More Choice or Less?

Nice new review and interview up at 800-CEO-Reads, about Program or Be Programmed and the phenomenon of increased choice.

Douglas Rushkoff follows his full size, largely distributed Life, Inc. with an indie distributed, smaller book called Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. The biggest difference though, is not the size or distribution — but that it may be his most powerful writing yet.

As technology increases, so does our willingness to be involved in it. I, for one, will never forget the first time my cell phone rang in public. This was the mid to late 90s. My wife began working at a new company selling large wireless phones. The company promised they would be “the next big thing.” But as an early adopter, when that phone rang and people realized what I had, it was more embarrassing than popular. Now, nearly everyone has one. How has this technology, for instance, changed how we think and work? From there, what about the internet and computers? What about media? Are we controlling the choices we make, or are we swept along with things?

These kinds of questions are the starting points of Rushkoff’s book. And his thoughts on these questions are profound, analyzing the situation via both current sociological insight, and ancient principles. It’s an important read.

Use this brief Q&A we exchanged today as reference, and be sure to pick up the book.

The attraction to technology is largely based on how we perceive it makes our lives easier. What do you see as the fundamental issue with that perception?

Technology creates more choice. Sometimes this is great, but sometimes it’s unnecessary or forced. Call-waiting is great, sure. But it forces a person to make a choice between the conversation he is having and
the possibility of the other one he *could* be having. That’s great for medical emergencies, I suppose. But it puts the current conversation into a less fixed space, always under potential threat.

And all this increased choice would be fine if we were really allowed to choose. Can we choose not to answer emails from the boss or a client after office hours? Sometimes not. So life gets more complex, and often less fun. It’s definitely great for everyone else to be tied to these technologies. Everyone except ourselves.

The real attraction to these technologies, I feel, is the social possibility. We hardly experience it anymore, but there is still a great social potential with these tools.