A dark look at technology

A dark look at technology

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: A bumpy ride towards the digital future By Douglas Rushkoff. Reviewed by Richard Penny

In his attempt to expose the downside of the digital revolution, Douglas Rushkoff presents a verbose and clunky take on the current economic environment.  Thought-provoking in places, the fundamental premise of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus is to critique the growth agenda of large organisations and force the reader to question his own individual thought patterns on society and creative destruction.

The book’s agenda is hinted at early on in the introduction, where Mr Rushkoff, a media arts professor, writes: “We need to make a choice. We can continue to run this growth-driven, extractive self-defeating program until one corporation is left standing and the impoverished revolt or we can seize the opportunity to reprogram our economy.”

I would agree that there are important global issues which need addressing, when technology has the potential to make much of the working population redundant. Even the strongest free market advocate would have to acknowledge the importance of this book, which exposes the failings of the market economy. Mr Rushkoff asks meticulous questions regarding the definition of success in an attempt to lead us to the conclusion that less importance be placed on growth, which has become symbolic of a culture that he believes could lose its way.

Unfortunately, this book misses its mark. Not only is this a difficult read, but the main claims are not backed up with enough factual authority to convince the reader. The content is let down by pessimistic generalisations and rhetoric where the point becomes overstated. In his attempts to rationalise, Mr Rushkoff uses economic and financial terms loosely and out of context. Large companies are cited as destroying market places and using leverage to move on to other business areas. Yet this is not always the case. Ebay is a good example of a sustainable business model primed for growth, where the consumer is the heartbeat. The lines between value creation and value extraction are blurred, with the author keen to accuse.

Mr Rushkoff’s anti-technology stance is somewhat akin to that of the Luddites in the 18th century, lacking thesis and content, except to propose the destruction of capitalism and herald the introduction of socialistic principles. For instance, we are asked to believe that digital technology will displace huge swathes of the working population. The Second Machine Age by Brynjolfsson and Mcafee, is much more informative on these issues; they  conclude that like the first industrial revolution, jobs will develop complementary to new technologies.

Food for thought, but for those interested in “growth” in the economy, time would be better spent reading Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth, charting technological and economic transformation.

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Richard Penny is manager of the L&G UK Special Situations Trust and L&G UK Alpha Trust