Present Shock

"Everything is live, real time, and always-on. It's not mere speeding up . . . It's more of a diminishment of anything that isn't happening right now."

- Present Shock, page 2

Have you ever felt compelled to check your phone for social media, email or text updates, even if you had someone – whether a client, family member or close friend – sitting right in front of you? Or felt overwhelmed by the volume of tweets, emails and updates calling you urgently away from the tasks, or people, at hand? If you have, you aren’t alone. In Present Shock, author Douglas Rushkoff dives into the challenges that the digital age presents for us, and what we can do about it.

Rushkoff argues that the constant stream of digital information puts us on a hamster wheel of continual monitoring, and distorts our ability to value the elements of “real life” that are happening around us, which ultimately should matter more.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Pains of Digital Dissonance

"The extraordinary measures we take to stay abreast of each minuscule change to the data stream end up magnifying the relative importance of these blips to the real scheme of things."
- Present Shock, page 75

As Rushkoff describes, we feel a continual pull to check our social media channels and emails because of the 7×24 nature of the digital world we live in. From the moment an update is posted or the email is sent, we are behind and the information is stale. Digital channels can update simultaneously, while we remain analog and only able to do one thing at a time (despite our best efforts to multi-task), with a rate of change that is impossible to match. Rushkoff notes, “these interruptions, more than simply depleting our cognitive abilities, create the sense that we need to keep up with their impossible pace lest we lose touch with the present.” We are continually out of sync, and it is driving us crazy.

This dissonance plays through in the way digital data streams can manipulate reality as well. We forget that what we read online might not be accurate and or tell the whole story, yet leaves us feeling inadequate about our own lives.

Our desire for the only most current information means we end up unfairly devaluing the present moments of our real lives. Rushkoff believes we “sacrifice our connection to the truer present in which we are living”, rather than disconnecting from the digital world to stay more firmly connected to what’s happening in our analog world.

So, how can we reclaim our sanity? Reset your priorities, and take back control.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

What Happens ‘In Real Life’ Matters Most

"We must retrain ourselves instead to see the reward in the amount of time we get to spend in the reverie of solo contemplation or live engagement with another human being. Whatever is vibrating on the iPhone just isn't as valuable as the eye contact you are making right now."
- Present Shock, page 117

We have lost our ability live in the moment, and we’re less and less willing to stay out of the digital world for any length of time. We are easily distracted by the ping of our devices, returning instead to the often mindless distractions found online. We have forgotten how to simply be in the moment, and alone with our own thoughts. We need to create space in our lives to think, connect with others and let our minds wander. Otherwise, we risk missing opportunities for deep problem solving, better decisions, and connecting with people face-to-face.

The relentless pace of new information also means there is no time to create an enhanced version of yourself or your company online, as details about how you treat your customers and employees will find its way to the Internet at a speed that you can’t possibly manage or control. Rushkoff ‘s advice is to “walk the talk”, and let your true actions be your brand’s online persona.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Make Technology Work For You

"Technology gives us more choice over how and when we do things. What we often forget is that our bodies are not quite as programmable as our schedules."
- Present Shock, page 92

It is easy to allow technology to control your behaviour, rather than defining how and when you access the information. Dropping the push notifications, choosing certain times for accessing emails, or putting your phone away when you’re out with others are all controls you can easily put in place that allow you to determine when to digitally connect, and when to stay offline. Rushkoff reminds us that “digital can be stacked; the human gets to live in real time.”

Rushkoff’s book is complex, and provides an incredible amount of depth to this topic, which is impossible to fully explore here. While some of the terms Rushkoff has coined may be intimidating at first (including chapters called “digiphrenia”, “fractalnoia” and “apocolypto”), the book is an important read for anyone who is struggling with digital overload and wants to better understand the causes, impacts, and how to regain control.

This book was a great reminder for me that the solution to a strong digital presence and optimal access of information isn’t to spend more time online; rather, to find ways to better optimize my use of it. For every negative impact Rushkoff mentions, the flip side highlights the many benefits the digital age has brought to our lives, so this is not a decree to return to a technology-free way of life. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that technology offers us a tremendous resource, and we need to find tools and solutions to leverage it, rather than being at its mercy.

Tell us, in the comments below, is digital overload an issue for you? How to you manage the competing interests for your time online and offline?

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Alyssa Burkus

ABOUT Alyssa Burkus

As a consultant, I work with entrepreneurs and senior leaders through periods of significant change in their organizations, by delivering strategies, new programs, and coaching to build the workplace foundation they need to shift their company to new levels...
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