Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Join Douglas Rushkoff's 'Team Human'

Finding genuine connection in our seemingly disconnected world is a challenge. Douglas Rushkoff, an American media theorist, graphic novelist and advocate for open source solutions to social problems would question that statement. He would retort by asking us to turn to the person sitting next to us or take a “digital Sabbath” and get to know our neighbours. The key is to rely less on technology because “we use technology to connect and it undermines that connection, dehumanizes us,” he told Writers Festival attendees.

 

Six years after his last appearance at Writers Fest with his then newly-released book, Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff returned to OIWF’s stage to share his frustrations about the digital economy and concerns about the state of humanity in a heavily capitalized world. This time, he encouraged us to join, or rather acknowledge, our undeniable belonging to ‘Team Human’.

 

Inspired by his podcast of the same name, Team Human is not a utilitarian book, but rather a “linear experience of a non-linear phenomenon.” If it is anything like his amusing conversation with Sean Wilson on May 4th, then Team Human is a book of contrasts and moments of hilarity. Rushkoff offers a critical examination of our present; and a remarkably relatable look at the past. 

 

By letting ourselves, our lives, and our data be colonized by technology companies, Rushkoff argues, we are essentially serving an operating system, a chartered monopolistic corporate economy which might have been designed by twelfth-century monarchs. In medieval times, citizens bought and sold in peer-to-peer marketplaces using a barter system and local currencies. In other words, we, humans, exchanged value. With the arrival of central currency, many people became willing to borrow money and pay interest in order to finance economic growth. As a result, today, we rarely sell value and instead, we spend our hours working for others. Naturally, this perpetuates consumer alienation and isolation, making us easier targets for manipulation embedded in advertisements. Our humanity – our skills, intrinsic human value and relationships with others – are undermined and dominated by the values of the market. 

 

Rushkoff perceives the state of human affairs as comprising of the inevitability of our extinction. He draws attention to our weirdness and wonderfulness; our ability to withstand multiple forces, including that of technology; our soulfulness; and our hunger for sensation. Digital media is only a symbol, technology is reactionary (not disruptive, as we are often told) and the internet drains rather than energizes us, he argues. To get back to our roots, to connect, to rediscover our value, and to truly and wholeheartedly join ‘Team Human,’ we must build rapport with one another. Rushkoff wants us to conspire, or ‘breathe together,’ to dare to look into someone’s eyes on occasion. The resulting solidarity and renewed connection may surprise us, he concludes. It may be just the nudge we need to disrupt the status quo.