Present Shock And The Loss Of History And Context

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

In his new book, Douglas Rushkoff examines the telescoping of time and context wrought by ubiquitous digital technologies.

One of the few observers who is able to articulate a coherent critical account of American culture is Douglas Rushkoff. His new must-read book is Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (print edition) and (Kindle edition).
I have long found inspiration and insight in Rushkoff's work, especially his keen understanding of the pathologies of consumerism. In my 2009 book Survival+, I wrote:
Rushkoff's reply to an interview question on the consequences of ubiquitous marketing reveals how media/marketing has created an unquestioned politics of experience in which one's identity and sense of self is constructed almost entirely by what one buys:

"Children are being adultified because our economy is depending on them to make purchasing decisions. So they're essentially the victims of a marketing and capitalist machine gone awry. You know, we need to expand, expand, expand. There is no such thing as enough in our current economic model and kids are bearing the brunt of that.... So they're isolated, they're alone, they're desperate. It's a sad and lonely feeling....The net effect of all of this marketing, all of this disorienting marketing, all of the shock media, all of this programming designed to untether us from a sense of self, is a loss of autonomy. You know, we no longer are the active source of our own experience or our own choices. Instead, we succumb to the notion that life is a series of product purchases that have been laid out and whose qualities and parameters have been pre-established."

In my view, this is a brilliant analysis of the rot at the heart of the American project.
In his new book, Rushkoff examines the telescoping of time and context wrought by ubiquitous digital technologies. We're always accessible, always connected and every channel is always on; this overload affects not just our ability to process information but our culture and the way media and marketing are designed and delivered.
The title consciously plays off the influential 1970 book by Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, which posited that our innate ability to process change was limited even as the rate of change in our post-industrial world increased. That rate of change would soon overwhelm our capacity to process new inputs and adapt to them.
In Rushkoff's view, we've reached that future: the speed of change and the demands of the present are disorienting us in profound ways.
We all know what stress feels like: it often causes our view to narrow to the present stressor, and we lose perspective and the ability to "make sense" of anything beyond managing the immediate situation.
Rushkoff identifies five symptoms of present shock:
1. Narrative collapse - the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and post-narrative shows like The Simpsons.
2. Digiphrenia – digitally provoked mental chaos as technology lets us be in more than one place at any one moment. As Rushkoff notes in this chapter: Our boss isn't the guy in the corner office, but the PDA in our pocket. Our taskmaster is depersonalized and internalized.
3. Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, for example, packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event.
4. Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things with weak causal relationships, for example Big Data, which excels at identifying correlations but is utterly incapable of identifying cause amidst the correlations.
5. Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale, the cultural equivalent of a "market-clearing event."
As Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote in her review: "How do we shield ourselves from distraction, or gravitate to what really matters?"
Studies have shown that our innate ability to remember people and identify their relationships with others is limited to around 100 people--the size of a village or combat company. We undoubtedly have similar innate limitations on how many channels of input we can absorb.
Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations) calls this filter failure, his term for what used to be called information overload. Our filters become overloaded and we lose the ability to "make sense" of what's going on around us.
As the phenomenologists discovered in the 20th century, our basic coping mechanism is to separate the world (and inputs) into three basic categories: the focal point, the foreground and the deep background. Being unable to sort out which input belongs in the three spaces leads to disorientation and poor decisions.
The parallels between filter failure and stress are not coincidental, as we handle filter failure and present shock the same way we handle stress: we limit inputs and make a concerted effort to reorient our awareness and context, what some call "be still and know."
Another troubling parallel to present shock is addiction. People now respond to texts, emails, alerts and phone calls like rats in the proverbial cage with the lever that releases another tab of cocaine: they over-stimulate themselves to death but are incapable of restraining their impulse for more.
The "obvious" solution is to turn off inputs as a way of restoring our ability to live in a present without novelty and distraction. This is akin to withdrawal from a powerful opiate, and so we should not be surprised that there are now treatment facilities for kids who need to detox from digital inputs.
Rushkoff is especially attuned to the distortions in our experience of time created by digital media-communication present shock: "Time in the digital era is no longer linear but disembodied and associative. The past is not something behind us on the timeline but dispersed through the sea of information."
In effect, change no longer flows linearly like time anymore, it flows in all directions at once.
History and meaningful context are both fatally disrupted by this non-linear flow of time and narrative. Is it any wonder that we now read about young well-educated people who do not understand the meaning of "policy"? To understand policy requires a grasp of the histories and narratives that led to the policy, and the linear, causally-linked way that policy is designed to solve or ameliorate a specific problem or challenge.
If the causal chains of history and narrative are disrupted, then how can anyone fashion a meaningful context for actions and narratives, and effectively frame problems and solutions? If everything is equally valid in a non-linear flood of data, then what roles can authenticity, experience and knowledge play in making sense of our world?
These are knotty, complex issues, and you will find much to constructively ponder in Present Shock.


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fonzannoon's picture

A man got run over today by two guys who got out of their car and beheaded him. They then walked around for 20 minutes giving interviews with people who were seemingly unafraid of them. They even seemed to articulate their anger in a way that made sense at some level, yet in the backdrop was the beheaded guy. I was able to view this after watch a 25 second activa commercial. Holy fucking insanity.

JohnnyBriefcase's picture

It really is completely insane.


And I wonder why I have trouble sleeping...


or determining what is real at all.

Chupacabra-322's picture

Nothing is real. It's all been contrived by The Global Criminal Cabal Oligarch Bankster Intelligence Crime Syndicate. Indoctrination campaigns have been well thought out and carried out for hundreds if not thousands of years by the same Criminal Cabals aforementioned.

The Crime syndicate has infiltrated all higher levels of Economic, Educational, Religious and Political institutions. All while keeping the masses conquered and divided through deception, lies and illusion created by them.

tbone654's picture

"We're essentially the victims of a marketing and capitalist machine gone awry... we no longer are the active source of our own experience or our own choices. 


Everything is Marketing...  true

Manthong's picture

Ah yes.. confusion is the quintessential consort of control concurrent with conations of collectivism.

Oh regional Indian's picture

First they got time by the scruff of it's neck and started whipping it.

All of our "experiences are based IN time. He who controls time controls our lives....

Time to slow it down a little...




falak pema's picture

Once upon a time not long ago the multinational corporates, behemoths of the technological cum market economy age,  had a group of people who participated in inhouse research, formulated every year in the form of a long range plan or pespective that they presented to their bosses.

The rationale of this approach borrowed from the state sector but applied to a market economy, thus not "Gosplanned" as controlled by reality, was that technology and research based ventures, (which is par excellence where technology's arrow had placed the inhouse excellence of these corporates and consituted their very "raison d'etre"), requires strategic planning over say 5 year time frames to ensure that we have "all bases covered" and can react fast if the market changes; either thru inhouse R&D and new product launch OR thru M&A type outside import.

When Reaganomics arrived and the asset market, not the real client's economy market became new GOD, the whole impetus went from long range planning to "quarterly reports". It killed the mind set of corporate America.

Now we were in the irreal world initiated by the junk bonds bubble of Mike Milken and ZIRP and cheap oil memes, not because of market forces but because RR, aka new corpocracy political figurehead, statist dictator of corporate welfare state, wanted to win the cold war and Saud's Arabia was told to open wide the tap and corporate big OIL were told to tell the world that : "we were finding more oil every year than we were depleting".

We invented a new world based on a unilateral mantra of greed is good and its like instant coffee machine as it pays in cash gratification every day on WS to those who play the game according to these new rules. Where there are NO RULES except the sun never sets, and we take ALL bets, 'cos we are the best. Three thousand years of ethics and painful lessons of cause and effect, dire consequence of your own acts as depicted by history and legal precedence went out of the political cum media window of NWO hubris that ran the world.

Fiction became reality until Chindia emerged as energy guzzler and outsourced world factory partner, bigger than the corporate "tax and profit margin" bamboozlers themselves of NWO, and then the shit really hit the fan... We were now in the West running after our own shadows in the financialised markets where debt became asset and hyperconsumption became productive investment.

Today, after this awesome hit on the head to capitalism 5 years ago, we are in a virtual world where the runaway train is making the quarterly reporting the be all and end all of new Rome's decline.

All the hand wringing and the soul searching will not efface one word of past recent history and its inevitable momentum. Our culture is polluted not from some inexorable trend of outside forces beyond our control that make us follow a galatical "north star" disseminating a digitalised mantra to swamp us in new obscurantism of time's effacement and constant darwinian dystopia of ant eat ant knee jerks in labour arbitraged third world. New Mayan omen of God's ire.

Nope we have made this all by ourselves and its for us to unmake. As always man bakes his own polluted destiny. 

We need a new paradigm and a new political mindset worldwide. And it will come with great pain for the citizens of Rome and their surrogates, as for the "crawly creatures" of third world that justifies our current "bash and terrorise the terrorist" meme, the tinsel curtain for more asset stripping of what's left of this sparkling legacy of Adam and Eve legend now fukushima'd bigtime to "save humanity" from dying without instant food and push button energy.  

CPL's picture

There is no time.


Only the task and completion.

TeamDepends's picture

Sure, let's blame it all on capitalism....

Chupacabra-322's picture

Capitalism and free markets no longer exist. Fasicsm, fraud and manipulated markets do.

Zer0head's picture

"These are knotty, complex issues"


my spell check keeps on highlighting the word  knotty; the popup box keeps suggesting the word nutty

Dyhana's picture

it was surreal, that's the only way i can describe it.

A Lunatic's picture

Stock up on Machetes before the rush..........

CPL's picture

Maybe its time to unplug and visit the East Coast of Canada and Eastern Canada before the 27th. Bring a good pair of hiking boots for all the walking you'll be doing to see the beauty of it all.

Bring a good pack, filter canteen, some snacks and some bug repellant (Canadian gators fly). A good cap with a piece of tape double sided on the back of a cap will help with the deer/horse/black flies while on the hike. A paper map of the area you are visiting will help you see all the beauty and lookouts while on this journey.

Keeping large critters at bay, no problem. Trees are excellent vantage points to observe most of the sub compact car sized wildlife.

Avoid carrying ammo, or anything with potassium nitrate in it, weird things happen in high energy situations with it.

So understand that everyone you meet will also be on the journey exploring the natural splendor that only the mythical Cernunnos could reside in without complaint.

Sometimes it's good to unplug from a situation for a couple of years, go back to basics and relearn where we all came from. So get out of those basements, high towers and McMansions and find a piece of country to enjoy out here. You'll simply find there is nothing really to go back to after the learning experience of it all. Everyone who does it, I promise you'll be changed and respect the world we all live in more and most of all each other.

Sparkey's picture

I went there once, CPL, Eastern Canada that is, and I can report to the board; There is nothing there, I drove around for days and saw nothing, well perhaps not really nothing,, I did see a few McDonald's Restaurants but that was about all, lots of McDonald's in Chicago and a whole bunch of other stuff as well!

Professorlocknload's picture

Paddled up the river around 6 miles the other day. Saw none of this up there.

Sometimes ya just gotta tune it out. Or you might find yourself merging with it.

"Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amidst the storm."


mrmister's picture

The news media is the major culprit. They don't even know what they are talking about when they aren't lying or following celebrities. Case in point CNN says oklahoma city mayor is Glen Lewis. No CNN okc mayor is Mick Cornett. Abc last night said tornado was in Moore Alabama. They don't even know what is going on in reality.

LetThemEatRand's picture

The news media "personalities" just read what their corporate masters put on their telepromters.  Kind of like our President.

Chupacabra-322's picture

False Narratives written, created and copy written by the script writers at the CIA, Mossad, DoD, Pentagram and Military Industrial Complex of Satan.

Then regurgitated by paid CFR / CIA criminal actors via cable and national media outlets / mediums. Radio, Newspapers, magazines and Publishing companies.

Pseudolus's picture

All narratives are just that. Narrative.

Take yor pick

Dyhana's picture

Sandy Hook was really bad, the story kept changing from minute to minute when it first went down. Then they all seemed to get on the same page.

tango's picture

No, mediai are not the culprits although they are certainly deserving of much blame for our present state.  The author hit it on the head when he alluded to the increased pace of technological change.   It is now accelerating so fast from so many different directions that it is continually redefining our reality.  One aspect (out of many) is the mindless "consumerism", the idea that happiness comes from a new phone, gun, car or 3 star meal.  I'm not criticizing this tech juggernaut, just noting.   Never before have so many disciplines interacted - bio, physics, AI, topology, quantum/game/dimension theory, minaturization, VR - just thinking about it cannot do justice to the staggering effects being created. 

I do love my toys - they enrich life if used properly - but I also have a farm with streams and ponds and a day with veggies, fruits and fish works wonders for clearing the mind.  

Offthebeach's picture

I do a lot of Fedgov subsidized repairs/remodels on Section 8, SSI, "retired" sheeple homes. The sheeple, squatting on crushed couches in front of the flat screen are are like those lab rats with white wires attached to their exposed brains.

TV is the opiate of the sheeple.

GeezerGeek's picture

And ZH is the opiate of the - what? - disenchanted? Disillusioned? Based on the quantity of information presented on ZH, and the numerous comments posted by readers, we are spending an awful lot of time looking at the flat screens of our computers. Not certain how many read while squatting on crushed couches, but I have to think that the ZH community could be also could be envisioned as lab rats. 

Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but I do spend a lot of time reading here and find it quite rewarding. There are those, I would imagine, who would find such behavior demented.

rbg81's picture

Let's just admit it already:  we really ARE our khakis. 

DormRoom's picture

Century of the Self:


The narrative of human nature, an artefact of the Renaissance, has been replaced by stronger narratives of happiness machines within post modernity.

The decline of the Church, and the end of an absolute adjudicator, opened up new value systems, which capitalism territorized.  However capitalism without new territorities to territorize, cannibalizes itself. 


In this cannibalized economic landscape, Keynesians perpetually dig ditches to fill.  Monetarists perpetually print fiat money.  Perpetual war is peace.

Charles Wilson's picture

Please STOP!!!

"So they're essentially the victims of a marketing and capitalist machine gone awry..."


Why not cue Satie's "Parade" and read about "Non-Linearity".

Just don't watch "Pulp Fiction".  It's so...RETRO.



Chupacabra-322's picture

The Global Criminal Cabal Oligarch Bankster Intelligence Crime Syndicate main control mechanism is through PsyOp, deception and Illusion.

"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." -Carl Rove

A Lunatic's picture

I don't want to be part of 'WE' anymore. I am ME, and quite secure with that.

BullsNBeers's picture

That's what they want you to think.

Go Tribe's picture

Those aren't Chinese warships off our coast are they? I'll check Twitter. Nah, nothing there, move forward.

Mercury's picture

2. Digiphrenia – digitally provoked mental chaos as technology lets us be in more than one place at any one moment. As Rushkoff notes in this chapter: Our boss isn't the guy in the corner office, but the PDA in our pocket. Our taskmaster is depersonalized and internalized.


You might want to consider reverting to:

Bibliophilia - Pick up a book, preferably an old one, instead of your personal surveillance/entertainment gadget every once and a while and see if results don't improve.

And if you are fearful of the evil manacles of capitalism you can kill two birds with one stone here as mountains of physical books can be had for a song or nothing at all these days since many people are divesting themselves of their libraries or simply throwing their books away.

Computer gadgets are good for what they're good for and for some things they are the best tool available but take Rushkoff's other bit of sage advice and realize that you can either

Program Or Be Programmed.


He had some measure of the infuriating trait that causes a young man to be a nonconformist for its own sake and found that the surest way to shock most people, in those days, was to believe that some kinds of behavior were bad and others good, and that it was reasonable to live one’s life accordingly.

Neal Stephenson,

The Diamond Age

Professorlocknload's picture

+ 1 on that, merc.

We all possess the ability to process the information provided us by our senses, in our own way.

One's pleasure might be another's circle of hell.

ugmug's picture

I just love all the loons who think that utopia is always lurking just behind any organized behavior. If only everyone would just stop and stare at each other and a new enlightenment would emerge signaling a bowel movement. 

SeeNoEvil's picture

Humans are evolving into a different kinda human. Human erectus will die off an soon it will be cyborg human InfoIdiotus incapable of understanding anything without a touch screen or wireless signal 

Melin's picture

Access to information must stop.  Perhaps government regulators can tell us how much TV and YouTube is good for us.  We're all so overwhelmed and unable to cope.


otto skorzeny's picture

I find my paranoia to be quite stimulating.

Mike in GA's picture

I read Future Shock in 72, Atlas Shrugged in 76 and both those books shaped my thinking significantly.  The premise of both books is largely the reality we live today. 

Present Shock by Rushkoff sounds like a chronicle of our current decline. 

All noise, no signal, over.  And out.

Offthebeach's picture

Hence my tag, a play on Neville Shute's novel, On The Beach.

We roam, somewhat at allowed liberty, in the big, fascist, corporatist camp amongst mentally engineered Planet of Dr Moreau's sheeple.

You do what you can do. Resist as you can. Devail the vials, unmasks the frauds, support fellow travelers.
Have some fun. Maintain your mental health against the machines efforts to break you down.

freewolf7's picture

I refuse to see myself as a victim.

web bot's picture

Brilliant point of view and perspective on the mental rot that is infecting our world today....


A Lunatic's picture

I once saw an old man get his tractor stuck in the mud of his field. He could not free it so he flung himself down in the mud and began hysterically screaming until the police were called. Once the cops arrived he refused to get up and instead pleaded with them to shoot him. Sometimes life is a sad, sad affair.........

NidStyles's picture

I have felt like that before. It is not a good feeling when everything just seems to be against you. Then I realize that low and behold this is darwinism, and everything is against me. I must be doing something right, I'm still alive.

Schacht Mat's picture

So the world keeps turning faster and faster, until an arymthmic stutter invades our society, and then only Present Shock is effective.  All together now  .... CLEAR .......

The operation was a complete success - unfortunatly the patient died.

Fuku Ben's picture

Children are being adultified because the communists need angry mindless sheep to do their bidding during the upcoming cultural revolution in the US

besnook's picture

in other words, it took almost 40 years for the end of the buggy whip era and now it takes ten years for the complete cycle of facebook from start up to apex to zero.

japan is way ahead of the usa in applied consumer technology in the market. does this mean there will be cases where whole countries or regions will be so technologically backwards that they emulate the difference between the west and the new world where the new world is defined by countries whose populations are unable to keep up with new technology and are subjugated by the more technologically countries as they fall further behind, kind of like what is happening today in africa..