Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review: Program or Be Programmed

I headed into Douglas Rushkoff's book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age expecting it to like it. I've read some of his writing and find I agree with some of his major ideas. As the title of the book implies, it centers around the idea that the more of our lives we place in the hands of technology, the more important it is that we understand how the underlying tech works, and if necessary, be capable of changing it.

However, I was quite disappointed with the book. While some of his ideas are along the right lines, he sort of circles around them without directly nailing most of them. Worse still, many of his analogies are broken For example, he makes an analogy to automobiles, comparing ignorant users of tech to being passengers rather than drivers. I'd say a better analogy would be to say that it's more like drivers who know how an automobile works are more likely to make better use of the car, better able to converse with their mechanic, etc. Others are just plain wrong. For example, he compares digital audio to analog audio recording, making the point that digital is a quantized, and thus poor, copy of the original, while analog is an exact copy. However, analog recording is full of it's own errors and approximations. Ultimately BOTH are a copy of the original, each with their own flaws, thus 'going digital' doesn't necesarily cause a problem, and ultimately it's important to understand both. More annoying still, is that he stretches many of his analogies too far, as many books tend to do.

Finally, he doesn't really offer a prescription of any kind. Unlike better works like Jonathan Zittrain's book, which at least attempt to offer some suggested tactics and possible solutions, Rushkoff's book just rants about the problems and doesn't offer any paths out for most of them.

Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age

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