Get Back in the Box
Douglas Rushkoff, the bestselling author of several books about media and pop culture and host of popular PBS Frontline episodes Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders, has a new book coming out later this year titled Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. In an interview with blogger Kris Krug, Rushkoff says the book is about how real innovation comes from developing a true core competency and then working out from there; that an open-source mindset leads to great innovation. He supports this argument with the idea that society is undergoing a new renaissance:
What’s it about?
On a deeper level, the book is about renaissance, and the unique moment we’re in as a society. A renaissance allows for a profound shift in perspective. While the original Renaissance invented the individual, as well as competition, this renaissance has really brought us new possibilities for collaborative action – networked collectivism and a society of authorship. We’ve been wrestling since the Renaissance – and some would say since high Greek culture – with the seeming contradiction between the agency of individuals and their power as a collective. I mean to show that we have new ways of contending with dimension that let us see how individuality is itself defined by connections to other people, and that agency is really a group activity.
How did we get to this unique moment? What factors have made this age so special? Are you talking purely technology here?
Well, it’s a combination of things. Technology is a big part of it, sure. We’ve been using technology in basically one way since the original Renaissance: to allow for command and control. Everything from the steam engine to Ford’s assembly lines helped reinforce a mechanistic model where a manager controls machinery – or people through machinery.
Networking changed things, and allowed complexity to emerge through technology instead of simply being quelled all the time.
But other changes abound. The original Renaissance brought us perspective painting, the extended metaphor, calculus, circumnavigation of the globe, and the printing press. Our renaissance brings hypertext, chaos math, orbiting the globe, and the internet. We’re experiencing a shift in our ability to contend with dimension that is profound as the shift experienced back in the 1500’s. And the same kind of shift is happening across all the disciplines, not just technology. In fact, it’s rupturing the notion of separated disciplines, itself.
How will this Renaissance change how we understand ourselves and our place in society?
I think the “renaissance man” is obsolete. There’s only collectives. The individual – which was actually invented during the Renaissance, and then celebrated during the Enlightenment – no longer exists. At least not in isolation. The individual is defined by his or her connections. We are our connection to other people. And the failed experiments of the 20th Century, in collective action, give way to a much more emergent sense of group cohesion.