Team Human: A book reveiew by Bob Morris

Team Human
Douglas Rushkoff
W.W. Norton & Company (January 2019)

How to think constructively, connect meaningfully, and act purposefully

Douglas Rushkoff wrote this book to help as many people as possible who now struggle in a world in which “autonomous technologies, runaway markets, and weaponized media seem to have overturned civil society, paralyzing our ability to think constructively, connect meaningfully, and act purposefully. It feels as if civilization itself were on the brink, and that we lack the collective willpower and coordination necessary to address issues of vital importance to the very survival of our species.” He then asserts, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

I agree with Rushkoff while also agreeing with him and countless others that it is far more difficult to remake society together today, not as individual players but as the team we actually are, than at any prior time. As a team? “The first step toward reversing our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport. We cannot be fully human alone. Anything that brings us together fosters our humanity. Likewise, anything that separates us makes us less human, and less able to exercise our individual or collective will.”

These are among the passages that caught my eye, also shared with you to suggest the thrust and flavor of Rushkoff’s perspectives on civilization and human nature:

These are among the passages that caught my eye, shared with you to suggest the thrust and flavor of Rushkoff’s perspectives on society and human nature:

o  “Nature is a collaborative act. If humans are the most evolved species, it is only because we have developed the most advanced ways of working and playing together…The most successful of biology’s creatures coexist in mutually beneficial ecosystems. It’s hard for us to recognize such widespread cooperation. We tend to look at life forms as isolated from another: a tree is a tree and a cow is a cow. But a tree is not a singular tree at all; it is the tip of the forest. Pull back far enough to see the whole, and one tree’s struggle for survival merges with the more relevant story of its role in sustaining the larger system.”

o “The more advanced the primate, the bigger its social groups. That’s the easiest and most accurate way to understand evolution’s trajectory, and the relationship of humans to it. Even if we don’t agree that social organization is evolution’s master plan, we must accept that it is — at the very least — a large part of what makes humans human.”

o “Being social may be the whole point. The things we learn from one another are helpful with the logistics of mutual survival, but the process of learning itself — the sense of connection, rapport, and comaradarie we develop while communicating — may be the greatest prize. We may not socialize in order to live more than we live in order to socialize.”

o “Spoken language could be considered the first communication technology.”

o “Human inventions often end up at cross purposes with their original intentions — or even at cross purposes with humans, ourselves. Once an idea or an institution gains enough influence, it changes the basic landscape. Instead of the invention serving people in some way, people spend their time and resources serving it. The original subject becomes the new object.”

o “Living in a digitally enforced attention economy means being subjected to a constant assault of automated manipulation…The goal [of persuasive technology] is to generate ‘behavioral change’ and ‘habit formation,’ most often wityhouyt the user’s knowledge or consent.”

o “People are at best an asset to be exploited, and at worst a cost to be endured. Everything is optimized for capital, until it runs out of world to consume.”

o “The economy needn’t be a war; it can be a common. To get there, we must retrieve our innate good will.”

o “The long-term danger is not that we will lose our jobs to robots. We can contend with joblessness if it happens. The real threat is that we’ll lose our humanity to the value system we embed in our robots, and that they in turn impose on us.”

o “This is the true meaning of ‘the singularity’: it’s the moment when computers make humans obsolete. At that point, we humans will face a stark choice. Either we enhance ourselves with chips, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering to keep up with our digital superiors; or we upload our brains to the network.”

o “We mistakenly treat the future as something to prepare for…But the future is not something we arrive at so much as something we create through our actions in the present. Even the weather, at this point, is subject to the choices we make today about energy, consumption, and waste.”

o “As much as we think we’re separate individuals, we’re wired from birth and before to share, bond, learn from, and even heal one another. We humans are all part of the same collective nervous system. This is not a religious conviction but an increasingly accepted biological fact.”

There are dozens of other passages I could also have selected from a lively narrative that offers an abundance of indictments, affirmations, reassurances, and concerns that emanate from Douglas Rushkoff’s heart as well as his mind. “We can’t go it alone, even if we wanted to. The only way to heal” our wounds from autonomous technologies, runaway markets, and weaponized media “is by connecting to someone else.”  In fact, connecting to as many other people as possible. “We are not perfect, by any means.  But we are not alone. We are Team Human. Find the others.”

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1 Comment

  1. Marty Neumeier on February 3, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks, Bob. I haven’t read the book yet, but I’d like to see a little more skepticism about “the singularity” from thinkers like Rushkoff. The idea that technology is on an accelerating curve that will take us inevitably to human-machinehood seems more religious than scientific. Technology is only made possible by resources in the natural world, and most Singularists don’t allow that the natural world (including us) may become so stressed that technology has to move in another direction. If you were hoping to upload your brain or postpone your death by the year 2050, you may be surprised that Mother Nature has other ideas. I always enjoy Rushkoff, so we’ll we see where he goes with this.

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