How does technology define us? — Rushkoff Article Review

By Carson Kunnen


Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

“Technology has grown from some devices and platforms we use to an entire environment in which we function”

I could quote this entire article…it’s that good. Douglas Rushkoff is a media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, and graphic novelist out of New York. He is the author of several books: Team Human, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Program or Be Programmed and much more. In this article titled We’ve spent the decade letting our tech define us. It’s out of control written in The Guardian, Rushkoff explores how technology has been defining us — and how it is bringing out the worst.

“People have been waking up to the fact that our digital platforms are being coded by people who don’t have our best interests at heart.”

Essentially, Rushkoff’s main point is how technology serves a bigger role in our lives than we may care to realize. There is barely a line anymore. We are online 24/7, and quite honestly this scares me. Being a digital native and growing up with technology, I can say that technology has its benefits — but not benefits that outweigh the essential nature of being human — acquainting ourselves in the actual world in which we live.

“We don’t “go online” by turning on a computer and dialing up through a modem; we live online 24/7, creating data as we move through our lives, accessible to everyone and everything.”

Everyone now knows that social media companies use user data, which shapes algorithms primarily focused on engagement — by any means necessary. This is quite a scary thought. At the expense of ethical design, companies are designing to keep users on their respective platforms as long as possible, prioritizing content that appeals to each individual. Therefore:

“The net you see and the one I see are different. We are being shaped into who data says we are”

“It’s not just that we have different perspectives on the same events and stories; we’re being shown fundamentally different realities, by algorithms looking to trigger our engagement by any means necessary”

Luckily, organizations like The Center for Humane Technology have been working against the pervasive, manipulative design of technology. The organization’s journey began in 2013, when Tristan Harris (a former Google Design Ethicist) created a viral presentation that has spread like a wildfire. The Netflix documentary: The Social Dilemma is based upon this presentation.

Rushkoff goes on to give us some final thoughts:

“We have to understand the platforms on which we’re working and living, or we’re more likely to be used by technology than to be the users controlling it”

It is necessary that we take a certain skepticism to technology, contrary to Broussard’s term Technochauvinism — the idea that technology solves all problems. This connection between Broussard and Rushkoff is clear. Both authors are advocates for ethical design, proper motivation, and skepticism on the idea of Technochauvinism.

This article helps us scrutinize technology for what it really is. It allows us to see beyond the blinding light of Technochauvinism to the core of technology design and manipulation. Specifically, it allows us to focus on our journey throughout the Digital Studies minor by revealing potential blind spots in our framing, perception, ideology.