Modern digital tools have brought about new conveniences, enabling many to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite our countless ways to connect with each other, studies increasingly show that people are more isolated, more depressed and less empathetic than before.
In this episode of Big Tech, co-hosts David Skok and Taylor Owen speak with Douglas Rushkoff about the internet’s evolution from an emerging technology to the monopolistic system we have today. Rushkoff is a professor of media theory and digital economics at Queens College, City University of New York and author of Team Human, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and more.
Rushkoff reflects on his involvement in the early internet in the 1980s and early ‘90s. At the time, there wasn’t any online advertising, and computer coding was seen as a hobby, rather than a career. As more people’s attention moved online, so did advertisers. The internet became an extension of American capitalism, seeking to capture and analyze our attention to generate growth. We see the impact now on our society, democracy and overall wellbeing. But Rushkoff explains that the problem isn’t the technology—it’s the application. “People think, ‘Oh, you used to like digital, and now you hate digital.’ No, digital’s been the same. I used to love the way that we applied digital, and now I hate the way we’re applying digital. There’s a really big difference. It’s like, I like hammers as long as people aren’t hitting each other in the face with them.” For Rushkoff, it’s time to change the course of technology development, and put humanity first.