taught at New York University and the New

School, played keyboards for the industrial band PsychicTV,

directed for theater and fi lm, and worked as a stage fi ght

choreographer. He lives in New York State with his wife,

Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

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