Douglas Rushkoff: the next renaissance belongs to the network

Douglas Rushkoff’s recent speech on the potential for a type of “open source democracy” is worthy of recommendation. It is a really good speech. He believes that the recent advances in network technology offer something of a new renaissance. He gave this keynote last week at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York. It has such an effect that the whole organisation subsequently changed its name to the Participatory Democracy Forum.

Here’s a digest of his argument:

1. Personal democracy is an oxymoron. Democracy is about others.

2. But since the renaissance, much has been focused on the individual. This has proved one of the main obstacles towards a true democracy.

3. Because once we understood ourselves as individuals, we understood ourselves as having rights. The Rights of Man. A right to property. The right to personal freedom.

4. But paradoxically, this led to more centralised authority: as individuals become concerned with their personal stakes, their former power as a collective moves to central authorities: divide and conquer.

5. The media of the renaissance: the printing press (and by extension all broadcast media) are very good at perpetuating the myth of the self – individual interest.

The next renaissance (if there is one)—the phenomenon we’re talking about … is not about the individual at all, but about the networked group. The possibility for collective action. The technologies we’re using—the biases of these media—cede central authority to decentralized groups. Instead of moving power to the center, they tend to move power to the edges. Instead of creating value from the center—like a centrally issued currency—the network creates value from the periphery.

I concur with much of this … but Rushkoff offers a wise kicker: it is the art of programming – not writing or blogging – that ushers in this new epoch …

“Writing is not the capability being offered us by these tools at all. The capability is programming—which almost none of us really know how to do. We simply use the programs that have been made for us, and enter our blog text in the appropriate box on the screen. Nothing against the strides made by citizen bloggers and journalists, but big deal. Let them eat blog.”