The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Douglas Rushkoff. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Before we get started, I’d like to ask our listeners when they’re done today to consider giving the show a five star rating on their podcast app, and maybe even writing us a brief review. It’s an unfortunate reality of our podcast ecosystem that getting good ratings and getting reviews helps us to build our audience, which lets us continue to attract the great guests that we have on the show. So if you got a chance, a rating and maybe even a review would be much appreciated. Thanks.
Jim: Today’s guest is Douglas Rushkoff. Douglas is the host of the Team Human Podcast and author of the book Team Human, as well as a dozen other bestselling books on media, technology in culture, including one, my real favorites titled Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. While I was reading it, my wife and I were actually spending a month in San Francisco and seeing the minimally labeled Google buses sneaking all over the Marina district where we were staying. It was quite a bit of a yikes. Very interesting.
Jim: Douglas is also professor of media theory and digital economics at CUNY Queens and he’s a returning guest. I looked it up. He was on my episode number six when I frankly didn’t really know what I was doing. But it was nonetheless a quite interesting episode titled Memetics, Money and TeamHuman. Welcome Douglas.
Douglas: Well, good to be with you.
Jim: Yeah, I love your work. I love what you do. I certainly consider you on the… We’re on the same Team Human in some sense.
Douglas: Totally. I know. Just finding we’re all finding the others as Timothy Larrie told us in ’68, we are both continuing that pursuit.
Jim: Absolutely. And that’s the first thing, finding the others in this crazy world we live in. So today we’re going to have a talk that is going to be loosely based on the course Douglas teaches and he teaches it with a colleague, Jeff Jarvis called designing the internet. And it’s going to give us a chance to explore where the internet came from, where it is, where it might go and what we might be able to do to influence it towards a better future.
Jim: Yeah. So first I’m going to quote something from the front material of the course. Douglas was very generous in sharing his syllabus with me. And I actually read some of the articles that were pointed to and such, including the book that’s in progress. I wish it wasn’t so covered with watermark from the publisher but hey, that’s a story for another day.
Jim: I look forward to reading the book when it comes out. So here’s how they describe their course. Jarvis, his co-teacher is a defender of internet freedoms. Rushkoff, a critic of the net’s current proprietors, but we align on the goals for the internet and this course to alter the discussion of the net from dystopian despair to productive engagement. To propose that the net is not finished and to suggest to students, you consider the possibility that you have the time and ability to redirect the net to better ends and to empower yourself and others. Yeah. I like it. That’s so much better than the despair that we hear so much.
Douglas: Yeah. It’s funny Jeff calls it, designing the internet, I call it redesigning the internet which is something that should be going on all the time anyway that’s beauty of the internet. We should see it more like the US constitution than something that’s set in stone. It’s up for discussion. It’s up for our programming and what I was thinking about… Funny as you were talking, I was thinking about my first experiences of computing in the internet. And very first time I was on a terminal. Well, originally on a teletype terminal where I saved everything on paper tape. But then when I was in college, I was in the computer lab and the woman who was the technologist there, when I was finished, she said, “Oh, now do you want to save your file as a read only file or a read, write file?”
Douglas: And I’m like, “Read, write what’s that.” And when she explained to me that you could save it as a file that people could read or a file that people could read or change themselves. And I was like, “Wow, I’m going to save it like that and see what people do to it.” But then when I went out into the world, I remember walking out of the computer lab at Princeton University thinking, what else about this world is read write that no one ever told me? Why is money read only? Why is television read only? How could I turn… And religion, Judaism. And I’m looking at these things saying, well, Judaism was meant as a read write religion. It has Talmid with hypertext all around it, but money, why don’t they let me write my own money? Why is that counterfeit? Why is that illegal?
Douglas: And so my whole career, really all those books that I wrote after that were always about what is up for discussion, what are we allowed to change? How do take the read, write sensibility of the internet and apply it to all of these other social and cultural systems. But now I’m at the point and that’s why it’s funny to come full circle, I’m saying, “Well, let’s apply the read, write open source sensibility to technology itself, because they seem to have forgotten that they don’t have to just do this one way.” That the way to make a piece of technology is not to think up something, then go to Goldman Sachs, get a bunch of money and pivot towards the most extractive surveillance technology you can make. But you have a wide assortment of possibilities.
Jim: And a lot of that still exists in our world. And people you are tending to forget that you can still, this in some sense, this is the golden age, right? For $20 a month, you can have yourself a pretty spiffy square space site and be almost as glitzy as the New York Times, if you’re so inclined.
Douglas: Right. Right. For sure. Or you can go on Code Academy and learn to code in a year or get a drag and drop interface and make your own games, make your own social networks, make your own Blockchains. The ability to do really new, different, interesting things, it’s never been easier to do that. And the posity I feel, and that’s why we’re teaching a course, it seems more that there’s a posity of imagination than access.
Jim: Well, of course the entry is easy today, right?
Jim: For instance, I wrote a mobile game recently and published, it turned out not to even be that hard and it’s a good one. It’s getting great reviews [inaudible 00:06:36] networkho.com for those of you interested. But here’s the interesting thing. Just like the person that puts up your Squarespace, beautifully written elegant journal E or my new game, getting attention is really hard. And as we’ll talk about a little bit, the big platforms have made an art and science of capturing our attention and turning that into money. And so essentially what comes next in the internet is how do we reclaim control of our attention? It seems like to me because the doing is easy. I mean, notice the great journalists that are leaving mainstream media and go into Substack for instance.
Douglas: Yeah. And sometimes I look at that and go, that’s great because they can just go and take their audience with them and build their own thing. And then I think it’s kind of sad also. I like working with an editor. I think they make me better. I like being in a magazine where I don’t know whether they’re coming for me or somewhere else. I have the wiggle room to write a piece that maybe didn’t get that attention, but because they’re buying the whole magazine, no one will ever know. So you could hide kind of behind that.
Douglas: And I feel a little bit like, all right, so some editor cut out some paragraph that I really wanted in my piece. So now I’m going to take my ball and go home and go to Substack and I’m not going to work for them anymore. And sometimes the editor does make your piece better. Sometimes when they say that paragraph really is too strident or unfounded or it’s going to push some buttons, yeah if you’re just out of fear of offending somebody then maybe not but a lot of times I feel like there’s one or two more levels of negotiation that someone could go through before pulling up stakes and running to Substack.
Jim: I got to say the stuff on Substack is amazing. The good stuff on Substack is really amazing. I think I’m now subscribed like 15 different Substacks.
Douglas: Right. And it’s up to us to find them too though. It’s a different burden but yeah.
Jim: Yeah. And it requires a different set of skills, skills that a lot of people don’t have, Hey, for you young entrepreneurs out there is a great opportunity call it the rut digest or something, which is to negotiate deals with the people you like to publish an occasional story perhaps the ones you think are the best in your digest, which will then drive traffic to them and you’ll get subscribers for your digest. There’s a definite need for that. I was subscribed to somebody who was good at curation, had lots of time to spend reading all the Substacks and to pull together the best of and sell that as a subscription. I think there’s an opportunity.
Douglas: Yeah. And I think the other opportunity, the way I look at it as a writer would be for five or 10 writers to hire an editor and they can do a joint subscription so everyone subscribes, you get everybody in that posse and now you’ve got service. So you flip the model. So instead of you working for the editor, the editor and layout people are working for a collective of writers.
Jim: Yeah. And I think that’s sort of starting happening. Glen Greenwall seems to be bring other people in and hiring editors and podcast people, et cetera. And he’s kind of reversing the polarity though I don’t know if he’s taking a cooperative business model, which I think would be great.
Jim: That would be really good. Well, let’s hop back into your course here and use that as an outline to sort of figure out how we got to where we got to. In fact, let’s start at the beginning with Gutenberg.
Douglas: Yeah. It’s interesting. I don’t know if the syllabus I gave you, I think went in historical order.
Jim: Yeah, I did not. I-
Douglas: Okay, good.
Jim: I refactored it in historical order.
Douglas: Yeah. Because we started it in historical order then we were like, “No, no these kids let’s just start with where the internet…” We started where it is. And then we go back later. But yeah, let’s go back to Gutenberg. The funny thing is Jeff Jarvis loves Gutenberg as the great example of this new technology came and flipped everything on its head. And it’s a great way if you look historically at what the printing press did to European culture and religion and earnings and everything and distribution and ideas and individuality, then it helps you see, oh, the internet also interrupted society in progress with a whole lot of new things.
Douglas: But I’m even lately with the invention of the Metaverse or whatever it is we want to call it, I’ve been going all the way back to the invention of language, thinking about what was it like? What would it have been like if you were from one tribe of cave people, and you walk around and you see this other tribe where there’s a guy making mouth noises and other people then doing stuff in a coordinated fashion.
Douglas: It’s like that’s virtual reality. He created this weird symbol system of stuff that then they go do stuff, it means something to them.
Jim: We had to say that we think there’s some mastodons over in the next valley allows you to draw the picture in your head of the valley where you’d been before and mastodons, which you’d seen before though never in that valley. So you’ve actually created of a virtual reality through language.
Douglas: Right. And then that affects what you do and whether you go over there to hunt them, or whether you stay away because you don’t want to get trampled by them, it was big. And then when I think about, well, the stuff that couldn’t be represented in language, the stuff that couldn’t, where did that go? Does that recede then? Then we become very subject object oriented, anything that we can name exists and the stuff we can’t name kind of fades. Because then when I think about in the next net if we do build some AR VR version of our world, the stuff that we don’t code and put there, where does that go? Or the stuff that’s in between one quantized place and the next the in between stuff is where I always get concerned.
Douglas: But Gutenberg and the printing press was a big one especially for McClellan, because he was concerned as we move from sort of personal written manuscripts and scrolls and things to the mechanized printing press, that everything becomes the same. It all becomes very, very uniform and will end up in a kind of a uniformed mechanized society where reading is less personal. And he was all concerned about the reformation that came Protestantism and-
Jim: Exactly. Protestantism in the 30 years war, he can trace fairly directly to Gutenberg. Almost certainly would not have happened without the ability to mass produce Bibles in various vernacular languages.
Douglas: Right. Right. So once you know that and you say, “So these things really they matter.” It’s not just, oh, we’re watching Netflix on a computer instead of a TV. It’s a little bigger than that.
Jim: Exactly. Right. And so it’s really important. And of course the ideas that manifest today as the nets are actually not all that new. People were having these ideas way back [inaudible 00:13:36] and their course materials released one of the essays that were in it. There was a quote from Vanderberg Bush. I think back in the late 40s. Consider a future device in which an individual stores all is books records and communications which is mechanized, so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory. Vanderberg Bush, very interesting guy. He was actually the little known head of R&D for the United States government during World War II and helped vet some of the first computers. A tough dude by all accounts.
Douglas: And he wrote this essay in the Atlantic. And it was basically an open letter to Eisenhower. Eisenhower was getting all worried about the military industrial complex that was going to come. And Vanderberg Bush was basically writing an essay that was a kind of a swords to plow shares argument saying, “We could take these weapons of war, these computers that we were working on, we don’t put them away now let’s apply them to different tasks.” So he was that a businessman can now have a desk of some kind and in the desk are these files, but they’re digital files.
Douglas: And it was really, he was envisioning the computer the personal computer before anyone even really thought about it, technologically. But then there was also something really interesting he said in that same article, he said, “Because the computer will memorize everything, it’ll have full memory, it will give us the liberty to forget.” And I’m thinking about people who had lived through and he was part of the Manhattan project, and they lived through the Nazi extermination that the idea that this computing, it’ll relieve us of the nightmare that we just lived through. We don’t have to worry, we’ll remember, it’ll be down there but we could be free of the memories too. It’s an interest-
Jim: Yeah. It’s an interesting thought. And of course memory is a big part of the net. So of course the next kind of founding father of early thinking was Ted Nelson. And I looked him up as… well, I was doing my prep for this. He’s still alive. Who would’ve think. And he is not as old as you would’ve think, because he started project Xanadu in 1960. So I said, “The guy must be a hundred.” Well, I look back, he was 23 when he started project Xanadu. And Xanadu in some sense was kind of a hyper rich version of the worldwide web in some sense.
Douglas: It was. If you look at the look at the book it was computer lib dream machines, you look at it and it’s such like a night, 1960s hippie book with all these little drawings and charts and things. It’s like the Medium is the massage. It’s a very hip, crazy ass hippie thing. And he is envisioning a… I was the one who pushed this in there, the hippie side of the equation on this team taught class. He’s a little bit more Wall Street, I’m a a little bit more Woodstock, I guess. But to show that there was this wide-eyed optimistic 1960s dream, the thing that Stewart Brand and Howard Brian Gold and whole earth catalog and Eslan Institute and Timothy Leery and John Lilly that whole crowd was dreaming that computers would allow us to somehow engage in a collective imaginary that we would eventually move to the unimind or some the next stage of Gaia would be humanity, linking itself up through this giant web of ideas.
Douglas: And the other interesting thing about Ted Nelson is he was already imagining what we would now call two-way linking. It wasn’t that everything just linked to something it linked back. So you knew who was pinging at you know. It was a sort of a live link.
Jim: Yeah. I used room research for quite a bit of my work and it has built in bidirectional link, which were actually very, very clever and the way they’ve implemented it is so simple. I’m surprised that it hasn’t become more generally used well worth looking at.
Douglas: I know they wanted to do it in the original web design, but they couldn’t figure it out. And then they were like, “Okay, let’s not let this stop the whole project. We’re going to launch the web anyway.” But it’s like now we’ve got it. And in theory is this sort of block chainy world, has something closer to two way linking as well.
Jim: Yeah, it was interesting. Ted Nelson was still or definitely a live influence when I first got involved in the work around these networks. I went to work as a young guy at a company called The Source, which was the very first consumer online service. Amazingly, most of the things we got on the web today, we had 1980 at 300 text mode, only $10 an hour. We had email, we had chat, we had bulletin board, we had news stock prices, et cetera. And one of our executives actually brought Ted by and he talked to us and-
Douglas: Oh, wow.
Jim: And we thought that, he’s beyond our current capacity to execute on. Because in those days, communications were slow, computers were expensive, text was text, et cetera. But man, he was quite an inspiration. And then later at the well say in the 1990 epoch again, Xanadu was still a live idea when the internet existed but not yet a worldwide web.
Douglas: Right. And it’s interesting though, because it’s was this other way of thinking about things that really rose in the 60s and early 70s. I remember there was a guy, an Alan Kapro. Did you ever hear him?
Jim: Don’t know him.
Douglas: He was an artist theater maker who got really tired of the idea that theater is this thing that had as a script with actors on a stage and an audience in these chairs and he invented the happening. Right? So the happening was very cyber really. The happening was you would have a set of rules and you would hand them out to people like in a field and then they would execute on those rules and you would get some emergent phenomenon.
Douglas: Like the rule might be say hello to the person on your left, share a recent memory, hear one of their memories and then share it with another and you would have these things happen or you’d make a building with bodies or whatever. And it was really the idea that we could organize in a different way, again, that sort of read write, hyper textual person to person emergent reality rather than this prescribed by the book rules top down organization of everything.
Jim: And then you talk about, or you have your syllabus, a fair bit of that almost do it yourself pre-internet. The Usenet for instance. Right?
Jim: And the BBS world. I actually launched a company on BBS technology in 1990 and ’91. Right. It actually worked, but it was completely anarchic. There was nobody in charge. It was great stuff.
Douglas: It was great stuff though. And it worked is the thing it worked. I’m an arnacho syndicalist to at my core, in the end which is very game B if you think about it.
Jim: Exactly. Game B is actually an arnacho syndicalism plus plus. Right?
Douglas: Right. Exactly. On the net.
Jim: On the nets.
Douglas: On the net or with the net really.
Jim: With the net.
Douglas: I loved telling the stories of the early net to kids today because I’ll show them how something like FidoNet worked which is how I got introduced to networking. FidoNet was just whichever kid had the best computer was the node and the other kid would use their computers and basic, very bear basic modems, where you actually put the handset of the phone in the modem to get the sound. You would dial into his computer and leave your messages for other people or play a game and then leave.
Douglas: FidoNet was all these hobbyists computers, just calling each other in the middle of the night, sending information. You would send a piece of email and it could take four or five days to get to the kid that you try to reach because everyone was just passing information, but it was imagine like a mesh network, but of asynchronous machines just dialing into each other when their mom is not on the phone.
Jim: Exactly, exactly. FidoNet, I remember it. And then Usenet, which is a slightly more organized version of that, but still relatively anarchic. You could start a new branch wherever you wanted, my old childhood friend, Brian Reed for a long time, tried to keep a map of Usenet and it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and again, it was file transfers. In fact, the very first full internet feed I got in 1990 or ’91, my use case for it was actually be able to pull down the whole Usenet in something close to real time. Basically a 9,600 board dial up connection into PSI net. I think I was customer number 40 for PSI net allowed me to download the full Usenet and do all kinds of analysis and packaging and what have you. And that was quite an interesting early world.
Douglas: It was. It was really the equivalent for people who were old enough to remember AOL. It was basically like the bulletin boards on AOL, except not on anything.
Jim: And not regulated at all.
Douglas: Yeah, no. Because there was all these altered binaries, which were picture.
Jim: Dirty pictures.
Douglas: And there was this moment. I remember because most of Usenet was people like us, just computer user type people who were interested in the tech. And there was some people who trafficked in some porn imagery. But then there was a moment in the 90s when AOL plugged itself finally into the Usenet. Rather than just being the walled garden of AOL, AOL subscribers were going to get access to the real internet.
Douglas: And all of a sudden, every Usenet conversation, whatever it was about had people asking how do I download gifs? How do I assemble a gif because to get a single porn picture, you would have to download like eight different gifs and assemble them into one thing because there was no room. And everybody is asking and it was just like, that was the problem with what we called newbies is they just wanted to be told how they could get their porn.
Jim: And once people figured out how to make that easy in the early mid 90s, 50% of the traffic on the internet was porn probably. And today it’s probably 10 or 15.
Douglas: Now it’s Netflix.
Jim: Yeah. Now it’s Netflix 25%. Did you know Usenet still exists?
Douglas: Yes. And IRC, you still exists. Internet Relay Chat.
Jim: And here’s really interesting thing. Google groups is actually implemented on Usenet.
Douglas: I didn’t know that.
Jim: Or at least it was. They may have changed it around, but Google bought Clarinet Templeton’s company, which was an attempt to put a easier to use rapper around Usenet and it kind of disappeared as a standalone product, but it reemerged at least initially as Google groups implemented using Usenet.
Jim: I don’t know if it’s still the case and actually, I still use some Google groups, an old mailing list technology for various things. That’s a good common denominator.
Douglas: And that’s the thing. A part of the reason why I like talking about some of these old technology is it becomes really hard to distinguish new technologies from these ones. I sometimes wonder all the video and streaming stuff that we use, even what we’re using now we had CU-SeeMe. It was Cornell’s video chat. Yeah, it was one frame, every 16 seconds or whatever, but it was video streaming. So now we have faster, better color, better resolution better feeds and speeds. But the basic technologies that we’re using, they were all around and they were all developed nonprofit. They were all developed a shareware at universities, not for anybody’s money, it really wasn’t until Mark Andresen took to Netscape and went public the same day that Jerry Garcia died, mind you, that he took Netscape public, that all of a sudden these technologies were like, “Oh, we could make a buck up these things too.”
Jim: Yeah. I remember that very clearly actually. And that it’s the last little bit of the pre-history you talk about the wired libertarians. And again, as someone who was on the [Well 00:25:50] in the early 90s and I should say full disclosure, I am currently one of the Well 11, who are the users who own the Well, we bought it to rescue it from Salon.
Douglas: From Salon, thank you. Yes.
Jim: Salon was going to shut it down. And 11 of us got together, bought it and it’s nominally a for profit, but I’m not waiting for my dividends. I just wanted to preserve the community. And so by the way, anyone wants to check out the Well, it still exists well.com, but it was the hotbed for net libertarianism and probably reached its high watermark with John Perry Barlow’s famous declaration of independence of cyber space.
Douglas: Yes. Oh my gosh. I was a kid then and I just knew John Barlow as a lyricist for the grateful dead. And he’s talking about liberation on the net and it was like, “Nation states of the world beware, we are coming. You are obsolete. We don’t need you. We are free.” And what we didn’t realize, I didn’t know what libertarianism even was at the time, what we didn’t realize was that following him and getting rid of government online, just created free reign for corporations. It’s a bit like fungus and bacteria in the body. If you take too many antibiotics and get rid of too much bacteria, your fungus ends up growing. So like by getting rid of government completely, we created this kind of free zone for libertarianism without really realizing what would happen. But yeah, the wire was what happened.
Jim: Yeah. And I’ll confess to being guilty right at both the source. We were convinced we were doing the work of the good for citizenry. Right?
Jim: And certainly in the early Well, we certainly thought that this net libertarianism keep government off our backs utterly unregulated, et cetera, has to lead to good stuff. Wow.
Douglas: It seemed like it would. It did. And you got to remember people also who might be angry at us for having thought that way, what government had done with the internet to that point, other than building it originally, they had just done operations Sun Devil where they arrested, like teenage hacker kids for one, wondering into shopping mall and stuff. They arrested Steve Jackson who had a fantasy role playing game company [crosstalk 00:28:12]
Jim: Illuminati. Illuminati. Yeah. I knew that game.
Douglas: Yeah, because he had a game called Illuminati that they thought was the Illuminati. So they arrest him, take all his computers. It was off and Tipper Gore and they had just done the Computer Decency Act and whatever. And they were worried about parental advisories on remember Tipper Gore was all upset about the language of rap music and the violence and video games.
Jim: And they had to put little seals on things and all that stuff.
Douglas: So it felt like government was just trying to paint the internet as this place for drugs and sex and violence. And they didn’t understand what we were doing. So between all that, we really did want them to go away.
Jim: Yeah. And they did basically. I think the failure of imagination, I would suggest that a lot of us had was because remember back in the days of the source and compuserve and AOL and the Well, big distinguishing factor is you had to pay. It cost money to be on these services. And they had their own constitutions. Some of them would allow cursing, some of them wouldn’t. The Source were owned by the readers digest absolutely would not allow any cursing and to this day, Facebook famously will not allow nipples.
Jim: I one time got one of my posts canceled by Facebook. It was an article about intentional communities in the cover art for the article, which was pulled up by Facebook, had a hippie family sitting at a yard and one of the hippie kids was like maybe four years old of indeterminate sex topless.
Jim: And so their algorithm determined this could be a topless four year old girl, therefore it must be censored. Still active to this day on Facebook, believe it or not. But anyway, what we didn’t anticipate was the phase change that occurred in the early double lots when the cost of the nets and the cost of computing and the quality of the tools got good enough that you could build services that could fully fund themselves and be very profitable on advertising alone.
Jim: I believe that’s what we somehow failed to see because we… I know when I was building these companies in the 80s and 90s, it was real expensive. This stuff was not cheap. It was hard to do. You’re writing your own stuff. You might remember writing low level communications driver for a fax 750 for one of my companies. Now I just pull all the shit down, throw the code together and it sort of works some of the time.
Douglas: Yeah. Although I do remember in like 1996, I think it was when they came out with a book called One to One Marketing that’s when I got concerned. Well, actually I got concerned when wired magazine came and said, this is a tsunami and you better get on the board or you’re going to get run over. And we’re in a long-
Jim: Hey, and then Chris Anderson editor Wired, published that book free. Right?
Jim: But of course it was unstoppable. That was his point of his book. Once it’s possible to make a product for free, you are forced to do so. This is a classic, what we call them game D land, a multipolar trap race to the bottom. Because if you’re in a market, let’s say forums, like the Well basically forums $12 a month, $10 a month, whatever it is still is by the way, they still charge and you have to compete with free like Facebook. How can you do that for most people? You can’t. And so now everything is free because we’re caught in this multi-polar trap where if anybody moves to free, everybody has to move to free essentially.
Jim: And once you get to free, then what happens is they famously say, if you’re not paying for the product, you’re not the customer you are the product.
Douglas: Yeah. That’s where you end up. And that became the business model for all of these companies.
Jim: But fairly late in the day, it wasn’t really viable till the early double [inaudible 00:31:53] 2002, 2003, something like that. But it’s just exploded since then. And that gets us to the next big chunk in your course, the economics of the attention based media and net economy. And that’s really where we are today. That’s the world of today. You guys referenced a Zuboff’s very good book. People who haven’t read it should read it. The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism as a really good example. And the other one I would call out, that’s definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it is the Social Dilemma. My friend, Tristan Harris and some other, their folks put together. In fact, a lot of the work you’ve done over the years. I think they essentially repurposed in that film.
Douglas: I think so. I would’ve loved to nod, but I’m glad it’s out there. You can’t own memes. That’s the one thing that’s the consolation. As long as the meme spreads, I’m happy. They’re my children, let them grow. But for me, again, this began in ’95, ’96, when Wired magazine did that cover story about the attention economy. They announced that, well the real estate online is infinite, but what’s finite are what they called eyeball hours. That was the metric that was used, the amount of hours that someone’s eyeballs were on the screen.
Douglas: And they said the new mandate for any online company is to create sticky websites. They called them. Sticky so that your eyeballs get glued to the page. For me, that was when the dynamic of the net shifted. From these technologies, being things people use to find exploits out there in the world to technologies that work on people, to find exploits in them. And that’s when all this stuff came and to be fair, people like Shoshana Zuboff at Harvard Business School were perfectly happy applying all of the tools of behavioral finance and psychology to users and workers and tailor management and all until she saw by now by 2010, oh, this is where this is where that goes. When you automate the feedback loop between analog and people and the algorithms learn how to exploit you without even us watching what they’re doing, you get some really perverse effects.
Jim: Yeah. I think the thing people keep in mind, there are now computers more powerful than those that were driving Deep Blue, the IBM mainframe that beat Casper off. Those things are now turned at you to essentially track every behavior you make. And people don’t realize this Facebook even knows what part of the screen your mouse is over. So called heat maps. And everything is tuned to basically turn your behavior back on you to turn you into the product. And as you have talked about before and it, and social dilemma, they highlighted the fact that they’re not only trying to sell you ads, but they’re also trying to condition you to be more advertisable, a more rich advertisable target.
Douglas: Right. And that’s what my TeamHuman book is about. Largely is this ethos that wants to kind of shave anomalous behavior off people. They want their algorithms success rate to go up by any means necessary. So if they know with 80% accuracy that you’re going to go on a diet next week, they’re going to start putting stuff about diet. Are you fat or something wrong with you in your newsfeed, but they’re not doing it just to sell the ads of a particular sponsor. They’re trying to get their 80% accuracy up to 90 or 95%. And that’s by attacking the 20% who were not going to go on a diet and get them to perform in accordance with their statistical profile.
Douglas: So what’s happened is we’re now using technology to auto tune human behavior to fit on the quantized lines. And that’s my issue with the digital environment as we go into it is that we’re trying to conform people to those segmentations rather than foster the anomalous behavior, the innovation and the weirdness that we’re going to need to solve great problems. That 20% of people, those are the people that invented the net. That 20% of people are the weirdos like us, who figure stuff out in new and strange ways. Don’t auto tune us to be like everybody else.
Jim: Exactly. And the other thing that, and I’d love to get your thoughts on this, something I have noticed, and I actually did a accidental found experiment to prove that it’s true is that things like Facebook and Twitter seem to be turning us from thinkers into reactors, into basically making us much more impulsive. For instance, I recently put a statement up on Twitter where I said that sharing content is a moral question and lots of discussion about it.
Jim: And people said, yes, it should be but for most people embedded in the nets today, they’re not thinking about when they choose to share a piece of content. They literally are just triggered in some [inaudible 00:36:58] system one kind of way to share. And I then responded after about 50 comments along this line. I said, “Well, what would happen if we put a mandatory popup box that said, every time you share any content on a Twitter or Facebook like platform, you have to answer yes to the question, is sharing this content going to help make the world a better place for your children and grandchildren?”
Douglas: That’s great. Just a moment of intervention, a moment of thought. That’s Marxist for God’s sake.
Douglas: Socialist, you’re going to slow down the engines of capitalism. Get everybody thinking that just even if they just click yes. That extra half second is going to cost Facebook 17% of its annual profit.
Jim: Right. Right. But what do you think about the idea that these algorithms are not only wanting us to go on diets, even if we’re not intended to though I probably should, but they’re also just making us much more triggered and reactive to everything.
Douglas: I agree. As you were talking, I was thinking about the difference between like television advertising and this sort of web conditioning. And I feel like back in the… I of course like television because I was raised in the television era. So that’s I guess where I’m comfortable, but the people who were trying to convince us of things with TV, they were like, Freudians. Barnice’s uncle or whatever was Sigman Freud and they’re using, “Oh, we can look at the mother’s need to nurture people and have her put an egg in Betty crock.” It was a very Freudian or use a doctor to tell you that cigarettes are good. So you do regression and transference a very… Now it’s like Skinner right now. Now it’s a Skinner box, pure behavioral [inaudible 00:38:51] red light, make them click go. So you’re right. It’s moving from responses, even if they’re psychologically motivated paternalistic-
Jim: Manipulative. Now they’re just… I like that. I love that going from Freud to Skinner that actually clarifies this thinking for me what has happened here. And here’s the found experiment was that the game B community had its online home on Facebook for a long time. And there were fairly frequent flame wars and little battles over nothing. And those of us who have been online forever know that this happens a lot, but we got into a Facebook, tried to cancel us by accident probably. But I think they mistuned their anti [Quenon 00:39:32] algorithm and instead whacked all the admins for the Game B group and Game B, we may be a egocentric, but we’re not dangerous at least not in the short run. But we got back online 12 hours later, because we were able to call in some big guns, including Joe Rogan to argue our corner.
Douglas: Oh, that helped?
Jim: That certainly helped. Got 6 million reads on a tweet that Joe Rogan retweeted. And we also had people who knew people in Facebook and they looked into it and said, “Yes.” Even though we were giving death penalty kills these weren’t suspensions, these your account has been killed, not reversible, not appealable. We did get brought back to life after 12 hours. But anyway, we were so mad about this and realized how vulnerable we were that we built a new Game B network privately on a different technology, it uses a technology called Mighty Networks. And those are interested go to game-b.org. We now have a community, several thousand people.
Jim: And here’s the interesting thing, not a single flame war, not a single fight. And I’ve thought about this. And what I realize is that Mighty Networks, whether by accident or by design has built a cooler interface. It doesn’t try to suck you into maximize engagement. It makes it a little harder to find things. So I would say the total level of engagement is lower, but what it has done is somehow dampened this reflexivity. And it’s that reflexivity that I believe was the cause of these unnecessary yelling matches between people.
Douglas: Yeah. And a barrier to entry is not a bad thing. If you’ve got to walk through the snow to get to the seminar room, to have the discussion with these people, you’re not going to trash it as easily. You’re going to appreciate that we all made it to this room and we’re here. So with the Well, back in the day on the Well, when you dialed up, you’re dialing into something you’re paying precious minutes. I used, I forgot what it was called, where you download everything and go… There was a-
Douglas: Sweeper. Yeah.
Jim: Guess who wrote Sweeper?
Douglas: Who wrote Sweeper?
Jim: I did.
Douglas: You saved my life. You saved my phone because people don’t know back then you had to pay. Every minute you were on the phone cost money especially if it wasn’t local.
Jim: Yeah. I wrote Sweeper to save the Well, because it was getting so expensive, especially as there was so much content on there. I wrote it and gave it away as a free gift to the community. People didn’t believe that I made it free. They said, “I’ll pay a hundred dollars for this thing.” I said, “Nope, it’s my gift to the community.”
Douglas: Yeah. But that’s why people wrote software in the original community. But yeah, I used that because then I could dial in, download all the conversations and progress that I was a part of and sit offline. And the other thing that was great about that is that you’re not rushed when you compose your response. I could spend an hour crafting a single paragraph, the beauty of the Well, and I really haven’t experienced it since with the Well it anchored the internet for me as a place where I sounded smarter than I do in real life.
Douglas: Imagine that. The internet was a place where we were smarter and we were embarrassed as scared to meet each other in real life because we didn’t think we could actually sound that intelligent. It’s so the opposite today where everyone online sounds like an idiot and you meet them and you go, “Well, why do you sound like such an idiot on Twitter?”
Jim: A friend of mine who’s a fairly well known Twitter celebrity, his Twitter persona is like a complete idiot asshole. In real life, he’s a smart, calm intellectual kind of dude. And I go, “Why do you play that character on Twitter?” Well, because he gets lots than lots of followers. That’s why.
Douglas: And what you say though that the mighty net it’s tuned cooler.
Jim: Yeah. It’s tuned cooler. That’s the words I’ve come up with for
Douglas: Right. And Facebook is tuned so hot that’s in theory what this redesigning the internet course is about. That it’s up to each generation of internet users to say, “Well, how is the internet tuned recognizing that it’s tuned? How is this platform tuned? Is it tuned? Is it optimized for good?” For lack of a better word, is it optimized for intelligent conversation? Is it optimized for coming up with solutions to problems or is it optimized for extraction of data? Is it optimized for sensationalism? Is it optimized for stickiness and deciding it’s up to us, what we optimize for and to reseize, to reclaim that power.
Jim: Yeah. Let’s skip temporarily the section I was going to next, which was regulation and go to your section on human centered design because I’m going to come back to regulations. So how do we get to human centered design when there are no economic incentives to do so. So if you, and I’m sure this is the point of the course partially is you want to transmit to your students some sense of what human centered design might mean? What does human center design mean to you?
Douglas: Well, obviously it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me it means designing to maximize human agency and autonomy rather than the use of human beings. And what does that look like? And, well, it’s back to human augmentation as a, I guess Englebart, would’ve put it back in the day. How are we augmenting what it means to be human with our design rather than thwarting or repressing it.
Jim: Yeah. And I’ve been thinking about this for many years too and one of the things I throw out and again, this example of a little box that says, is this content good for your children and grandchildren? Is a more general concept of viscosity. If you’re in a money on money, return, closed loop with no moral considerations whatsoever more, faster, and faster and faster, better and better and better, more clicks, more ads to be read, et cetera. But if you intentionally slow things down, this can also apply to designs of political systems by the way.
Jim: James Madison, I read a book recently on the origins of the constitution. That’s something I’ve been reading on and off on for many years, he knew that actually having not enough viscosity was a bad thing in a political system. I’m now doing some deep reading in the French revolution. And it turned out that the political institutions of the French revolution had no viscosity at all, at least up till 1795.
Jim: And so things could switch like this from hour to hour and perhaps human centered design takes into consideration that humans left to their own devices can be extremely volatile. And again, this is this Facebook Mighty Networks comparison. It’s just a little harder to get in a fight on Mighty Networks. It takes more work and it may well be intentional. And so this idea of what is the optimal viscosity or what kind of rate limiters can you build in this? Another example we both know on Twitter and Facebook that are people who make hundreds of comments a day, suppose you could only make five comments a day on a platform. And so make you ration them, use them where you think they’re actually useful, important and add value as an example of something like viscosity or a rate limiter.
Douglas: Right. It’s putting rules of one sort or another these little in interruptions, which I know they go so against some of the original ethos of the unbridled, total freedom, wild west but if you accept it you think of it this way. When I was a theater director, I found I did better plays if I was stuck in a basement black box theater with pillars in the way of you invent around it. If you could give them the perfect giant theater, you’re almost non-creative. It’s like once you set up some limits is when the interesting things happen. Viscosity is not an obstacle to your full best expression. It’s a pacing device. It’s hard to convey the importance of why you got to have courses. It’s hard to convey the importance of that in design to people who are just trying to optimize for the cash register.
Jim: And the shininess of everything. Good thing you mentioned theater, my wife and I go to New York pre COVID we go once a year and sometimes we stay as long as three or four weeks. And one of the things we love to do was to go to the off, off Broadway theater with literally in these basements with 50 seats and pillars and black spray painted ceiling, and people would ask us what shows we’d seen, expecting us to rattle off the Broadway hits we usually go see one Broadway hit. I think the last one I saw was Sunday in The Park With George, which was kind of a nice revival.
Jim: But we mostly go to shows no one’s ever heard of, but it’s so much better as a actual experience of theater in some real sense. So working with within constraints brings the artist out in people. I agree. So we’re kind of old [inaudible 00:48:34] here saying, “Hey, we need to slow things down, make them less shiny, less hot.” When you, when you express ideas like this to, I guess your course aim is to graduate students so 22 year olds, they think you’re the man from the moon? What is their reaction to these ideas?
Douglas: It is interesting because here I am this psychedelic hippie cyber punk guy who used to be the one trying to make people less afraid of the future that was coming. I was the guy who went on Larry King and told him what cyberspace was. And now I’m the guy telling young people what it was like before this stuff ever existed and tried to help in some ways denaturalize the internet so they can see it as a series of choices. But yeah, a lot of them, particularly the undergraduates they’re like, “Well, what do you have against the internet? Why don’t you like the internet?” And I’m like, I’m the one who wrote the book, Playing the Future, arguing that the kids are okay and they came up with the term screenagers that the kids are all right and they’re going to understand the language like natives.
Douglas: It’s like if you only knew and I think what I’ve had to do is to help them see that I’m not trying to speak a against the technology. What I’m asking is that we bring forward some of the best wisdom from the past, the Tyson trunk of porta, the indigenous wisdom, the permaculture wisdom, the wisdom of the ancients, the wisdom of the 1960s and the comments and of bring that forward into the technologized future, not stop the technology, just inform it. And then they’re a little bit better about it. But yeah, I’ve gotten now this reputation as the, what’s also the title of that book, Throwing Rocks at the Google bus, they think I’m saying that we should throw rocks at the Google bus.
Douglas: I’m not saying throw rocks. I’m saying it’s a poetic image of saying, how has it come to this, that Google the two kids in a Stanford dorm room who we’re going to take down Yahoo with a bottom up linked algorithmic search mechanism are now extracting value from a local community and making San Francisco unlivable to the point where people are throwing rocks at their buses. How has it come to this? It doesn’t mean anybody, well, some people are, but it doesn’t mean anybody is evil. It just means, yo, this has gotten a little out of control here.
Jim: Yeah. And I’ll push back. It’s not really a pushback, but it’s a branch. The kids are all right. Well, there’s an awful lot of research that said the kids now aren’t all right.
Douglas: I know.
Jim: Jonathan Height for instance, quotes a lot of those research that starting right around 2008, 2009, guess what happened then? The iPhone and Facebook kind of reach critical mass, both at about the same time and teen suicides, teen depression, particularly amongst girls. It’s one of the very few platforms I never looked at except occasionally look at my wife’s photography is Instagram has apparently become the, for an awful lot of teenage girl, they present themselves their actual persona in their own mind. There is their Instagram, whatever it is that is on Instagram, I don’t even know. And this has produced the kids aren’t all right to a substantial degree.
Douglas: No, it’s a really awful technology to use as a mirror. And it’s very particular. When I was writing, the Kids Are All Right, that book playing the future was a 1996. Those are the kids I was talking about. No, these kids they’re in a really negative feedback loop with these technologies, not all kids, but we know what is it? 20, 30% increase in teen suicides and cutting and all that. And among Instagram users it’s serious, even if I can’t give exact causality, there’s certainly correlation there. That’s-
Jim: Disturbing at least. Right?
Jim: And the fact that we do talk about they’re not all evil, but yeah, we do have Zuck, he obviously doesn’t care as far as we can tell.
Douglas: As far as we can tell or does he think it’s a state… I know he thinks he’s Ceasar and he has the haircut, he’s doing the whole thing. Because he’s was what’s Augustus or somebody he thinks.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah. I had Steven Levy on the show who wrote the fake book Facebook, but five years with Zuck. And we talked about the Zach’s bizarre obsession with Augusta Caesar, including the haircut and his wife complaining when they’re on their honeymoon all he wanted do was go to sites of Augusta Caesar or like, yikes. But fortunately, I don’t know… I just got a funny feeling that this move of rebranding the name of the company to Meta is a move of desperation and at the same time a move of hubris both at the same time. Fingers crossed. Maybe it’s not going to work.
Douglas: Yeah. I’m hoping not because it’s not just a rebrand. It’s not just like alphabet. It’s not just becoming a holding company. It’s a true pivot. And I understand it’s the ultimate postmodern move to say, “I’m going to go Meta on the whole thing. I’m framing the whole net. I’m outside that in the next thing.” But yeah, I mean it’s, I think it’s the Steve Case moment. Like when Steve Case bought Time Warner with AOL because his stock was over. So he bought a real company. I think Meta is that is that moment that we reached peak Facebook a couple of years ago and there’s really only so much he can do.
Jim: Right. Let’s let’s skip ahead, we’ll come back to regulation again later maybe if we have time, if not hell, we won’t talk about it. And that is what next? And you have a whole section of that. I think you called the chapter technology, decentralized web and blockchain and metaverse. And all these things are suddenly bubbling up suddenly over the last couple of years. So called web 3.0, exactly what that means, I’m not sure. But I know a lot of it has to do with people who think that you can do things on a blockchain that personally in my view, aren’t really appropriate for blockchains, but that’s another story from another day and then blockchain itself and distributed finance could be called web 3.0. And then also in parallel, not the same, but somewhat overlapping in some places is the idea of the metaverse. It does seem like there’s a lot going on in terms of possible branches towards the future. More than there’s been for say 15 years or so.
Douglas: Yeah. Although when I think about this web 3.0 and the metaverse in the future, it’s kind of like big business is finally discovered Napster because we were doing this. To our networks and Napster and peer to peer and decentralized for various reasons. It’s like we had PGP which is pretty good privacy, which is basically just blocks of blockchain. It’s the blocks without the chain in a way.
Jim: And then you had your key chain in PGP, right?
Douglas: Right. Your public key and your private key and then all the blockchain is layering up a bunch of those into a block. So you have a record of them, of authenticated transactions. And the decentralized web is like Napster or tour networks where we used to do file sharing. So everybody hosts everything and you get things from each other rather than from central servers so that they can’t stop you. And then the other metaverse thing is just virtual reality. Again, back to VRML virtual reality markup language and Mark Peshi of the 1990.
Jim: And Gerald Lanier back in… I talked to Jerry Lanier back in 1994 and we talked about it and I did some calculations at the time and said, not enough bandwidth ain’t going to work, but the ideas are just now there is enough bandwidth. There is enough computation the Oculus Quest 2 headset is finally almost just about sufficient for the task. So these things, I have one sitting over there and have not yet found a convincing use case for it.
Douglas: That’s the thing. I haven’t either. And if all we’re going to do with web 3.0 and blockchain and the metaverse is just reify, the things we already have, like so far blockchain is just hyper capitalism, hyper speculation. It’s like a derivatives exchange.
Jim: Without any regulation. Right?
Jim: Yeah. And it is interesting. I will help design one of the early coin offerings, pretty successful advise them, I other one also pretty successful. So I’ve had my wins in the blockchain world, but about 2017, I walked away from it saying, I think I described it as, this reminds me of worse than the suits that showed up in 1998 that led to the .com bubble and worse to the coke dealers that replace the nice hippie pot dealers in the late 70s.
Jim: When it came to screw me this and just no holds barred of shit ass behavior. And while there is some good things going on, particularly around Dows I think that really clever things going on around Dows so I respect a whole lot some of the things in distributed finance makes some sense, but there’s so much room for scamsters and shitheads and promoters and all this sort of stuff.
Douglas: And I hate to be one of those throw out the baby with the bath water people, but I’m thinking the bath water is so much louder than the baby right now that the net effect of all this stuff is so far negative. When I see Matt Damon on the Super Bowl hawking a crypto exchange and Larry David doing, it’s like what has happened here? And people should not be investing in this stuff. It’s a virtual tulip craze.
Jim: Yah, certainly a lot of it is. On the other hand, I’m going to give you another example. The Canadian government recently last couple days cracked down on their trucker convoy civil disobedience by ordering all the Canadian banks, which are only seven. So it’s a lot more practical in Canada than in the US to suspend the accounts of all the people participating in the civil disobedience.
Jim: Now, as it turns out, I disagree with the civil disobedience. I do believe that requiring vaccines for cross-border truckers is not an unreasonable thing. On the other hand, I also support the right for civil disobedient protests, without things like destroying your business, confiscating your truck, seizing your bank accounts and things of that sort. And so that does tell me that, I can see having alternative money that’s not under the boot of the nation state is a good thing.
Douglas: Yeah. And seizing people’s money that’s a really bad look for…
Jim: And I’m not quite sure they’re seizing their money yet, but they’re freezing all their bank accounts, their credit cards threatening to seize their trucks. And I said, “This is really bad.” Can you imagine if Donald Trump had ordered the American banks to freeze all the accounts of all the Black Lives Matter protestors?
Douglas: Yeah. Or if Biden did it to people who didn’t get vaccinated, it would be even worse.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. And so this is one of the arguments, I will say, the legitimate arguments of blockchain folks is governments are becoming more and more repressive around the world. There’s a slide towards kleptocratic authoritarianism around the world. And even if we don’t love some of the uses of blockchain, we have to use some of it in self defense against the over regulatory nation state.
Douglas: If they’re indeed more robustly defensible. I sometimes question when, not to get nerdy, but when they forked ethernet, right, there was a big kind of ethernet robbery and they forked ethernet because there are few enough people with enough ethernet to decide, “Let’s move this over here.” So I think it would almost be harder to do a reset like that on the dollar than it was on the supposed cryptocurrency. So it’s tricky.
Jim: Yeah. There’s something to that.
Douglas: You know, what was interesting to me is there the efforts to use like blockchain and decentralize tech to like enable democracy and there’s this thing they did in New York called unfinished this. It was the guy, the former owner of the LA Dodgers started this organization to build a blockchain that will create a global multiracial democracy through the blockchain. I’m like, “Okay, how? What do you mean?” And so there’s a whole day [inaudible 01:01:47] this conference with a whole bunch of us come in and we’re all like, “Okay, what you got?”
Jim: And what was the answer?
Douglas: They didn’t say they want to build a social network basically. A decentralized social network, but I think you get rewarded for your attention with tokens and that sort of… There’s a bunch of those sort of like mindset com and a lot of them that it’s just really hard to engender the best conversation if you’re getting paid to converse.
Jim: Yeah. I’m a member of Mines and the quality is low. It’s an interesting concept, but it is not executed in a way that, to your point earlier that makes us better humans. And that was going to be one of my points. I do follow not just the blockchain based distributed web, but some of the other ones, things like the beaker browser that was essentially implements a peer-to-peer network between all the browsers and as you said moves the data around between them, et cetera, the dark project, which is a kind of related thing that allows you to build distributed online databases that are hosted everywhere, kind of like the old toward things. What have you. And then another one, one level up of sophistication is the feta verse, the Mastadon network of essentially Twitter clones.
Jim: It’s kind of a somewhat better in some ways Twitter, but here’s the point in some ways it’s worse. And that is that distributed technology makes certain kinds of functionality a lot harder like discovery. If we have a multiverse of Twitter servers, how do I find Douglas Rushkoff? You can have a distributed service, it goes, searches them all. And it comes back in a couple of minutes, maybe if you’re lucky, but there’s a lot of functionality that is more easily implemented in terms of a centralized server.
Jim: And so whenever I see these business plans, I see a lot of them because people know I’m interested in this stuff for distributed X. I say, “Oh, you can’t do this feature very well.’ You will lose because it’s actually better to do this on a centralized or partially centralized service.
Douglas: So it’s viscosity but not the right kind of viscosity.
Jim: Exactly. It’s architectural viscosity but unnecessary architectural viscosity. Do you really want us let’s say limit case, do I really want everybody to have a full copy of everything? Everybody they ever interacted with said on Facebook, on their phone? I don’t think so.
Douglas: Thank you. No. Thank you. No, but the difficulty of discovery is something… Oh, this makes me sound old also, but it’s something I miss. I miss the way that I found out about Charles Bukowski, the short story guy, was because a cool kid in high school told me about William Burrows who wasn’t in any local library. I made it down to St. Mark’s books and asked the guy, William Burrows. And he’s like, “That counter over there.” And there was this bookcase, like behind the thing around the bend of Burrows but then there were these other people like Allen Ginsburg and then these weird books by this guy Bakowski.
Douglas: So I come back from New York City in 11th grade with William Burrow’s Naked Lunch and Charles Bakowski short stories and my friend is like, “What’s that?” And so how does that happen without like Bleecker Bobs? And there was a… It was almost like a magical initiation that it required a certain amount of effort and finding and discovery that when everything is one Google search away or thrown at you, because you jump into a Facebook group and it’s all just, you’re overwhelmed with this stuff, there’s a little bit of that journey that’s lost.
Jim: Yeah. It’s funny you should mention. So very interesting overlap, very late in history, but me and one of my college buddies about 1972 became obsessed with the beats and we went back and read Gary Snyder and Ferline Getty and Carac and about Neil Cassidy. And somehow along that, along those lines, I also stumbled across Burrows and Bakowski and there was no Google in those days. Somehow one of us heard… I think my buddy had heard about On The Road, even though by this point it was old news, 1972, we both read it and said, “This is really interesting.” What else we can find out like this? And I memorized how at one point [crosstalk 01:06:12] my father but yeah, it was a cult thing. I guess you can still have cult things by being ultra, ultra, ultra, ultra specialized.
Douglas: Right. Black Bill and do the research or whatever and you get a community.
Jim: Yeah. You get a community and maybe it turns into [Quenon 01:06:30] right?
Douglas: I know. But the thing that’s positive about that is that they do have each other in a way that most people certainly online don’t. They don’t have a group of people who are going to support you, their Quenon is a yes and improvisation, where anything you add, yes and they’re doing this and they’re doing… And it’s like to be accepted like that is something that those of us struggling on the anarchic fringe of the left, my God, it’s so hard to feel included. It’s anything I say can trigger… The internet is a hard place. Medium is a hard place to write for now. It’s like as everything becomes more like a social network work, I feel less and less like a contemplative writer and more like a hot take delivery dude.
Jim: Yeah. They all want to try to force us into.
Douglas: Right. Faster, right. More. That’s always what, nothing against Medium, God bless. They’ve given me money and detention and wonderful stuff but the call I always get is we’d like you write shorter, more frequent pieces. It’s always to that until that’s going to be a tweeted hour. Right?
Jim: Yeah. That’s what they want which is quite unfortunate. Right. Yeah.
Douglas: But it’s the way…
Jim: It’s funny. I recently put out something on Twitter, which I think it makes a similar or point, which as I said maybe the thing that unifies Quenon, the anti-vaxers, the Memetic trans community and some of these other communities of people basically having a group that they can hug onto is that it’s the equivalent of a prison gang in a [Greberian 01:08:21] prison of structural violence. I think there’s a lot to that. Wokism fits in the same category. They hug onto each other and they have an identity against the world in the same way a prison gang does. And we’re all stuck in this Greberian prison of structural violence. And this is a reasonable adaptation.
Douglas: And it trickles down into the real world as well then. I was watching my, and maybe it was like this for girls since whenever. But watching and my daughter negotiate middle school and the middle school cafeteria and when she would come home and describe, “Oh, I can’t sit at this table because they’re like that. And that table says I can, but they’re going to do this.” I imagine the kids walking with their tray, looking at the room at these tribes at these tables and what it means to sit down with any one of them and you’ve got to find one or you’re not safe. It is like the prison yard. Are you going to go with the Crips, the bloods, the area nation, the this. And I do feel that right now the real world experience of young people in particular is more characterized by the architectures of the networks that they’re on rather than the other way around.
Jim: Yeah. Yeah. And some of it is good. People can find each other, especially people who are oddballs, don’t fit in, they don’t have a lunch table. But they can find 10 people they’re compatible with on the internet. On the other hand, you end up in echo chambers that just reinforce nutiness you can understand why people are cuing nuts, but frankly they’re nuts. Right?
Douglas: Right. But people underestimate how… I don’t know if it was for you too. I was not a popular kid growing up. I had weird ideas and all I find the Well, when I’m 19 years old, find the Well, and I get to have a conversation in a topic with John Barlow himself, with Nick Herbert, with Stewart Brand, they talk to you. They talk to me and affirmed my ideas about society and intelligence. And it’s so powerful. And that potential is still there to affirm the best in one another. I still can taste it. So it’s not a lost cause.
Jim: Yeah. And I still get lots of value out of particularly private groups on Facebook even though, you wonder they’ll figure out how to monetize those too, before long.
Douglas: Yeah. But they’re private and the beauty of a private group is not that they’re exclusionary of other people it’s that once you’re in a private group or once you’re broadcasting for a posse, you no longer are trying to get more clicks and you can’t help but even when I’m writing on Medium now I’m incentivized to get more claps, more likes, more followers, more money, more this.
Douglas: And whenever you’re in public, in generic internet land, you’re trying to reach everybody with everything all the time. And to put a boundary around that and say, “No, no, I’m going to have a deep conversation with just 30 people,” and that’s okay. It didn’t go viral. That’s okay. We’re getting enriched. It’s to somehow help create spaces and a value system that engenders that sensibility is going to be so important in order to promote good thought, moving forward, like the little, what do you call them? The little [Bees 01:12:01]. The little Bees you could be in a little bee that just knows the other people in your little bee.
Jim: [inaudible 01:12:07] little bees. Yeah.
Douglas: And that’s fine. That’s fine. You’re in a happy bee, you’re getting laid, you’re eating good food, you’re having good songs, you can get some books from another B or some incense from that Bee and some pot from this B that’s fine. But your bee is your bee. Your little Dunbar group.
Jim: 150 people. That’s all you really need.
Douglas: That’s the people you really need. And it’s hard as someone who’s gotten to write books for tens of thousands of people to say, “Oh, no, no, no, you don’t need that. Just find your 150 people.” But in reality, that’s where I’m going back to now. I’m receding as best I can. I’m feeling like I’m in the mode or maybe written my last book and going to withdraw from public eye, if nothing else, just to model a different approach to life.
Jim: Welcome to game B. Right?
Douglas: Yeah. Thank you.
Jim: Yeah. It’s interesting. Well, I think we’re up on our time. I know you have a obligation here at the hour. I would say, as always a lot of things on my call list. We didn’t get to, but the things we did get to, we really got to.
Douglas: We definitely did and we’re still alive and well. So hopefully we could do more of this.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. Anytime. Anytime you want to come on the Jim Rutt Show, you are welcome.
Douglas: Excellent. All right. And you on Team Human
Jim: Indeed. Very good. Douglas, thank you for a great conversation about the past, the present and the future of the online world.
Douglas: Thank you and Namaste.