Book Review
Playing the Future
by Douglas Rushkoff

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.

There was no beginning.  There is no end. Life is what you make of it.

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.

Chaos: The Essence of Existence

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.

Boundaries Are Disappearing

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 “”). 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.

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

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.