Playing the Future is an effective primer on postmodernism and youth
culture that examines how today’s “children of chaos” are leading society’s
charge into tomorrow. Relying less on academic analysis and preferring
instead try to personalize and simplify postmodernism, gen-x author Douglas
Rushkoff attempts to convince readers (especially “older” readers over
25 years old) that the future is full of promise and unpredictability,
and that today’s children are the ones who are going to succeed in making
it a better place for all of us.
According to Rushkoff, that just about sums up how today’s youth view
their world. Our linear, ordered existence is being quickly extinguished
by the flames of chaos and as Rushkoff puts it: “If, like immature children,
we steadfastly maintain our allegiance to the sinking, obsolete institutions
of the past, then we will certainly go down with the ship” (p. 8).
Obviously, it is in our better interest to learn how to swim.
In order to understand chaos, Rushkoff argues that society must abandon
its ingrained, media-fuelled perception of chaos as threatening. It must
accept that chaos is merely synonymous with “non-linear”. He begins the
book by demonstrating how kids today prefer snowboarding to skiing, raves
to line dancing, and channel surfing to watching one television show. Simply
put, chaos is the way we live our lives. It may appear disjointed
and random on the surface, but underlying this apparent randomness is a
deeper order which is holding everything together. Today’s youth accept
this, thrive, and grow because of it. Rather than accepting the established
order, they are aware that change is constant, and we are all individual
pieces contributing to the well-being of a global entity. It’s all right
to be different! Together, our uniqueness will push us farther.
Rushkoff argues that visual image processing has become an integral
part of technoculture. Iconographic representations are breaking down language
barriers (ex. Nike’s swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches, Apple’s logo, the
WWW’s “www.anything.com”). We see these icons and immediately understand
the message. As well, the Internet is breaking down the physical barriers
to visual communication, as the telephone did for oral communication before
it. When web pages become our calling cards, when chat rooms and email
become our voices, how do we maintain our sense of self? According to Rushkoff,
“we must accept responsibility for our own self-determinism” (p.105).
We are who we present ourselves to others. We now have the technology to
project our virtual selves for all to experience.
In the end, Rushkoff’s musings come across as yet another utopian collection
of observations and interpretations, packaged for a different audience.
That is not to say that reading this book would be a waste of time. I thoroughly
enjoyed it. Playing the Future is a very well-organized and readable book
which reveals some insights into how we are getting along in our postmodern
world. For those that are uncertain as to how postmodernism fits into their
daily lives, Rushkoff may be able to offer an explanation.