Tony's Reviews > Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now

Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff
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it was ok
bookshelves: 2013, whats-next, reviewed, edge, non-fiction

Rushkoff talks several times (including in a meta-discussion about why he's even writing a book in the first place. “How anachronistic!”) about how no-one actually reads books any more — all that really matters is getting the gist, and the quicker the better.

But, even though he could instead have written “dozens of articles, hundreds of blog posts, and thousands of Tweets, reaching more people about more things in less time and with less effort”, he thought it was worthwhile to take the long-form route instead. “I don’t think I could have expressed present shock in a Tweet or a blog post or an article, or I would have.”

Unfortunately this is for entirely back-to-front reasons. It's not that he needed to slowly and carefully build up a compelling argument, but rather that there isn't any there there, and having to express it in a more concise form would make it abundantly clear that something crucial was missing. Worse, the book is painfully full of examples of where Rushkoff himself seems to have only got the gist of something ... but a subtly wrong gist, so the whole book feels like listening to someone who's always slightly off-key.

(As an aside, it's not a PhD thesis, so I'm not expecting everything to be from primary sources, but, really, qotd.com?!)

Journalism, he notes — in the days when there was actually time to do so — used to be about trying to contextualise what was going on into a narrative. But like his inability to decide whether a student claiming to have grokked Hamlet in 5 minutes is a good or bad thing, he seems ambivalent about this too. He bemoans the lack of reflection that happens now (not just in the press, but, as result, in government too), yet is troubled that those prior narratives were usually over-simplified, sometimes plain false, and often abused by someone trying to sell us something (whether a commercial product or a war).

As a result the book itself ends up falling between those two stools. It's a constant barrage of lots of stories and facts (or almost-facts), but with surprisingly little attempt to actually construct meaning out of the parts, other than in support of the one big everything-is-a-nail thesis of the book, and thus it comes across largely as a massively elongated Chewbacca defense.

There are certainly enough nuggets of insight strewn throughout the book to give it some value. But unfortunately most of those are second-hand.
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Reading Progress

June 4, 2013 – Started Reading
June 5, 2013 – Shelved
June 5, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 5, 2014 – Shelved as: 2013
April 20, 2014 – Shelved as: whats-next
September 9, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed
November 30, 2014 – Shelved as: edge
May 23, 2015 – Shelved as: non-fiction

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

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David Sasaki I agree. Could have been a great 10-page essay about the compression of time. But, ironically, it was all over the place.


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