Present Shock

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

* Book: PRESENT SHOCK: When Everything Happens Now. By Douglas Rushkoff. Penguin, 2013.



Publishers Weekly:

"“Whether or not readers are familiar with the concept of presentism—the theory that society is more focused on the immediacy of the moment in front of them (actually more specifically on the moment that just passed) than the moment before or, perhaps more importantly, the future—they’ve certainly felt the increasing pressure of keeping up with various methods of communication, be it texting, Web surfing, live interactions, or a litany of other media for staying “connected.” Using Alvin Toffler’s concept of “future shock” as a jumping-off point, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff (Cyberia; Get Back in the Box; Media Virus; etc.) deftly weaves in a number of disparate concepts (the Home Shopping Network, zombies, Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, Internet mashups, hipsters’ approximation of historical ephemera as irony, etc.) to examine the challenge of keeping up with technological advances as well as their ensuing impact on culture and human relations in a world that’s always “on.” By highlighting five areas (the rise of moronic reality TV; our need to be omnipresent; the need to compress time in order to achieve our goals; the compulsion to connect unrelated concepts in an effort to make better sense of them; and a gnawing sense of one’s obsolescence), Rushkoff gives readers a healthy dose of perspective, insight, and critical analysis that’s sure to get minds spinning and tongues wagging.”


"It’s not that everyone is supposed to be doing things faster, so much as in the present tense. No more hard drive, everything in RAM. It’s like living on an Atkins diet, with no starch or carbs to hold you. It’s all right now. The first casualty of presentism, and the easiest to see in our culture, is the collapse of narrative. Without time, without any history, how do you tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end? What happens to the typical TV show? A kid with a remote control can skip to another channel a whole lot easier than sitting through your exposition or, worse, your commercial. Musicians don’t release albums so much as iTunes singles. University curriculums are consumed a la carte by online students. People can no longer be motivated with goals or rewards, because the notion of a journey is itself anathema to a world where everything is supposed to be happening in the present." (

Douglas Ruskoff:

“The book is divided into five sections, corresponding to the fi ve main ways that present shock manifests for us. We begin with the collapse of narrative. How do we tell stories and convey values without the time required to tell a linear story? How does pop culture continue to function without traditional storylines, and how does politics communicate without grand narratives? We move on to “Digiphrenia”—the way our media and technologies encourage us to be in more than one place at the same time. We’ll see that our relationship to time has always been defi ned by the technologies we use to measure it, and that digital time presents particular challenges we haven’t had to contend with before. In “Overwinding,” we look at the effort to squish really big timescales into much smaller ones. It’s the effort to make the passing moment responsible for the sorts of effects that actually take real time to occur. In particular, what does this do to business and fi nance, which are relying on increasingly derivative forms of investment? Next we look at what happens when we try to make sense of our world entirely in the present tense. Without a timeline through which to parse causes and effects, we instead attempt to draw connections from one thing to another in the frozen moment, even when such connections are forced or imaginary. It’s a desperate grasp for real- time pattern recognition I’ll call “Fractalnoia.” Finally, we face “Apocalypto”—the way a seemingly infi nite present makes us long for endings, by almost any means necessary.

We will encounter drone pilots contending with the stress of dropping bombs on a distant war zone by remote control before driving home to the suburbs for supper an hour later. We will see the way the physical real estate of Manhattan is being optimized for the functioning of the ultrafast trading algorithms now running the stock market— as well as what this means for the human traders left in the wake. We will encounter doomsday “preppers” who stock up on silver coins and ready-to-eat meals while dismissing climate change as a conspiracy theory hatched by Al Gore and since exposed in an email scandal. 3 We will consider the “singularity”—as well as our scientifi c community’s response to present shock— especially for the ways it mirrors the religious extremism accompanying other great social shifts throughout history.

Most important, we will consider what we human beings can do to pace ourselves and our expectations when there’s no temporal backdrop against which to measure our progress, no narrative through which to make sense of our actions, no future toward which we may strive, and seemingly no time to fi gure any of this out.

I suggest we intervene on our own behalf— and that we do it right now, in the present moment. When things begin accelerating wildly out of control, sometimes patience is the only answer. Press pause.

We have time for this."


Via Planet Reboot:

"Douglas Rushkoff identifies the five symptoms we’re struggling with:

- Narrative collapse - the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.

- Digiphrenia – how technology lets us be in more than one place – and self - at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds - home and battlefield - simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.

- Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event – which only results in a fatal stampede; or – like the Real Housewives - freezing one’s age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can “springload” time into things, like the “pop-up” hospital Israel sent to Tsunami-wrecked Japan.

- Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things – sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no “grand narrative.” But also the emerging skill of “pattern recognition” and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain – a grandchild of McLuhan’s “global village”.

- Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. “Preppers” stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists – even outspoken atheists - prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of “the singularity” and “emergence”, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information." ([1])


Janet Maslin:

""Present Shock" is one of those invaluable books that make sense of what we already half-know. Playing on the title of Alvin Toffler's influential 1970 "Future Shock,"which sounded an alarm about what Mr. Toffler called "a personal perception of too much change in too short a period of time," Douglas Rushkoff analyzes a very different phenomenon. The future arrived a little while ago, he posits - maybe with Y2K, maybe with Sept. 11. Now it's here. And we are stuck with "a diminishment of everything that isn't happening right now - and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is." Mr. Toffler warned that we would be unready for this onslaught. Mr. Rushkoff is more analytical than alarmist. He divides his thoughts into five sections addressing five kinds of profound change, and his biggest illustration of present shock has to do with the actual book itself. Because the present is more full of interruptions than the past was, it took him extra time to write. Because its ideas aren't glib, he says, "here I am writing opera when the people are listening to singles." And he realizes that data-swamped readers may take longer to finish books now. Coming from him the phrase "thanks for your time" has new meaning.

"Present Shock" begins by simply describing how we have lost our capacity to absorb traditional narrative. It goes on to explain what we have used to replace it. There was a time, Mr. Rushkoff says, when everything had narrative structure, even TV ads. Captive audiences sat through commercials that introduced a protagonist, presented a problem, then pitched a product to solve it. The little story ended well, at least from the advertiser's point of view. But now viewers may be more angry than bored at such intrusions. They know that "someone you don't trust is attempting to make you anxious," so they ditch the ad before it's over.

The ancient Greeks learned about the hero's journey from Homer's narratives. We've gotten decades of Homer Simpson, who "remains in a suspended, infinite present," while his audience moves from one satirical pop-culture reference to the next. Citing "Forrest Gump" as a film that failed to combat late-20th-century feelings of discontinuity and "Pulp Fiction" as one wild enough to usher in a new era, Mr. Rushkoff moves on to what came next: the video game open-ended structure that keeps TV drama in the eternal present.

About "Game of Thrones" he says, "This is no longer considered bad writing." Changes to news presentation are even more dramatic. This book describes the present shock of politicians who - thanks to the 24/7 coverage ushered in by "the CNN effect" that began in the 1980s - "cannot get on top of issues, much less get ahead of them." He notes that both the political left (MSNBC, with its slogan "Lean Forward") and right (conservatism devoted to reviving traditional values) share this goal: They're trying to escape the present.

Contrasting the Tea Party with the Occupy movement, he says the Tea Party's apocalyptic yearning for closure is diametrically unlike Occupy's "inspiring and aggravating" quest for an eternal present. The ways Occupy resembles the Internet make him think it may be the more durable of the two movements.

When Mr. Rushkoff moves on to what he calls digiphrenia - digitally provoked mental chaos - he writes about present shock's capacity to be a great leveler. Now that a single Facebook post can have as much impact as 30 years' worth of scholarship, how do we analog creatures navigate the digital landscape? How do we shield ourselves from distraction, or gravitate to what really matters? This section of Mr. Rushkoff's agile, versatile book veers into chronobiology, a burgeoning science that has not yet achieved peak popular impact. Dr. Oz may speak of it on television, but the correlation between time and physiology is ripe for more exploration. Mr. Rushkoff, who likes being his own guinea pig, divided his writing of this book into weekly segments based on a lunar cycle.

Among the intuitive ideas turned tangible by "Present Shock" is "filter failure," the writer and teacher Clay Shirky's improved term for what used to be called "information overload." Mr. Rushkoff's translation: "Whatever is vibrating on the iPhone just isn't as valuable as the eye contact you are making right now."

Your new boss isn't the person in the corner office; it's the P.D.A. in your pocket. And there are the discrepancies between age and appearance that are increasingly possible in our malleable present. The book contends that young girls and Botoxed TV "housewives" all want to look 19; that hipsters in their 40s cultivate the affectations of 20-somethings, to the delight of marketers; and that apocalyptic types just want to opt out of time altogether. "Present Shock" gives them good reason to feel that way.

But in the end only some of the ills in "Present Shock" can be chalked up to dehumanizing technological advances. "I am much less concerned with whatever it is technology may be doing to people that what people are choosing to do to one another through technology," Mr. Rushkoff writes. "Facebook's reduction of people to predictively modeled profiles and investment banking's convolution of the marketplace into an algorithmic battleground were not the choices of machines." They were made by human intelligence, because present shock's ways of targeting, pinpointing and manipulating aren't just shocking. They're very lucrative too." (NYT, sent by author)


Willie Osterweil: Throughout the book and your writings you talk about how ideas germinate over long periods of time. How did you first come up with the concept of Present Shock? Is this an idea that has been building slowly, or has it come to you more recently?

Doug Rushkoff: I actually got this idea originally in the 1970s: I was in high school and a little bit of a pothead. I read this article in Rolling Stone called “The Dog is Us” about how, as people get older, they would stop smoking pot because it would make them paranoid. And I was interested: why is that? I decided that it’s because pot stops time: I think that’s its main cognitive characteristic. You smoke and ‘voom’, you’re just, there. If you’re a young person that’s not a problem, you’ve got so much natural forward momentum that you can stop and it’s alright. But if you’re an adult and you’ve run out of that natural momentum, when you stop all of a sudden it’s like: “Who am I? What am I worth? What are my values, what am I doing, what is my carbon footprint?” Time changes it. That was when I got the first inklings of the idea.

Then, when I started writing this book Cyberia, the very beginning features a conversation between these two psychedelic hackers talking about chaos attractors and wondering if, as a civilization, we are over the event horizon. While you’re moving toward the lip of an attractor everything is accelerating: you’re moving toward the vortex. But then once you’re over the lip, then you’re in the strange attractor. There’s a sense I had with the birth of the internet, with Alfred Toffler and Moore’s law and everything accelerating that we were going towards this moment: It feels like we’re in it now. I don’t feel that acceleration of change anymore. We’re in the thing. We did connect. We are always on. We are real time. That’s it. We’ve achieved as a society the kind of asynchronous, timeless, sequential reality of our digital devices.

And then all these patterns started emerging that reflected that: present-based-value algorithmic trading—where people are looking to make money in the moment on the trade rather than long term investment—happened, Netflix happened, everybody is watching things on their own time rather than together and sequentially. And I thought “This has to be written about. This notion of presentism: It’s throwing so many people off the rails, they’re in Present Shock and I understand that. But they don’t have to be. They could also be presentist.”

But the final inspiration was Occupy. These kids are doing presentism the right way. I wanted to talk about that.

WO: In the book, you bring back an Ancient Greek differentiation between two forms of time: Chronos, or purely chronological and calendrial time, and Kairos, which is more about being in the moment. You see Occupy and solidarity economy practices representing an attempt to capture Kairos constantly and eschew the purely calendrial/chronological way of thinking about time. Could you speak to these differences in forms of time and the way you see those connecting to presentism?

DR: The easiest way to say it would be we’ve become overcommitted to chronos. We’ve become over committed to clock time as a way of defining time. In other words “it’s 3:23, that’s what it is.” But that can’t help with the question: “What’s the best time to tell dad you crashed the car? 3:23 or 3:26?” It doesn’t really matter what number’s on the clock, it’s whether he’s had his drink, it’s whether the Knicks are winning tonight or not, etc. It’s the difference between time and timing. The more clock like we become, the less we live in the genuine present. We end up addicted to the indicators of the present rather than the actual present that we’re in as bodies in space.

That’s why the whole movement towards informationism, the singularity/Kevin Kelly/Ray Kurzwell thing bothers me so much. They’re looking at the information but missing the humanity. We are more than the tricorder can measure, as McCoy might tell us. The metrics are true, as far as that goes, but they’re only telling a part of the story. It doesn’t have to be some weird new-age crystal-waving reiki-therapy thing to say “no, I’m actually present’.

And there are all these things we haven’t figured out. We don’t know quite how mirror-neurons work: we’re developing rapport when you nod and I nod and we sync up. We’re not consciously calculating all that stuff, it’s just part of being alive. And we’re better and faster at doing it than Facebook is or big data is or these other companies are that are trying to concatenate our human databases.

WO: There’s a lot here about psychological effects—present shock is obviously a psychological condition. You organize the book around different forms of shock, concepts like ‘fractalnoia’ or ‘digiphrenia’: what is the importance of these psychological phenomena?

DR: If in the 20th century Sigmund Freud invented the individual that we understand, the analyzable individual, for the 21st century, what if we apply these sort of symptoms to us as a culture—if we see these not as symptoms for individuals but for all of us—that we are all in a stage of fractalnoia. I went back and forth about whether to use them or not because if you organize your book in terms of ailments it sounds like Present Shock is kind of a bad thing. And the fact is, Present Shock is kind of a bad thing. Present Shock is just like future shock, you don’t want to be in Present Shock, you want to live with presentism.

WO: That speaks to a broader theme that I noticed in the book, and in your work generally, which is the notion that technological change, particularly with communications technology, drives social change. How do you see communications technology affecting the way that we imagine ourselves?

DR: I always go back and forth wondering: did the invention of text allow for calendrical thinking and the development of accountability over time through the contract? Or were there these social needs that then get met by the invention of text? I feel like both happen at the same time, which is not to say it’s magical or mystical or anything like that, but the environment changes and different mindsets and behaviors are supported. And different mindsets and behaviors require new kinds of technologies because, consciously or not, we’re driving toward a new set of goals.

Sometimes, of course, they’re forced. Look at the beginning of the industrial age or the Renaissance, the invention of the chartered monopoly and the invention of central currency. It’s not like the people adopted these things because they didn’t wanna have their own little businesses, they wanted to have jobs at big ones and they didn’t wanna use local currencies, they wanted to borrow money from the king at interest. No, the kings and the monopolists hired soldiers with swords to kill people, it was war and blood. So in many cases the change happens because the people in power are able to muscle it.

In other cases, like now, the emergence of digital technology promotes peer to peer exchange, it promotes decentralized value creation and all these kinds of things that are really consonant with our Burning-Man-Etsy-Occupy-local-farming mindset. But I don’t think Microsoft or Apple were thinking about things that way. If you look at these companies they’re just thinking about getting to their IPO. Facebook and Google, they went down the traditional route. They’re industrial age companies using digital technologies. But there’s a hunger for those things. And that hunger leads to the uptake of all this stuff which is gonna allow it.

WO: A lot of the book is about how Present Shock is changing the way business gets done: Bankers who are no longer interested in the stocks but just in the trades, start-ups which just want to get enough momentum to get purchased. How do you see Present Shock playing out in the broader business landscape? And what are the presentist openings for coops and worker controlled businesses?

DR: Presentism applied to industrial age stock-market values is just panicked short-termism. “Oh my gosh I gotta get it done now oh my god!” This is opposed to moving towards a kind of steady state sustainable business equilibrium. A steady state business equilibrium is incompatible with debt, it’s incompatible with taking investment money, or big loans from banks. All those people want their money to grow at the rate of debt or better. And if you’re gonna grow, then you need a narrative, you need a future, a goal, a growth plan.

But if you just want to create something that works, if you’ve got 50 people living in an area that want to do something that’s going to be more permanent, then there are approaches that don’t necessarily involve that growth. The prerequisite is that you can’t take money from someone, at least someone who wants more money then they gave you.

In the old days, if you will, when you had a town and they needed, say, a blacksmith, some guy comes in and says “oh I’m a blacksmith”. The community says: “Cool. We’ll make you a sign, and this lady will feed you dinner for the first few weeks, and this guy’s gotta barn we can put together for you, etc.” The town will invest in that person or that business because they need it.

You see the same thing now with these local kickstarter-like things like Socstock or Small Knot here in New York, where the premise is: “Oh you want the pizzeria in your neighborhood to get a new bathroom? Everyone put in a hundred dollars, and you’ll get a hundred fifty dollars worth of pizza in 6 months.” It’s a discount, but you’re also investing in change you’re gonna get to see. If you’re getting 150 bucks of pizza for 100 dollars you’re making back 50% on your investment—which is way better than you’re gonna do on Wall Street anyway—and you’ve increased the value of your town.

But what we’re talking about is seeing the economy more transactionally than in terms of earnings. And if it’s transactional, then you start thinking about things like the commons rather than hoarding money into your own account.

WO: How do you do that as a company right now?

DR: That’s the question. And it’s by not doing it alone. By finding other companies. You might need to have two sets of books as it were, one for the companies that are in the network of sharing resources, and one for the business that you’re doing outside the network. You can imagine that a community will have to have a local currency through which people in the town interact with each other, and then a long-distance currency through which they buy their iPhones.

WO: You talk a lot about how presentism leads to a certain narrative collapse, and that that narrative collapse is reflected in Occupy’s lack of demands. The lack of demands really upset a lot of people. How does Occupy connect to present shock and how does it reveal a positive sense of presentism?

DR: In some sense what we’re looking at is the difference between 20th century things and 21st century things. Industrial age things and digital age things. Between mythic narratives and this more sort of real-time participatory narrative. Occupy represents the latter.

In a traditional social movement, you have a charismatic leader marching arm in arm with his followers down 5th avenue and telling everyone to keep their eyes on the prize, that the day will come, we’re gonna get over that mountain and to the other side, here we go. And people work in that ends-justify-the-means way toward the finish line. We’re not in a world like that anymore.

The problems we’re facing are not big wars against big things, they’re chronic ailments like global warming and mass shootings: weird steady-state ever-present problems that you can’t “win”, can’t stick a flag on the moon and say “we’ve done it”. If the political movements—Marxism or capitalism or communism or fascism—these broad movements towards great goals have all proven to be false and idealistic, what would constitute a political praxis?

Rather than campaigning for some other thing, what if we don’t even campaign at all but just be that other thing? That’s what Occupy turned out to be. It may have started as “fuck you, Wall Street” but the practice of occupying became a kind of normative behavior. “Let’s model society. Let’s actually do something”. The “goal” of the movement as such became much more about evolving democracy into a form of consensus building as opposed to agonistic debate. And that was so confusing, especially to people in media who need the nine second sound bite in order to make sense of something.

Rather than activism being focused on fighting a battle against one thing and winning, what if it becomes “we are gonna grow consensus slowly over time and change state”? You end up with this group of people that refuses to state what their goal is, because we don’t have a goal. And people say “Well this is gonna go on forever” “Yeah, exactly!” We’re not in a thing that ends. Its like a business without an exit strategy, there is no end to this, we’re going to occupy reality. Everyone is gonna be an artist, everyone is gonna be real, in the present." (



Douglas Rushkoff:

“Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always on. It’s not a mere speeding up, however much our lifestyles and technologies have accelerated the rate at which we attempt to do things. It’s more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now— and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is.

It’s why the world’s leading search engine is evolving into a live, customized, and predictive fl ow of data branded “Google Now”; why email is giving way to txting, and why blogs are being superseded by Twitter feeds. It’s why kids in school can no longer engage in linear arguments; why narrative structure collapsed into reality TV; and why we can’t engage in meaningful dialogue about last month’s books and music, much less long- term global issues. It’s why an economy once based on long- term investment and interest-bearing currency can no longer provide capital to those who plan to put it to work for future rewards. It’s why so many long for a “singularity” or a 2012 apocalypse to end linear time altogether, and throw us into a posthistoric eternal present— no matter the cost to human agency or civilization itself.

But it’s also how we find out what’s happening on the streets of Iran before CNN can assemble a camera crew. It’s what enables an unsatisfied but upwardly mobile executive to quit his job and move with his family to Vermont to make kayaks— which he thought he’d get to do only once he retired. It’s how millions of young people can choose to embody a new activism based in patient consensus instead of contentious debate. It’s what enables companies like H& M or Zara to fabricate clothes in real time, based on the instantaneous data coming from scanned tags at checkout counters five thousand miles away. It’s how a president can run for office and win by breaking from the seeming tyranny of the past and its false hope, and tell voters that “we are the thing we have been waiting for.”

Well, the waiting is over. Here we are.

If the end of the twentieth century can be characterized by futurism, the twenty-first can be defined by presentism.

The looking forward so prevalent in the late 1990s was bound to end once the new millennium began. Like some others of that era, I predicted a new focus on the moment, on real experience, and on what things are actually worth right now. Then 9/ 11 magnified this sensibility, forcing America as a nation to contend with its own impermanence. People had babies in droves,1 and even filed for divorces, 2 in what was at least an unconscious awareness that none of us lives forever and accompanying reluctance to postpone things indefinitely.

Add real- time technologies, from the iPhone to Twitter; a disposable consumer economy where 1-Click ordering is more important than the actual product being purchased; a multitasking brain actually incapable of storage or sustained argument; and an economy based on spending now what one may or may not earn in a lifetime, and you can’t help but become temporally disoriented.

It’s akin to the onslaught of changing rules and circumstances that 1970s futurist Alvin Toffl er dubbed “future shock.”

Only, in our era it’s more of a present shock. And while this phenomenon is clearly “of the moment,” it’s not quite as in the moment as we may have expected.

For while many of us were correct about the way all this presentism would affect investments and finance, even technology and media, we were utterly wrong about how living in the “now” would end up impacting us as people. Our focus on the present may have liberated us from the twentieth century’s dangerously compelling ideological narratives. No one — well, hardly anyone — can still be convinced that brutal means are justified by mythological ends.

And people are less likely to believe employers’ and corporations’ false promises of future rewards for years of loyalty now. But it has not actually brought us into greater awareness of what is going on around us. We are not approaching some Zen state of an infi nite moment, completely at one with our surroundings, connected to others, and aware of ourselves on any fundamental level.

Rather, we tend to exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnifi ed and those immediately before us are ignored.

Our ability to create a plan — much less follow through on it— is undermined by our need to be able to improvise our way through any number of external impacts that stand to derail us at any moment. Instead of finding a stable foothold in the here and now, we end up reacting to the ever- present assault of simultaneous impulses and commands.

In some senses, this was the goal of those who developed the computers and networks on which we depend today. Mid-twentieth-century computing visionaries Vannevar Bush and J. C. R. Licklider dreamed of developing machines that could do our remembering for us. Computers would free us from the tyranny of the past — as well as the horrors of World War II — allowing us to forget everything and devote our minds to solving the problems of today. The information would still be there; it would simply be stored out of body, in a machine.

It’s a tribute to both their designs on the future and their devotion to the past that they succeeded in their quest to free up the present of the burden of memory. We have, in a sense, been allowed to dedicate much more of our cognitive resources to active RAM than to maintaining our cerebral- storage hard drives. But we are also in danger of squandering this cognitive surplus on the trivial pursuit of the immediately relevant over any continuance of the innovation that got us to this point.

Behavioral economists exploit the growing disparity between our understanding of the present and that of the future, helping us see future debts as less relevant than current costs and leading us to make financial decisions against our own better interests. As these ways of understanding debt and lending trickle up to those making decisions about banking and macrofinance— such as the Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank— our greater economies end up suffering from the same sorts of logical traps as those of individual mortgage holders and credit card users.

Neuroscientists, mostly at the service of corporations looking to develop more compliant employees and consumers, are homing in on the way people make choices. But no matter how many subjects they put in their MRI machines, the focus of this research is decision making in the moment, the impulsive choices made in the blink of an eye, rather than those made by the lobes responsible for rational thought or consideration. By implementing their wares solely on the impulsive— while diminishing or altogether disregarding the considered— they push us toward acting in what is thought of as an instinctual, reptilian fashion.

And this mode of behavior is then justified as somehow more connected to the organic, emotional, and more relevant moment in which human beings actually live. Of course, this depiction of consciousness may help sell the services of neurotechnicians to advertisers, but it does not accurately represent how the human brain actually relates to the moment in which the organism exists.

No matter the technologies at their disposal, marketers and pollsters are never looking at people actually choosing their products or candidates; they are looking at what people just bought or thought, and making calculations based on that after-the-fact data.

The “now” they seek to understand tells them nothing about desire, reasons, or context. It is simply an effort to key off what we have just done in order to manipulate our decisions in the future. Their campaigns encourage the kinds of impulsive behavior that fool us into thinking we are living in the now, while actually just making us better targets for their techniques.

That is because there is no now—not the one they’re talking about, anyway. It is necessarily and essentially trivial. The minute the “now” is apprehended, it has already passed. Like they used to say about getting one’s picture on a Time magazine cover: the moment something is realized, it is over. And like the diminishing beauty returns for a Botox addict, the more forcefully we attempt to stop the passage of time, the less available we are to the very moment we seek to preserve.

As a result, our culture becomes an entropic static hum of everybody trying to capture the slipping moment. Narrativity and goals are surrendered to a skewed notion of the real and the immediate; the Tweet; the status update. What we are doing at any given moment becomes all- important— which is behavioristically doomed. For this desperate approach to time is at once fl awed and narcissistic. Which “now” is important: the now I just lived or the now I’m in right now?

In the following chapters, we will explore present shock as it manifests in a variety of ways, on a myriad of levels. We will look at how it changes the way we make and experience culture, run our businesses, invest our money, conduct our politics, understand science, and make sense of our world. In doing so, we will consider panic reactions to present shock right alongside more successful approaches to living outside what we have always thought of as time.” (

On Money and Work


'Along with the invention of the chartered monopoly, the new “capitalism” changed the business landscape entirely. Instead of working in small businesses of their own, craftspeople had to work instead for the larger chartered companies who were able to secure financing from the nobles. The real-time, peer-to-peer marketplace was replaced by economies of scale and the Industrial Age. And all this activity and labor was organized by the brand new clock towers built at the center of most every town.'


" '...the transition from an Industrial Age clockwork universe to our Digital Age world of asynchronous pulses goes deeper than human motivation. It is in the process of changing the very nature of money.

The money we use today—central, bank-issued currency—is an artifact of the late Middle Ages. It was invented around the same time as the mechanical clock itself, and has many of the same properties. Before this sort of money was invented, farmers and merchants used local currencies based in grain from the field. These earlier currencies earned no interest so they were biased toward transaction, and they enjoyed an extremely high rate of what economists would call “velocity.”

The problem with local currencies was that they left monarchs and the aristocracy out of the wealth equation. They were great for the local markets and craftspeople, but the feudal lords and early kings, who didn’t create any value themselves, were becoming irrelevant and comparatively less wealthy than their rising middle class counterparts. With the help of financial advisors, they issued central currency. Unlike local currencies (which were outlawed on pain of execution) coin of the realm could only be borrowed from the central treasury, and at interest. So money had a clock inside it. Any money borrowed would have to be paid back in a certain amount of time, plus dividends.

Along with the invention of the chartered monopoly, the new “capitalism” changed the business landscape entirely. Instead of working in small businesses of their own, craftspeople had to work instead for the larger chartered companies who were able to secure financing from the nobles. The real-time, peer-to-peer marketplace was replaced by economies of scale and the Industrial Age. And all this activity and labor was organized by the brand new clock towers built at the center of most every town.

Of course, all this debt-based currency had to be paid back in time—and then some. Where did that additional money come from? More lending. This meant that the only way for the economy to remain solvent was for it to grow. In an era of Colonial expansion, this was fine. It even helped motivate trans-oceanic adventures and land grabs.

But today, as we all struggle to grow at the same rate as the debt structure, it ends up working against us. Companies pursue unwise acquisitions to create the illusion of growth. Homeowners refinance their mortgages as a way of simulating an increase in the portion that they own. The time-based rules of money work quite well in an expansionist Industrial Age, (as long as we ignore the impact on craftspeople, local economies, and, of course, slave populations), but they no longer seem to function properly in a digital economy.

For one, digital businesses don’t necessarily require the kinds of capital investment that comes from central banks and big venture funds. A couple of kids with a laptop and a long weekend can do the lion’s share of innovation and programming required to launch a major new Internet technology or computer game. While there’s money to be made, it’s from people actually buying or using the product, not for an investor whose capital is, frankly, unnecessary. So where is the money to go?

For very similar reasons, big companies are finding themselves accumulating cash that they have no good ways to spend. Corporate profit over net worth has been shrinking steadily since the invention of the computer. That is not a coincidence: the digital economy cannot be run on a 12th century, printing-press era economic operating system. Central currency was designed to favor storage and accumulation and to discourage peer-to-peer transactions. Its very structure and function was intended to restore central authority over a runaway, decentralized economy.

But now it has run its course; corporations have accumulated cash but do not have the kinds of long-term expansionist opportunities of their 12th Century forbears.

Meanwhile, local communities are finding in a presentist, digital economy newfound access to the kinds of peer-to-peer transactions that characterized life before the Industrial Age. A smart phone can authenticate transactions as well or better than an escrow agent. Some towns are even developing their own alternative currency systems, which are less like money than they are like favor banks. These are not currencies one borrows or loans, but rather balance sheets that keep a person only asking for as many goods and services from a community as he or she is capable of providing. It’s a real time, steady state marketplace, as opposed to one with workers and owners, winners and losers. Community, craftsmanship, and culture are the new currencies we trade in. There’s no winner, because it is not designed to make winners but to sustain itself over time."

New cultural movements, from Makers Faire and Burning Man to etsy and Makerbot, all herald a revival of a real-time, transactional marketplace. Such communities emphasize the craftsmanship of individuals over the efficiency of the assembly line. As presentist, cottage industries, these companies are patient. They work off the clock, and by the piece. Part of why they are free to do so is that they have not accumulated the burden of a debt structure, or that of a growth narrative so typical of industrial age concerns.'