Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Douglas Rushkoff: Open Source Democracy

Announcing a new open source publication from Douglas Rushkoff author of the book Media Virus , the comic Club Zero-G and the documentary Merchants of Cool

A text-only document is available through the Gutenberg Project . The URL to get the book is:

HTML version

It's also available in a dressed-up, easier-to-read, PDF version at:

PDF version

If you enjoy this production from Demos you should check out their other publications:


Here is the introduction to "Open Source Democracy" by Douglas Rushkoff:

"The emergence of the interactive mediaspace may offer a new model
for cooperation. Although it may have disappointed many in the
technology industry, the rise of interactive media, the birth of a new
medium, the battle to control it and the downfall of the first
victorious camp, taught us a lot about the relationship of ideas to the
media through which they are disseminated. Those who witnessed or,
better, have participated in the development of the interactive
mediaspace have a very new understanding of the way that cultural
narratives are developed, monopolised and challenged. And this
knowledge extends, by allegory and experience, to areas far beyond
digital culture, to the broader challenges of our time.

As the world confronts the impact of globalism, newly revitalised
threats of fundamentalism, and the emergence of seemingly
irreconcilable value systems, generate a new reason to believe that
living interdependently is not only possible, but preferable to the
competitive individualism, ethnocentrism, nationalism and particularism
that have characterised so much of late twentieth-century
thinking and culture.

The values engendered by our fledgling networked culture may, in
fact, help a world struggling with the impact of globalism, the lure of
fundamentalism and the clash of conflicting value systems. Thanks to
the actual and allegorical role of interactive technologies in our work
and lives, we may now have the ability to understand many social and
political constructs in very new contexts. We may now be able to
launch the kinds of conversations that change the relationship of
individuals, parties, creeds and nations to one another and to the
world at large. These interactive communication technologies could
even help us to understand autonomy as a collective phenomenon, a
shared state that emerges spontaneously and quite naturally when
people are allowed to participate actively in their mutual

The emergence of the internet as a self-organising community, its
subsequent co-option by business interests, the resulting collapse of
the dot.com pyramid and the more recent self-conscious revival of
interactive media’s most participatory forums, serve as a case study in
the politics of renaissance. The battle for control over new and little
understood communication technologies has rendered transparent
many of the agendas implicit in our political and cultural narratives.

Meanwhile, the technologies themselves empower individuals to take
part in the creation of new narratives. Thus, in an era when crass
perversions of populism, and exaggerated calls for national security,
threaten the very premises of representational democracy and free
discourse, interactive technologies offer us a ray of hope for a
renewed spirit of genuine civic engagement.

The very survival of democracy as a functional reality may be
dependent upon our acceptance, as individuals, of adult roles in
conceiving and stewarding the shape and direction of society. And we
may get our best rehearsal for these roles online.

In short, the interactive mediaspace offers a new way of
understanding civilisation itself, and a new set of good reasons for
engaging with civic reality more fully in the face of what are often
perceived (or taught) to be the many risks and compromises
associated with cooperative behaviour. Sadly, thanks to the
proliferation of traditional top-down media and propaganda, both
marketers and politicians have succeeded in their efforts to turn
neighbour against neighbour, city against city, and nation against
nation.While such strategies sell more products, earn more votes and
inspire a sense of exclusive salvation (we can’t share, participate or,
heaven forbid, collaborate with people whom we’ve been taught not
to trust), they imperil what is left of civil society. They threaten the
last small hope for averting millions of deaths in the next set of
oil wars.

As the mainstream mediaspace, particularly in the United States,
becomes increasingly centralised and profit-driven, its ability to offer
a multiplicity of perspectives on affairs of global importance is
diminished. In America, broadcasting the Iraq war meant selling the
Iraq war. Each of the media conglomerates broadcast the American
regime’s carefully concocted narrative, so much so that by the time
the war actually began a Knight Ridder poll found that half of

Americans believed that Iraqis had participated directly as hijackers
on 11 September 2001. The further embedded among coalition
troops that mainstream reporters were, the further embedded in the
language and priorities of the Pentagon they became. Dispatches
regularly referred to the deaths of Iraqi soldiers as the ‘softening of
enemy positions’, bombing strikes as ‘targets of opportunity’, and
civilian deaths as the now laughable ‘collateral damage’. This was the
propagandist motive for embedding reporters in the first place: when
journalists’ lives are dependent on the success of the troops with
whom they are travelling, their coverage becomes skewed.

But this did not stop many of the journalists from creating their
own weblogs, or blogs: internet diaries through which they could
share their more candid responses to the bigger questions of the war.
Journalists’ personal entries provided a much broader range of
opinions on both the strategies and motivations of all sides in the
conflict than were available, particularly to Americans, on broadcast
and cable television.

For an even wider assortment of perspectives, internet users were
free to engage directly with the so-called enemy, as in the case of a
blog called Dear Raed, written by what most internet experts came to
regard as a real person living in Baghdad, voicing his opposition to
the war. This daily journal of high aspirations for peace and a better
life in Baghdad became one of the most read sources of information
and opinion about the war on the web.

Clearly, the success of sites like Dear Raed stems from our
increasingly complex society’s need for a multiplicity of points of
view on our most pressing issues, particularly when confronted by a
mainstream mediaspace that appears to be converging on single,
corporate and government-approved agenda. These alternative
information sources are being given more attention and credence
than they might actually deserve, but this is only b ecause they are the
only ready source of oppositional, or even independent thinking
available. Those who choose to compose and disseminate alternative
value systems may be working against the current and increasingly
concretised mythologies of market, church and state, but they
ultimately hold the keys to the rebirth of all three institutions in an
entirely new context.

The communications revolution may not have brought with it
either salvation for the world’s stock exchanges or the technological
infrastructure for a new global resource distribution system. Though
one possible direction for the implementation of new media
technology may be exhausted, its other myriad potentials beckon us
once again. While it may not provide us with a template for sure-fire
business and marketing solutions, the rise of interactive media does
provide us with the beginnings of new metaphors for cooperation,
new faith in the power of networked activity and new evidence of our
ability to participate actively in the authorship of our collective


Anonymous said...

For those of us with a Hebraic bent, Rushkoff has also written a provocative, if at times redundant, book called _Nothing Sacred_, in which he essentially re-invents Reconstructionist Judaism in advocating "open source Judaism." Highly recommended.

Michael said...

I do not have a Hebraic bent, but cannot deny its influence in my understanding of the world--I've read Rushkoff's book and would also recommend it, especially to those wrestling with the place of Judaism in the contemporary world (if only Christians could reconstruct their place as well ;)