You’ve heard the idea that with social media, Google and most free services online you’re the product. The idea was probably thought provoking when you heard it. For most people it’s an ending point. But what if you considered it a starting point for your thoughts. Where does it lead? What does it tell you about yourself, society, the internet, markets, humanity? Because the Internet began as a medium to bring people together. Yet over and over its innovations were the greatest promise to bring people together instead separate us. Google and Facebook being the biggest examples. Now they’re the greatest advertising media ever. And they’re increasingly getting in your business and personal life as much as they can. How did that happen? Why does it keep happening? What does it mean? What can you do about it? What are the patterns behind it?
A few months ago a friend started telling me you should listen to Doug Rushkoff. He talks about media like you do. You should listen to his podcast. It turns out after he wrote many bestselling books and a renowned podcast just after I heard about him, he wrote a new book Team Human and he was speaking a few blocks away from me introduced by his friend and a guest of this podcast, Seth Godin. To prepare to go to that event I listened to his podcast which I loved, I listened to his TED talk which got me thinking and I watched one of his several frontline episodes called Generation Like all of which are online and I put links on to his page and they really got me thinking in new ways. At the event, Seth introduced us and he agreed to do the podcast. I read his book and listened to several episodes of other podcasts that he’s been on. Team Human is unlike most books because he’s chosen to write it in a non-narrative form as he’ll describe in this podcast. Team Human is opinionated which normally leads me to pushback but I find the thoughts he provokes even when I disagree worth the pushing back. So let’s listen. On these reasons, I almost never use Facebook, the freedom loving geek in me has to say. I use almost no Google products, using doc.go and other alternatives. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a Microsoft product. The last Apple product I bought was an Apple 2E in the 80s and I almost exclusively used GNU/Linux which I first saw in 1986 and Iâ€™ve used almost exclusively ever since.
Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I am here with Doug Rushkoff. Doug, how are you?
Doug: Iâ€™m okay. How are you doing?
Joshua: Iâ€™m very good. And we first met I guess it was a couple of weeks ago. People have been telling me to read your stuff for a while and to listen your stuff for a whileâ€¦
Doug: And you just resisted the urge. You just pushed them away. No Rushkoff for me, not ever!
Joshua: I waited until I was going to meet you in person and then when I met you in person, then it really picked up then.
Doug: Right. If that’s your overall philosophy though you’re never going to read like [unintelligible] who are still worth reading.
Joshua: Okay. I wasn’t waiting but when it happened that’s what kicked it in. And yeah, it started with I went to your webpage and then I saw that you had just posted, you had a TED talk so I watched that and then I saw that you had a Frontline episode. I guess more than one.
Doug: Yeah, like four.
Joshua: So I watchedâ€¦
Doug: Like. That’s the last one, yeah.
Joshua: Which was tremendously thought provoking. And since then I’ve read your book Team Human and also listened to a bunch of your podcasts and here’s what people keep asking me, â€œWhy do youâ€¦â€ So I’ve been talking about you much and people were like, â€œWhat’s the big deal?â€ I was likeâ€¦ It’s really hard to describe to put into words what you write. I think you eschew the Aristotelian narrative like if I’m saying that right but it’s not exactly like if aphorisms. It’s short essays that are all interrelated with a few different concepts that are woven through throughout that any one of them doesn’t give the full picture but all of them together kind of… They give you a picture of the world that you kind of knew was there. It connects dots in a way that most people wouldn’t yet get to. I don’t know. How does that sound to you? I’ve been trying to describe you.
Doug: I tried to write a book and this is the first book I’ve done like this. I try to write a book where the form of the book and the experience of the book convey the subject matter of the book. So I’m basically describing the idea that the universe and human experience is more complex than our current digital renderings would have it, that there’s something beyond the utilitarian that defines humans. We’re not just machines. We have inputs and outputs that are currently unmeasurable. There’s no metrics for them. So I decided to make the book a bit more like a fractal, if you will, where there’s a sense of self similarity to different things and it’s meant to provoke people to do a bit of lateral thinking which really which humans do way better than machines is sort of comparing and contrasting the essential shape of different human experiences and endeavors and to really help convey the way that we’ve particularly in business and technology the way we’ve reversed figure and ground, the way instead of making tools that extend human autonomy and agency we’re creating tools that act on humans, weâ€™re using technology on people instead of using you know people using technology. And I kind of had to go through a few different things that you know Darwinian evolution, the birth of capitalism, the birth of the Internet and where it went, the celebration of human consciousness and distinguishing it from machine thinking and that hopefully then conveys this agenda I have of helping people retrieve our social nature in order to forge solidarity and to see this human project as a team sport rather than as this individualistic competition.
Joshua: And it feels like whatâ€¦ What you just described is complexity, also it’s intriguing enriching and engaging and fun and playful and much higher bandwidth to interact with people than with algorithms that are designedâ€¦ And you also said that we’re notâ€¦ Like this reversal of figure and ground it used to be that humans were in the forefront but now humans are in the background and algorithms are interacting with other algorithms trying to get you to do what they want you to do, not what they want you do but look what they’re programmed to the patterns that they want you to fit into.
Doug: Or what their CEOs think they have to make them do. Everybody’s on automatic, everybody, and this is where I mean maybe gets a bit Marxist but there is this sort of capitalist operating system underlying all of our technology development, all of our medical development. It’s like if you are a scientist coming up with a drug, you have to figure out a business plan for this drug. If you find out that frigging you know olive leaf extract cures cancer, all right before we can test that we’re going to have to figure out what can we patent in order to do this research.
Joshua: And if we can’t, then we’ve got to give it up. Like if it turns out like [unintelligible] just watching a video like have the health benefits of vinegar, there’s no money in that. So that’s not going to get the advertising campaign.
Doug: So then you look if so what’s happened is we have human beings and human health serving the pharmaceutical industry instead of the pharmaceutical industry serving health.
Joshua: That reversal of figure and ground.
Doug: Right. And it’s an [unintelligible] backwardness that is part of why we’re destroying the human environment at this point.
Joshua: And as you said we’re building things that do this. And I think, if I read you right, it’s a lot more subtle than that. I certainly think it’s not that we say let’s put humans in the background and put machines first. You described us as I think it is sleepwalking or going on automatic, I think you said, that if we don’t take care and pay attention to what we’re doing, we follow this path where every decision seems to be the right decision and in the end Google was designed to connect everybody, Facebook was designed to connect everybody and instead it’s isolating everybody and we’re working for them.
Doug: Right. And I mean it really and this isâ€¦ I’m not even talking about it philosophically but practically speaking the moment at which you see these technologies pivot from socially enhancing mechanisms to socially debilitating ones are when the companies realize we can’t grow fast enough or big enough money wise if we keep just doing this great sustainable business. So when Twitter realized that well, two billion dollars a year of revenues are not going to satisfy investors who want to make 100x on their investment so we have to stop doing this good thing and figure out a way to extract more money, value, data or something out of this experience. That’s when Google which was the fundamental premise of Google when they launched it was, â€œUnlike Yahoo, we’re not advertising based. That’s what’s going to make us better.â€ Now they’re the biggest advertising company in the world. Facebook which even had a fairly explicit open transparent deal, â€œYou get free socializing. We get your data.â€ turned into, â€œWe get your data and then use it against you.â€ So when they go to that next step is when it’s no longer fair and the technology no longer serves its function.
Joshua: Yes. I was listening to you talk about that with Sam Harrison on his podcast and it reminded me of I once saw Craig Newmark of Craigslist speakâ€¦ This is in the mid-2000s so after the recession and someone said to him you know, â€œIf you put a tiny little ad on every page, it wouldn’t bother anyone.â€ And they had some calculations of like billions of dollars heâ€™ll be making a year. And he says in the conversation people have been talking about all this companies that have had great ideas and had gone out of business in the early 2000s recession and he said, â€œYou just talked about all these companies that went out of business and you say you want me to copy them? We’re doing fine.â€ And he, as far as I know, I don’t know the insides of Craigslist, but it’s a small number of employees. They provide a service that everybody likes. I think they get a little bit of money from some ads and they didn’t go that route and they’re not beholden to everybody. And as far as I know they’re still chugging along pretty well.
Doug: Right. Right but they didn’t take investment. They didnâ€™t need capital investment so they were fine. I mean that’s you know it just goes back to basic business. I mean they don’t teach anymore. But there was this guy Adam Smith who was one of the first kind of real business economic thinkers on this level. You know he was a kind of actually an ethical philosopher and he said that there were three factors of production. There’s land, there’s labor and capital that used to be like the basis of how you learn business and that land is the place where you do the thing or the mining that you have to do, the land that the farmer needs. You know labor obviously is the people who are doing stuff and capital is the investment. And all three really are equally important to business production. And right now, certainly in Silicon Valley, the capital is the only one that has a seat at the table. And that’s because capital is the only one we really have a metric for. That’s the number. That’s what the company is for under capitalism is to grow the capital and it becomes the only one who has a say. So some kid takes money from investors and then he has to do what the investors say that he’s sold his company. And now the whole company is there to grow capital for a few people. It’s like selling your business to the mob you know where the business becomes the thing that’s being sold rather than whatever the business was doing.
Joshua: Yeah. It becomes that the players, the real people doing the stuff are the investors, the venture capitalists and then the bankers and that’s what’s calling the shots.
Doug: I mean what is Google. Google is Alphabet. Alphabet is a holding company. A holding company makes its money by buying and selling other companies. So Google’s gone meta on itself.
Joshua: So that’s at the corporate level and not that we couldn’t keep going there but it’s also on a personal level what it translates to you and me isâ€¦ What happened to me while I was reading it was as you know like I saw you again since the first time we met and I kind of wanted to meet in person but I’m feeling like I already meet people in person a lot but I want to do that more. I want to spend more time with people. I want to spendâ€¦ I am a little more wary of onlineâ€¦ I mean it’s like I avoid Facebook and Twitter and I avoid social media but it feels like you start feeling that addictive tug more that when you go on Facebook you want to stay on Facebook andâ€¦
Doug: Well, it’s designed that way, of course.
Joshua: Yeah. And the cell phones are like that addictive jolt. It’s like you just close the laptop lid and suddenly things change like nothing’s changed except that the screen is not on anymore and you don’t have access to the keyboard and suddenly you start thinking about, â€œOh, I’m going to exercise. I am going to exercise. I am going to walk around. I am going to you know eat an apple.â€ That’s what happens when I read your stuff it’s just because I can’t put it together in no narrative. I’ve been trying to enumerate the different threads that are woven throughout because there’s a corporate side, there’s a personal side, there’s emotions, there’s the history and history and lots of different directions, there’s possible futures, there’s what you want to do about it.
Doug: Well, it’s the reason it’s written that way. It’s not a book about something. I mean most nonfiction books I’ve done is, â€œOK. This is about what went wrong with Silicon Valley or this is about you know how media viruses work or this is you know the history of the corporation.â€ This is more of a manifesto. So the point of this book is to inspire people to take action, to find the others, to you know establish rapport, to look at the world differently, so to see what is the true reason or true purpose or the higher value for this activity and how can I embed what I’m doing with those values. If I’m a teacher in a room, am I just conveying facts or am I modeling the quest for knowledge and modeling a life of learning? And that’s true you know sort of across the board. I mean just the thing you’re talking about there’s a lot in the book about the research that shows how online interactions don’t allow people to establish rapport. I can’t see if your pupils are getting larger or smaller, whether you’re taking me in or not, if our breathing rates are sinking up but I get the information because you say, â€œOh, I agree with you. I like what you’re saying. So intellectually I know you agree with me but corporeally, emotionally, instinctually I don’t. So we finish the phone call and then I’m saying to myself, â€œWell, he says he agreed with me but for some reason I didn’t feel the agreement. I didn’t.â€ The mirror neurons didn’t fire, the oxytocin didn’t go through my blood and I don’t blame the technology for that. I blame you. I think, â€œOh, he’s been dishonest with me.â€ rather than it’s the interface. So as you read about things like that and as you know that then when you do have a Skype conversation with someone even if you’re just aware that, â€œI’m not really with this person.â€ and that I’m not going to get the feeling you know and then you and you are aware when you are with a person, you start looking at their eyes, you start seeing whether they’re flushing or getting paler and all of a sudden life then becomes so rich, so high bandwidth experientially rather than justâ€¦ You don’t want to be just staring at your phone when you have a chance to be with the other people.
Joshua: Before meeting you, I saw you have a background, and correct me if I’m wrong, but like in punk music, in free software, going way back and you discover a lot and you share a lot. How did it all get started? Is that too broad of a question to ask?
Doug: I mean for me?
Doug: Originally, I was a theater director.
Joshua: Oh, that’s right, yeah.
Doug: And I got kind of tired of that because the shape of narrative of theater was really predictable. All this crisis climax relief there wasn’t that much open-ended stuff and theater was only getting to really wealthy people. It was hard to do theater in that sort of San Francisco Mime Troupe in the street where real people can engage with you. It just was really hard to make that kind of thing work. And that was just around the time that the Internet was coming up and multimedia was coming up and I saw in technology ways to do sort of more hypertext, choose your own less predictable, less closed ended stories and it seemed to me that the Internet was going to be you know revolutionary in its ability to give regular people the ability to reach right through the television screen and make their own stories and become the content and you know deprogram themselves from the 50 years of consumer alienating television.
So I just got interested in that you know and I did some you know some development. I did as a cyber tarot program for tarot cards and an [unintelligible] program and stuff but it really was more writing about it. I was the New Yorker who knew this was coming and would get laughed out of editorsâ€™ rooms for saying, â€œI want to do a piece about this thing called e-mail that people are going to be using somedayâ€ and everybody just laughed at me. And I wrote a book called Cyberia, I wrote it in â€˜92 and it got canceled by [unintelligible] in â€˜93 because they thought the internet would be over by the time the book was going to come out. You know it eventually got out by Harper Collins instead. And then of course the Internet happened and then I wrote a book called Media Virus which named this phenomenon of what we now call viral media. So I got kind of put on the map then as someone who understood where things were going and how it was working and then business came in and kind of pivoted the whole internet towards extraction of value rather than you know expression of human weirdness. And I’ve been kind of complaining about that ever since.
Joshua: A few different times you saw what was coming before others and I guess it feels like there is this potential that got diverted and you saw it happened right in front of your eyes. And presumably you weren’t the only one, you’re part of a community. Yeah, you talked about the people at the beginning of the Internet and they saw this happening and we didn’t have to go that way. And yet we did and we’re still going that way and we don’t have to.
Doug: I know. And then when you’re still going somewhere and you don’t have to, then it seemed like the best thing I could do which is what I did with this is tell people, â€œYou’ve got to wake up.â€ We’re going to drive off this cliff and here’s how you wake up. And so we know we have to wake up and the way to wake up is by connecting with other humans. And then that initiates the whole process of unwinding.
Joshua: I’ve talked to a bunch about this parallel that I see between what you talk about what, you write about. It touches environment a lot and also with me in the environment there’s also a cliff that we’re heading off of that one and we’re also sleepwalking on that one. And there’s also something that happens that maybe it’s the influence of investment and need forâ€¦ Well, certainly need for growth and need for returns on investment. But circular economy is something you hear about, I hear a lot about now. People are willing to recycle and efficiency. And I talk about it usually in systemic terms. If you have a system and that system has certain set of beliefs and goals and our growth is a big part of it, externalizing costs is a big part of it. If you make that system more efficient say by making the economy more circular. Let’s pick something more clear like making LED lightbulbs. Switching incandescent to LED is more efficient and that light bulb, that particular use of it will be more efficient and you’ll reduce pollution right there. But if the system in general is about growth and about externalizing costs, making that system more efficient will achieve its goals more efficiently.
Doug: Right. It’s the old argument about do we add lanes to the highwayâ€¦
Joshua: Exactly. Yeah.
Doug: â€¦or do we do something else? So when I look at you know Tesla or something or electric cars I’m like yeah, this is a way to make the thing we’re doing a little better. But is this thing we’re doing good at all you know? We’re still you know driving vehicles because of the way General Motors was able to lobby to change the layout of America to you know suburbs with highways and we intentionally located homes far enough from places of work that people would require vehicles in order to get there. We did that on purpose.
Joshua: And as a side effect also far enough away from each other that we can’t just talk to our neighbors.
Doug: Well, that was also intentional though. I wrote about that in this book [unintelligible] that you know Levittown was designed by the Levitt brothers and FDR and psychologists to make sure that the war veterans who are returning home are traumatized that they couldn’t gather, that they couldn’t engage with each other, that they would be far enough from each other, there’d be no public spaces for them to get together and maybeâ€¦
Joshua: Team up.
Doug: Yeah, right. [unintelligible] You know. So that’s it. You know it’s embedded in our landscape is the thing. These values and this social control. And it sounds conspiratorial but I mean you’ve got to understand they were scared. It wasn’t evil, nobody’s evil. Well, some people are probably evil. But you know maybe Peter Thiel or something is just evil but FDR, these guys weren’t evil, they didn’t want Americans to hurt themselves or each other.
Joshua: And it makes a lot of sense. But then those roads are there for centuries probably. I mean to get out of that is a real big problem. And it makes so much sense when you’re sitting in traffic. If there is just another lane here, I wouldn’t be in traffic anymore. And it took us a while to learn that one. But we’re not quite getting that if weâ€¦ I point out that with switching to LED bulbs we’ve dropped our energy use on lighting so far but we’re on track to more. Or Uber is a great example like people thought it would lower the amountâ€¦ It’s already causing more congestion in cities, that’s measured.
Doug: Right. Computers made more printing.
Joshua: And it happens over and over and over again. And yet we keep saying, â€œLet’s just keep doing this next thing that keeps us in the system.â€
Doug: But we don’t really keep saying it. We keep getting told it by whoever it is that stands the chance to profit off the new technology.
Joshua: Yeah. Which I guess results from these systems that require returns on investment and make it that so that money today is not worth the same as money tomorrow. And therefore, you’ve got to keep returning and returning so we can put more money and so forth.
Doug: Right. We’ve got a kind of a too big to fail approach to everything in our world as if it’s just, â€œOh, well people are too entrenched in this to ever change. People would never give up this or give up that.â€
Joshua: And Iâ€™ll say something that you really can’t say. We’re being a little glib now but the book goes into this a lot more. And so there’s little plug. So people should read the book to get this in more depth and coming up from more angles than we can in just a short period of time here and certainly that was the effect for me. And on the flipside of all that, so when you said we’re doing this, we’re doing this, we are, but there’s also another part of society and part of us that’s like we want to sit down together and meal together and eat together and we want to make music together not just pipe it in so thatâ€¦ I guess restaurants. I think they’ve learned thatâ€¦ There are studies that show that like loud music with a certain beat gets people to eat more faster.
Doug: Right. And get you through the thing. But then what does that music? Again, we’re not listening to music, we’re doing music to us you know. And it’s kind of profane actually. Music is a sacred thing and we’re just pumping it everywhere through you know Pandora and Spotify it’s like this awful corporate wallpaper and we’re losing access to music. Music it’s like this stuff that gets in the way of us conversing. It’s this background horrible industrial hum now and that’s a bummer you know.
Joshua: Yeah, it could be because it could be a transcendent… It still is when we put the effort in it does elevate us.
Doug: Right. But I feel like our kids now their ears aren’t even being trained to hear music. You know that they can’t really perceive the difference of having earbuds play a low res MP3 and sitting in New York Philharmonic and hearing the real thing.
Joshua: That’s again that difference you talked about when you’re not in person you can’t see those little nuance things, the complexity that makes us human that when you’re a personâ€¦. So now you have all the music you want and fewer people know how to play instruments.
Doug: And fewer people know what it really sounds like. Fewer people canâ€¦ I mean you’ve got kids connected all the time. And I know from my college classes that I teach a great number of them maybe a quarter of the kids in my classes now are afraid to present to the class. Ð¢hey can’t get up in front of people. They can’t engage in a conversation around a seminar table. They’re overwhelmed by the sensory inputs of eyes on them, of people training on their behavior.
Joshua: Now as a professor what do you do about that? How do you change it? I presume you give them assignments like that.
Doug: I create on ramps for them so now undergraduates they don’t have to present to class except in two ways. No one ever presents alone. Now what I do is if they’re responsible for the reading on a particular week, I sit down with them, we sit behind a desk in front of the class and I do a kind of a David Letterman interview with them so they can look at me. You know they can look at me, they don’t have to look at those people and I start them on that. And so they think what we’re doing is talking about the subject, the propaganda reading of the week. But instead what I’m trying to get them to do is to, â€œCan you converse with me about this in real time?â€ I know this is hard. So we start a couple of sentences. Then if they’re really able to do that, able to connect with me and go back and forth in a conversation which again this is a skill that you hear something and respond to that and then I hear you and respond to that. Once I can see they’re able to do that, then we can try to open it up and take in the room, â€œOh, so Joe what do you think about that?â€ and then you know start with them again. It’s a step you know. And then if they can handle that, then I put them in groups so they’ll be in a group of four and then these four kids can make a PowerPoint and then go in front of the room and together they can talk about the slides or maybe go alternate like a relay. Each one doing a slide at a time.
Joshua: You start with practicing the basics with like the most basic you can.
Doug: Can you have a conversation? Right.
Joshua: And then you build and build. Do the students… I mean imagine that they don’t usuallyâ€¦ How many even say to you, â€œI’ve never done this before.â€? Like sitting, talking with the professor as a person, not as an authority.
Doug: Almost all of them because most professors, at least the professors where I teach, I’m teaching at Queens College which is a very diverse campus with people with different languages and you know a lot of them are low economic levels and all and I think teachers are kind of intimidated by this process as well or have given up on it. So for most of them it’s the first class where they’ve had anything, anything like this happen. And they’re thankful for it. But yeah, no one’s tried that.
Joshua: Yes. I feel like it’s missing from school.
Doug: Well, it’s seen as a graduate school thing now.
Joshua: To talk with professors, to speak, to have a conversation about something as opposed to write a paper.
Doug: Or the professors get up there with a PowerPoint and tell the lesson. I mean in my program, it’s a three-hour class because they only come once a week because you know they can’t really afford the time to do what we used to do in college where you go two or three times a week in a lecture and two seminars and then the teacher shows a movie or something. It’s kind of easy. It’s interesting. So you get up there, you do a 40-minute lecture on something and then show a movie and then have them write a paper or take a test.
Joshua: I was at an event the other day and this mother was talking about her son. She was saying how great the high school was that he went to because when you finished you take him like 15 AP tests. I mean she was saying how proud she was. So I didn’t engage on it but my thought was, â€œOh, man. That’s a lot of facts.â€ I guess.
Doug: Well, if they’re done well, I mean… But yeah, that’s the problem. So you know I was just thinking about that. So in our town we had this big town debate on whether to build a regular football field or an artificial turf football field. And there was some argument about what was actually more resource depleting you know, and on the surface, we would think you know that putting a plastic field there and having to roll it up and send it to China and replace it every nine years or something is worse for the environment because of all this plastic. But then other people were saying no, all of the crap that you have to put on a big grass field in order to maintain it that’s more resource depleting to try to keep grass alive for all this time. And I was thinking wouldn’t it be cool to have the AP Science class. Fine, figure it out. Do the metrics, look at the total lifecycle, the end to end carbon footprint of both things and all that. But the AP Science class can’t do that because they have this curriculum they’ve got to do in order to you know take the AP Science test on theâ€¦
Joshua: Inadvertently separating them from the natural world that is actually connectedâ€¦
Doug: And from real science. A great living example that they’d remember their whole frigging lives you know.
Joshua: And this is the complexity you’re talking about, that’s complex to figure that out. And yet it’s connected to us. It’s literally I mean that’s our bloodstreams like the kids are going to be on there, breathing the air either coming from the grass or from the plastic.
Doug: Right. And it just teaches them this is how science actually impacts your life right now. And this high school class then could show up at the Board of Education meeting and saying, â€œHere’s what our study shows. This is the science.â€ You know what it’s like the old movie where Steve McQueen and The Blob they go to the science teacher in their high school who’s like, â€œOh, let me see.â€ The idea that you can apply knowledge in real ways. I don’t mean to make it like too utilitarian or to say that science only matters if you can find an application for it in your life but just, and I don’t want to use a dot com word, but the need to be more agile in the way we approach you know learning and life and we really need more agility as a society right now rather than saying, â€œWell, that’s not how we do it.â€ You know whether it’s defined the natural cure for cancer or you know the improvisational flexibility of schools or institutions to address things. That’s what humans can do. That’s what programs can’t do. You know humans are alive. We can change and pivot moment to moment and we can respond, not just react. And I feel like that’s the art form that’s being left behind right now.
Joshua: Reading your stuff and listening to you now I heard you tell someone else, I forget when that this book you were more judgmental than you had been in the past. And it’s funny because I was reading it and I was like it’s clear that you have a sense of what you think is good and bad and like which directionâ€™s better and which directionâ€™s worse. And there is a part of me that’s like when I read someone else being judgmental, I was going to be like, â€œOh, yeah. Well, what about this?â€ And think about education. But then I’m also thinking I can imagine you disagreeing with these values of connection with each other’s people. And it’s a funny thing. Like it’s like yeah, why are we going in this direction? What can I do? I donâ€™t know. I had to mention that. Was that a difficult decision to, if I understood you right, to go from I don’t know what it was before but to say, â€œYes. I’m going to judge. I’m going to be clear about what I think is good and bad and right and wrong in this case.â€?
Doug: Not really. I mean because it’s a different kind of book you know so a normal scholarly rigorous non-fiction book serves a certain kind of a purpose. I mean throwing rocks to [unintelligible] has its opinions. You know the book I wrote before this. It’s a book about where we went wrong with Internet development and how the business plans of these companies is trapping them and all the kind of stuff we’re talking about. So I mean I looked at that but I think it’s okay to have a moral perspective. And I think that our reluctance to express values in our work is unnecessarily self-defeating. I think it’s okay to say, â€œI’m a human being and there’s certain things I want more than other things.â€ And if we don’t invest what we’re doing with some essential moral construction or moral energy, then you know we are all lost. You know that it’s OK. There is a kind of a compass that we have. There’s an innate human compass that that’s the one thing that humans really have that that the rest of nature doesn’t is we have the ability to curate, you know to steer nature intentionally, to be less cruel or more cruel. And right now we’re steering more in the more cruel direction because we’ve bought these you know very B.S. libertarian interpretations of evolution as competitive. And it’s just not even the scientific fact.
Joshua: Everything you say is very rich. I’m sure people said that before and know that there’s a lot to unpack in everything you say.
Doug: Yeah but it’s also super simple. I mean to those of us not sort of so committed to these systems this is like basic frigging science. I mean if I was in a native American community now talking like this they would just be like, â€œDuh?!â€
Joshua: What was that word in the beginning with the â€œWâ€ that the Native Americans discreditâ€¦
Doug: Wedako. Yeah, I read about that in a great little book called Columbus and the Cannibals which I recommend to everyone. It’s even shorter than I think [unintelligible]. It takes you know an afternoon and itâ€™s really by the first Native American studies professor in America. And he was explaining how that Native Americans when white people came from Europe and they were just tearing down forests and killing people and you know just destroying everything in their wake in the name of this sort of capitalist economic expansionist agenda, the Indians they didn’t, if I’m allowed to call them that again, I think they didn’t blame it on the people. They didn’t say, â€œOh, these are horrible people.â€ They said, â€œOh, these people have a disease. They have a spiritual disease called wedako you know which led them to want to clear cut the forests and kill all the animals and not live in harmony with nature. That wedako kind of like a moral cancer that’s leading them to colonize and scorched earth everything in their wake.
Joshua: Moral disease. And so what’s the cure for the disease? I mean if I can pursue that analogy butâ€¦
Doug: Well, right now we’re doing wedako on ourselves throughâ€¦ I call it cyber wedako. You know now we’ve basically taken the values of [unintelligible] these expansionist-anti-human-destroy-everything-and-externalize-all-the-damage values. We’ve embedded them in algorithms and told them to do it to humanity. So now we are the indigenous people you know being attacked. So I mean I think well first if we have any access to them we should turn off the algorithms that are doing this. We don’t need to do this to ourselves. If you can get off Facebook and Google and all those things that are really steering us much more than we realized to do that. And second is try to gather and congregate and plan in the spaces that are still unaffected by those technologies and priorities you know gather in the real world, form you know meet-ups, socialize with others. Even in talks now I’m telling people however difficult it is just try to start. You know if once a week you can just sit for 10 minutes with another person you know and then build up from there. You know it’s really scary for a lot of people right now just to be with someone withoutâ€¦ I mean you’re not online with them, you’re not texting at the same time. Just be with someone else for 10 minutes you know, you can converse if you want or play cards or something but just be with them. It starts to unwind the process and then you start to want more of that.
Joshua: You know it’s funny you give concrete specific things for people to do. We’re running out of time here. I don’t know if I’ll have enough time for this but one of the things I try to do on this podcast is I ask the guest to do something based on their environmental values and then have them share afterward how it went. And I wonder if you’d be interested partly because I think that when people hear other people doing it especially influential people, bestselling authors and so forth that they say it’s not just me you knowâ€¦ A lot of people feel like, â€œIf I act but no one else does it, then what difference does it make?â€ But if they hear someone else doing it, I think they can feel like, â€œOh, someone in my community is doing it and I can act too.â€
Doug: Yeah. I mean the thing that I wanted to do both for the environment and my mental health was to stop flying. So it’s hard for me to weigh it but it’s like do I do more good going to San Francisco and trying to impact the tech community and talk to them live and engage with them about what they’re doing. Do I do more good with that than I do bad by making jet fuel or whatever a plane does?
Joshua: Can I comment on this? I have a couple of ideas. The first is I just got back fromâ€¦ I took the train out to L.A. to go to the summit and I stopped several times on the way out and several times on the way back. And in no way do I regret that decision. I mean it’s a beautiful country, you can see in different ways, you can stop in more places.
Doug: You don’t have kids?
Joshua: I donâ€™t have kids. Yeah. Well, I mean I make it work for my life. You have to make it work for your life in your way. But friends of mine have started calling me up and saying, â€œHow did you do that because I want to take my kids to Florida this way?â€ Like go by train. So people figure out how to make it work for their lives. The other thing is that I think the best way to find out is is you’ve done it one way, maybe try the other way. And what I found helps a lot with people is to make it a SMART goal you know specific, measurableâ€¦ The real thing is like not to say you are never going to fly again but maybeâ€¦
Doug: I’m going to do two plane trips a year so I’m going to pick them carefully.
Joshua: Something like that. Yeah. So I wonder if you’d be up for giving it a shot and then after say there’s a certain time frame that you put to it, after that we talk about how it went, what you learned.
Doug: Yeah. I mean I guess if I could just start by doing it. I got this f****** thingâ€¦ Well, Kansas City you can probably get to Kansas City on a train, right?
Joshua: Chicago is easy by train so Kansas City is not that much farther.
Doug: And how far Chicago like six hours, seven hours on a train, 10 hours?
Joshua: I think it is overnight. Yeah, because there’s two ways to go. You can either go through Pittsburgh or you can go through north through Albany. And I guess you would be north through Albany.
Doug: And Chicago is near Kansas City? You see I don’t even know the whole middle.
Joshua: Yeah. That’s why I thinkâ€¦
Doug: [unintelligible] like Pittsburgh to Reno is just I have no idea what’s there.
Joshua: Yeah, that’s pretty far.
Doug: I mean I know it’s there. I just don’t know quite where it is left and right to each other. Like I was just looking because I had to go to Kansas City. Kansas City is like near Denver.
Joshua: Yeah, I mean this is like that map, they show that picture of the humanâ€¦
Doug: The New Yorker Magazine.
Joshua: The size of the body part is by the amount of brain that it uses the eyes are really big and the thumbs really big and then the legs are really small or that New Yorker picture of the world of like Manhattan and Hudson, New Jersey, California, Japan.
Doug: Yeah, it is funny but I’ll try something like that. Let’s try. I mean I got to finish my book tour but then you know go down to certainly just start reducing it because the other thing is about doing that is if they really want me at some conference and I say, â€œWell, look I’m not going to fly there and you can pay me you know one tenth what you would have. You know give me 1000 instead of ten thousand or something to speak at your corporate thing.â€ And then as part of the talk saying, â€œWell, look I decided it was worth it to me to get one tenth to not do this to the environment.â€
Joshua: I don’t know if you know this about me. March will be the end of my third year of not flying. One day one time I was flying and I thought, â€œI got to stop this.â€ I mean I challenge myself to go for a year without flying. And right off the bat it was in negotiations with going to talk at this thing in Italy and I was like, â€œOh, no. I didn’t think about this. What am I going to do?â€ And I wrote them and said, â€œI still want to go. Can you find a boat?â€ Never heard back from them. And then you start filling things up withâ€¦ You start replacing things not with staring at the wall and crying but with like stuff you like better. That’s what I did. And so that’s why at the end I really thought when I said one year, I was positive. Day 366 I was going to be on a flight to something. But a few months in I was like the longer I go the more I don’t like flying. I mean I like travel. That’s why I’m learning to sail and all these things replacingâ€¦
Doug: You can’t sail to Europe, can you?
Joshua: It’s getting really close. My goal is to get to Europe because I was invited to this conference this summer, summer of 2019, and I’ve actually been speaking to a bunch ofâ€¦ The combination of the podcast plus sailing has led me to someone I’m interviewing really soon is called an Olympic gold medal sailor who is also a cross world champion. And then I’ve met these other sailors and they put me in touch you knowâ€¦
Doug: Yeah. You should get in touch with Ellen MacArthur and those people. You know Ellen MacArthur Foundation? She’s this woman who’s had the record for sailing around the world the fastest and she started an environmental foundation.
Joshua: OK. Because I’ve been talking to Dawn Riley and it’s a tight community. I’m starting to meet these people and it’s fantastic. I’m connecting with people instead of putting myself in a tube.
Doug: Those people are all circular economy, circular environment people. I mean a lot of them become you know real advocates for what it is that you do.
Joshua: Yeah. Because I mean you just hear their stories about being in the middle of the Pacific and there’s garbage and we all know about it but they see it and it’s like they haven’t seen land for like days on end and then there’s a you know [unintelligible] bottle or something like that. And that’s visceral and it changes people’s lives. It’s not quite like the astronauts seeing how thin the biosphere is from space. So when would be a good time to talk about the experience? Like a month from now, two months from now, six months from now?
Doug: End of the year. Yeah, I would think like a year from now would be the smartest.
Joshua: So yearâ€™s a long time but it’s also a long time to go without flying if that’s what you areâ€¦
Doug: No, because I got to do all this flying now. I’m committed to this book tour.
Joshua: So after the book tour ends thenâ€¦ Because I find that if it gets too broad then people are like, â€œI don’t really know what heâ€™s doing.â€
Doug: Well, we’ll figure it out. You know we’ll do something that starts you know if I just can try to begin to say no to things you know starting in April when this thing is over and see what happens.
Joshua: So you’re set through April so maybe in April… Maybe I’ll hopefully see you between now and then anyway. So then I’ll put on my calendar in April to check with you about starting then because you already committed and kind of stuck on things now. All right.
Joshua: Cool. I’m glad to hear your enthusiasm. I would love to keep talking but I think we’re at the limit of your time today. I like to finish byâ€¦ Is there anything I didn’t ask that’s important to bring up?
Doug: I guess the only thing is I’ve got a podcast called Team Human which is a great way to be exposed to these ideas. I really turned my career around to the point where I’m no longer promoting my stuff. I am using my career to promote other people. I’ve had a lot of books and stuff out there. So it’s great. Itâ€™s called Team Human. You can find it at teamhuman.fm or on any of the things that you listen to and there’s just great people week after week after week engaging in this kind of conversation. And of course, to check out the Team Human manifesto. It’s available now everywhere and I’m traveling around using a lot of jet fuel so please come see me. You can find out on my tour dates and stuff on teamhuman.fm.
Joshua: I’m glad that you mentioned that about promoting others because I read George Monbiot. I hope I’m pronouncing it right. I read his stuff then I listened when I saw him on your show I listened to that one and then it got me well, man his story is about being captured andâ€¦Where was it? In Indonesia and in South America. Anyway. And then you got me learning about someone that I bred for a long time but didn’t really know the backstory. And then that led me to read a bunch of other stuff. So I test that what you just said, an independent verification. You just said it.
Doug: Oh, good, yeah. These are the conversations you’d have with the person yourself is the thing. That’s the difference. They are not those NPR kind of conversations. Theyâ€™re more real.
Joshua: I really appreciate that.
Doug: So check it out.
Joshua: Well, then I’ll talk to you again soon and I hope to have you back again here. And thank you very much.
Doug: Thank you. Thanks for what you do.
As you can tell I found his views and suggestions refreshing. As I mentioned we only started to touch on the various views from his various starting points and various vantage points of his book. For most people just hearing the word Facebook makes them think of that little red dot in the upper right corner of the screen saying if they have messages. I’m saying this now at the end of this episode to prompt you feeling that feeling. Do you feel it? Is it a craving? Do you like it? Did you choose to put it there? If they can make you feel it, what else are they making you do? Do you prefer how you feel after a marathon social media session? Or running an actual marathon say? I mean marathonâ€™s four hours. I know lots of people spend a lot more than four hours in a row on social media. I like Doug’s advice to get back into human mode with self-determination, complexity and all these different things that make life interesting. I mean you can check your social media feed instead but is that really where you want to go? I’d go to the page where you got this episode from, click the link to watch Frontline episode Generation Like instead and read his books. See how that changes what you want to do.
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