Question Forum 5

Question 1:
On page 38, Rushkoff says “…stories cannot truly come to the rescue of people who no longer have the time or trust required to respond to narrativity. What if stories themselves are incompatible with a presentist culture? How then do we maintain a sense of purpose and meaning?”

Do you agree with Rushkoff that we live in a “presentist” world too concerned with the present to frame events within a larger, overarching narrative? If so, then what, in your opinion, are some possible consequences of our abandonment of the traditional narrative and our infatuation with the present?

Question 2:
Rushkoff says that, "…the more forcefully we attempt to stop the passage of time, the less available we are to the very moment we seek to preserve" (p. 6). He explores the idea that we are so obsessed with not forgetting/preserving the present, that we don't even engage with the present enough in order to do so. Have you ever experienced this? Has there ever been a time that you feel you have missed out on because you were involved with another situation (either elsewhere or within that same situation) via some type of technology? (ie. texting, Tweeting, taking photos/Instagram, etc.)

Question 3:
Rushkoff talks about how we used to be sheltered by the media from what was really going on in the world. He writes, “The widespread belief among both the political and the media industries was that the public was not sophisticated enough to grasp the real issues of the day” (p. 45). Around the 1980s, he reports, CNN began broadcasting more realistic news and footage and we were able to decide for ourselves what we thought of it, rather than having it censored before it got to us. Do you think that we truly have a grasp of what’s going on in today’s world all around us? If so, have we maintained the reality that we’ve been exposed to? If not, why not?

Question 4:
Rushkoff begins talking about video gaming as a solution to present shock on page 60 (kindle version, might be different in print). Ten years ago, it would have been very strange to consider that our parents and even many of our peers could be considered "gamers" in any sense of that word, but in the past decade, gaming has become a nearly ubiquitous thing in our culture with systems like the Nintendo Wii bringing gaming to nursing homes and the popularity of social media games like Farmville and Mafia Wars bringing gaming to our parents and self professed "non-gamers." Gaming is now so ubiquitous that many of us now even play things like Candy Crush and other games on our cell phones while we're waiting for a bus or in line somewhere.

Rushkoff hints at the failure of narrative in our culture as being one of the driving forces behind the explosion of gaming at the turn of the millenium, do you agree that the lack of an engaging or involved, predefined story in many of Rushkoff's examples has in any way contributed to this explosion in the "gamer" population? What has been your own experience with gaming? Do you agree that it is a means by which we alleviate the effects of present shock?

Question 5:
On page 71, Rushkoff claims that, "The immense distributive power of digital production and networks gives the ability to spread our ideas and expressions as well as our power and influence. We can produce effects in more than one place at a time, each of us now having the global reach formerly reserved for kings, presidents, and movie stars." This notion seems to play into the idea that it is now possible for humans to be multi-tasking entities; however, science delights in proving this idea false in countless different ways. It seems that in our attempts to multitask, we are simply doing more things less well; we are "Butter scraped over too much bread," as Bilbo Baggins would say—spread out. Have you ever had the experience of feeling spread too thin in a digital context? Perhaps you've had a hundred browser windows open at once and simply become lost in them.

Response to Question 4
11/03, 6:29pm – Jonathan Lutton

In relation to the “failure of narrative in our culture,” I would have to disagree with this phrasing on the grounds that narratives have not failed and become non-existent within our society; rather, the systematic narrative structure—which Rushkoff privileges in his discussion—has declined in our presentist culture, while new structures have emerged in contrast to the traditional narrative. Gaming (taken as an all-encompassing term) is one such emerging structure, and it allows its audience to view the narrative through the eyes of a character who creates the story, rather than the eyes of an onlooker who witnesses the story take place. Rushkoff writes on this distinction here:

While the game writer may have an ending or final level he wants everyone to get to at some point, moving through this world is supposed to feel like free will. Each scene opens up a series of choices. Instead of watching a character make the only right choice in each scene, the player is the main character, confronted with a myriad of choices. (62)

The player is meant to adopt the role of the character from a relatively first-person perspective—immersing them within that moment as the character. In this way, presentists who desire to more actively engage the current circumstances around them are granted the ability to continually engage a narrative without set limitations or rules (ref. the “infinite games” of James Carse on page 59). This interactivity of gaming may well have contributed to the “explosion” of the gaming population, as they are more readily able to express their individual freedoms and wills within the realm of a game than are available in traditional narratives.

From my own perspective, I have been part of the gaming community since I received a Gameboy Color in 1998 and my opinions concerning whether or not my time could be better spent elsewhere have fluctuated quite a bit over the years. In the end, I made peace with the amount of time that I dedicate to playing games by recognizing that videogames are simply another means of engaging a narrative that a team of developers (rather than any singular author) has created. In videogames you have to work within the world that is provided to you, similar to the way in which you are placed within the contexts of a book’s world; however, there is a bit of free will and interactivity that is different than a book or other means of narrative engagement. Anyone who’s played the Elder Scrolls series or an MMO can understand the level of intricate, visual detail and open-endedness made available to the player’s free will, something which isn’t even feasible for book’s narrative structure. The structures / presentation of games and books are simply different—without any value ascription in favor of either—and in light of this realization I have come to consider both as capable of producing remarkable moments and evoking a profound response within their audience.

Response to Question 2
11/03, 10:36 PM - Angela Kim

I think a lot of us are preoccupied with capturing moments, and in turn, we don't fully experience the actual moments. I'm definitely guilty of this, especially with taking pictures. I like to take pictures when I experience or see something exciting or interesting. For example, when I go hiking, I like taking pictures when I reach the peak because the view is so breathtaking. I like taking pictures so I can look back at them, because my memory isn't the best and photos preserve the moments. I also see a lot of people posting pictures of the sky when the sunset is particularly beautiful - I used to do this, but I stopped because I realized that I would actually miss out on seeing the sunset with my own eyes. I would only have seen it mostly through my phone, and photos don't do the actual scenery justice. My photos didn't even turn out great, anyway, so I just eventually stopped taking them.

Instagram is also the root of evil (although I am being both dramatic and a hypocrite by saying this). The photo app is very popular and I personally use it a lot. There are people that post things like art and truly unique and incredible photos, but then there are those (the majority perhaps) that just post picture after picture of food or a mediocre outdoor setting. I think it's great that people like to share their pictures, but I feel like it's basically to just show everyone how great your life is. Why take time to meticulously crop and pick a filter, and think of witty captions and hashtags when you can just live in the moment and enjoy the experience or whatever you are Instagraming? Sometimes I wonder why we care so much - why we are so preoccupied with social media and posting pictures or statuses about our lives. I feel like it's the need to stay connected, like what we talked about in class. We don't like being alone, and we want people to know what we are doing and vice versa. I definitely think social media and technology affect our experiences. It's nice to just soak in the moments with your own eyes. There is just something very unappealing about taking dozens of pictures of that sunrise you have the opportunity to catch, or the family of ducks waddling across the road you come across while driving.

Response to Question 2
11/04, 9:52 AM - Susan Nguyen

I’d like to believe that I spend more of my time living in the current moment than experiencing it through a lens or other forms of technology, but I know this probably isn’t true as I’d like it to be. I don’t use Instagram, but I do really enjoy photography. I don’t typically carry my big fancy camera with me unless I’m planning on going on some photo excursion, in which case I view everything in light of whether I’d like to take a picture of it (would this make a good picture? what angle should I take it from? etc.). But even when I don’t have my camera on me, I notice that as I walk around campus (or wherever) my mind will still notice something and think how it would make a great picture. I’m not sure if this means I’m not fully living in the moment because as I’m experiencing it, I’m also thinking about how I’d like to take a picture of it – in this case, I don’t think so. I’m still experiencing the moment, but I’m also appreciating that what I’m seeing is something I’d personally consider beautiful enough to capture.

I’m still not sure how I feel about Rushkoff’s quote – it certainly sounds true to me, but at the same time how do we judge if the level that we’re engaging with the present moment is “enough” to count as living fully in the moment? While I think that most people probably don’t experience each moment to its fullest potential, this seems highly subjective to me. For example, I usually listen to my headphones as I walk between my classes – this could be seen as taking away from my actual experience by distracting me from the cold, the people around me, etc. or it could be seen as enhancing it because I’m giving myself a soundtrack as I walk outside. Personally, I think it’s a little bit of both, yet for the most part I don’t think I’m missing out on much in those 5 minute walks. But I could definitely be wrong.

Response to Question 5
11/04, 6:00 PM - Augusta Dean

I think I took this statement to mean something more than just that we are more prone to multitasking—that our ideas are more likely to be seen by more people through publishing them digitally. I do think, however, that we have begun to take on more tasks that we attempt to complete simultaneously or all at once in effort to be more efficient, and in the process, get lost in the mix of it all. At this very moment, I have about thirty tabs open in three different browser windows, all of them directly related to school and work. It does become overwhelming at some points to see all of the different articles, assignments, etc. that I have to complete, but I think of them more as lists to check off. Once I have completed one of them, I can close it, lessening the burden a little more each time I complete a task. Maybe I would work better if I only had one tab open at a time, but with my quickly deteriorating memory, it is likely that I would forget half of the things that I was supposed to accomplish.

Response to Question 5
11/04, 6:30pm - Jonathan Roberts
Talking about multitasking, there’s been a very pervasive idea that we aren’t capable of multitasking very well at all. But when aren’t we multitasking? Right now I’m writing this, listening to music, and if my phone buzzed I would check that. I’m basically engaging in three activities with the possibility of new notification and distraction coming at me at any time. I don’t think that detracts from any one of those things to the point where it’s really harmful. I’m focused on typing this and can’t tell you any of the last three songs that I’ve listened to, so I’m not as fully engaged in listening to music as I could be; however, it’s just background. We aren’t getting worse at doing anything; we’re just better at making hierarchical decisions about them.

Generally with multitasking, we normally have a notion of the most important thing at the time, with other things falling as subordinate to that. When we’re driving, for instance, the road is important but we’re also listening to music, carrying on conversations, and thinking about where we’re going and how to get there. We’re never fully engaged in any one thing. Even for things that we think require complete concentration and are generally distraction-free, I’d reason that they never really are. Do you think that a surgeon’s mind never wonders to other places when they’re performing work that many of them have done countless times before? It just seems like human nature to multitask.

Response to Question 5
11/4, 9:00pm – Brooks Tiffany

I have had the experience of being spread too thin in a digital context far too often. As it stands now, I am currently spread to thin. I have over a hundred different accounts to various websites to include banks, stores, music, social media, games, school, classes, automotive, audiobooks…and I’ll just stop there because you get the idea. In order to do anything online these days you are almost universally required to have a login and password – this is, of course, a necessary evil. For me, knowing that I have hundreds of accounts out there, with at least a little personal information of mine on each of them, stresses me out. I intend to close many of them…one day, but just don’t have the time to fight with them – and it seems like that’s what you have to do…fight, to get them closed. It’s like our daily battle with our inboxes to keep them clean and unsubscribe from those pesky sites…how did I get signed up for that again?

I feel that this type of “butter scraped over too much bread,” that I am referring to is an overarching representation of the multi-tasking and the multiple browser windows being open at one time. As humans, with our limited capacity to remember only so much important information at any given time, we aren’t meant to have hundreds of accounts and we aren’t meant to be simultaneously working with a thousand browser windows going. I think we are better suited by simplifying our lives as much as we can – that’s not to say we should throw our accounts, browsers, and computers out the window, but that we should recognize when we’re spread too thin and reel that technology back in and optimize how we are using it as opposed to clumsily plodding along in an effort to achieve an impossible online-multitasking presence.

Response to Question 2
Matt Gilbert

This is a very interesting question for me to answer. Like most of the individuals of my generation, I often become caught up in the technology of the "now." This may include getting on the internet or excessive texting, for example. But I feel as though my problem is with my concentration on the future. In fact, I feel almost opposite to the question posed here. There are many times where I felt as though I missed out on the present, because I was thinking too much about the future. If I am really excited or nervous about an event that I will be a part of, I often let that affect the way I feel currently. On a technological level, I may try to prepare myself for the future by gathering information in the present, whether it is checking something on my phone or the computer.

One reason for this is my identity of myself as a person. I am extroverted with the people that I am comfortable and friendly with, but I tend to stay to myself with people I don't know well. Because of this, I am very aware of myself, and I am able to self-reflect when I need to. This is when I begin to focus on the present. I am always worried more about "what will happen next" than "what I am doing now." So maybe people do focus too much on the present, but I personally believe that I need to do so even more. I need to simply live for today and worry about tomorrow when it comes. As a result, I do not agree with Ruskoff's quote, at least on a personal level.

Response to Question 5
Erika Lower

Bilbo's got it right, I think, but honestly? Being spread thin over a vast area doesn't really bother me, so long as I still have the energy and resources I need to go more deeply into the areas that interest me in more than a casual way. I enjoy having "an approximate knowledge of many things", and the ability to use the myriad digital technologies present in daily life simultaneously, in a more-or-less competent way, is something I value. I am notorious for leaving so many tabs open that the header text disappears and I can only identify the pages by the icons — I've got just over a dozen up right now, and that's awfully light for a weeknight. It's not like I'm trying to dart between all of them simultaneously — I'll work between three and four at a given time, and if I really have to focus I'll close down everything else.

As Jonathan said, though, how different is this kind of multitasking any different from what we do in the real world? I get a little suspicious towards those who'd claim that operating in a multi-tab sort of system leads to wrecked attention spans — multitasking may have been scientifically proven to get poorer results than narrow focus on a single task, but humans are also built to take in multiple sets of data at a given time and process them effectively enough to get by. The trick, I think, is not avoiding a sea of open tabs for its own sake, but rather knowing when they're appropriate and when it's better to close them down.