"I've started actually to think about almost every technology as a drug," he added. It's true when you're on Facebook and the internet at large. But he noted that the same was true of every medium, even the English language. Part of the appeal of taking a vow of silence, he said, was that it helps you detox from the drug of language. "It was why acid heads were hired to write the operating systems at Apple, Intel and IBM," he said. It was typically kids and psychedelic drug users at the time who wanted to dive into virtual worlds.
"Algorithms seem to me, at this point, the closest thing we have to demons."
Rushkoff has chronicled how technology and media has affected our society for decades. His 1994 book Cyberia was one of the first deep dives into cyberculture, and it was optimistic about the counter-cultural aspects of the internet. But it didn't take long before things went mainstream with America Online. Since then, he argues, online companies have been hyper-focused on building predictability into their services and algorithms, at the expense of the "increased novelty, strangeness and anomalous behavior" of the early internet. It's the difference between people having imperfect-yet-distinctive Geocities sites, to everyone having Facebook pages with zero personality.
"Algorithms seem to me, at this point, the closest thing we have to demons," Rushkoff said. "We put something out on the internet to teach it how to find our exploits ... and then leverage them to do behaviors and take actions against our better judgement and against our best interests."
Even if you're not familiar with his books, there's a good chance you've seen Rushkoff's viral 2018 Medium post, Survival of the Richest, where he describes an incredibly awkward discussion with a handful of billionaires. While he thought he was being hired to deliver a keynote about the future, he instead spent the meeting fielding questions about how they'd survive after "The Event," an innocuous term they used to describe societal collapse due to something catastrophic like climate change or a nuclear attack. (My favorite bit: How can they make sure their bunker security force doesn't revolt?)
"It was sad for me, that these guys who I thought were so rich and powerful ... actually see the future as an inevitability, not as something they can change," Rushkoff said. "So really, the best hey can do is earn enough money to insulate themselves from the reality they're creating by earning money in that way."