Rushkoff, D. (1996). Playing the future: How kids’ culture can teach us to thrive in an age of chaos. New York: HarperCollins.
The blurb on the back of hardcover version of this book really says it all. This book is " ‘like channel surfing the planet with a witty genius friend who can explain the pattern that connects it all together.’ " (Mark Frauenfelder, Online editor, Wired magazine).
The book is reads like a compilation of short sections, each of which deals with an issue pertinent to our current culture. Since he is a media analyst, much of Rushkoff’s emphasis is on the media and modern technology. His contention is that the world of today and the future is changing rapidly. We are moving from the Machine Age to the Information Age, and much of this move is being driven by the media, and underpinned by changing technologies. Many older people are afraid of these changes and are doing all within their power to stop or at least slow it down, and are lamenting the change in attitudes and involvement of young people.
Rushkoff contends that we are disadvantaging young people today by not allowing this technology to develop and impact our lives, and that by fighting against it, we are diminishing the ability of our children to survive in the new world. He has an evolutionary basis of thought, believing that technology is the key to a new jump in man’s evolutionary development. Although we may not agree with him on this point, whether we believe in evolution or not, we must agree with his assessment of the future—that the world is changing very rapidly and is not the same place it used to be. We need to adapt and change in order to just survive, let alone successfully manage the future.
Rushkoff looks at issues such as snowboarding, skateboarding, comics, movies, Star Trek, Barney, Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games, Goths culture, the media, video games, the Internet, UFO abductions, and many other examples of modern culture and their effects. In each of these views of issues, he highlights how the issue demonstrates the shift from the Machine Age to the Information Age, and how it shows the need for less structural controls and more "grass roots level" involvement of people. He maintains that "chaos" is the only legitimate basis for the new culture. By this, he means an organismic interaction between people, by means of technologically advanced equipment. The Internet provides the best example of how communities of like-minded individuals will develop and self-regulate their activities. This is his view of how all structure within society should work, from government, to media and everything. We need to be free of all restraints and governance from above.
Whether this optimistic view of humanity’s ability to do this is well-founded or not, there is much good to be gained by an analysis of work. His book’s value is that it helps us to put practical examples onto our understanding of a changing youth culture. His book provides valuable material for analysis of modern youth culture, and for planning short- to medium-term strategies for the future. It also provides those who want to change with some good counter-arguments against the nay-sayers and those afraid of the future.
This is a well-researched, thoroughly enjoyable book. It rates an X for excellent in its applicability and usefulness for background information for Gen X youth work.
Graeme Codrington cCYS