We Still Haven’t Reached the Best Part of the Trip
How Team Human can retrieve the true promise of the digital renaissance.

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 26 January 2022

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I just got done with a talk for a college about how we squandered the possibilities for a networked society by focusing on IP in the cloud rather than the people with whom we were connecting. Afterwards, during the Q&A, a student wanted to know why I was so pessimistic about the digital future. I was a bit surprised. Because while I do think we screwed things up, I wouldn’t still be writing and speaking and podcasting and Zooming if I didn’t believe we can still turn this all around.

I’m no pessimist. I’m usually accused of the opposite. I was one of the first to celebrate how the digital renaissance could unleash the wild potentials of the collective human imagination. This renaissance included everything from the chaos math and quantum physics to fantasy role-playing and the Gaia hypothesis. We believed that human beings, connected as never before, could create any future we wanted. The internet would do for humanity what LSD did for the individual.

But then Wired magazine and Wall Street speculators came long, and reframed the Internet as a business opportunity. They called it the Long Boom. Thanks to digital technology, they said, the economy would now grow exponentially. Forever.

Of course, nothing in nature grows exponentially. Only cancer, and then it kills its host. So instead of developing technologies to promote the next stage of human evolution, we developed technologies to extract market value from people and places. This meant making people less creative and unpredictable — and more addicted and controllable.

We don’t use our technology, anymore. Our technology uses us. Every time we swipe on our smart phone, it gets smarter about us — while we get dumber about it. Social media could have been designed to promote human collaboration, but instead it’s about extracting our data, lumping us into categories, and then filling our newsfeeds with stories designed to make us conform to our behavioral profiles. The technology departments at leading universities now teach “captology” and behavior design— the study of addicting humans to devices, and redirecting our behavior.

Human beings are being “auto-tuned” — anything that doesn’t hit the exact, quantized notes is considered “noise.” But that’s not the noise. That weird, in-between stuff — that anomalous behavior and paradoxical thinking — that’s the signal. The soul.

Team Human — my book, my podcast, and the “movement” itself —is intended to be our flag in the sand. It’s a manifesto — not against digital technology at all, but for retrieving what it means to be human, and embedding that humanity in the digital future. The first step is to remember that being human is team sport. We can do this, but we have to look up from our screens and find the others. Human beings have the home field advantage in the real world.

Instead of optimizing human beings for technology, let’s start optimizing technology for a human future.