The internet was born to be used as a research tool for scientists. Throughout the years, it became a social platform where businesses and consumers got the upper hand.

Douglas Rushkoff’s book “Team Human” aims at regenerating social bonds between humans who, in his opinion, have been undermined by our technologies, markets and institutions. According to Rushkoff, named one of the “world’s ten most influential intellectuals” by MIT, “the ideal use of social media would be to connect all the people of the world in a loving, harmonious engagement.”

In an interview with Blasting News, the professor of media studies at the City University of New York's Queens College claims that social media have “encouraged reductive branding that polarizes discussions” and “breaks everybody down into their own little category.” In response to this, Rushkoff doesn’t lose faith in Journalism as a way to open people’s minds and defends that “journalism schools are needed, because there are billions of dollars being spent on misinformation and disinformation.”

Rushkoff calls us, citizens of the world, to come together as “Team Human” to find a blooming way of living by “engaging with people in real life and living locally rather than internationally.”

Your book “Team Human” asks for a Renaissance and to regenerate social bonds between humans.

How did we arrive at this digital technology ruling world? What happened?

I don't know if we're really ruled by digital technology, but the people who make it certainly like to think so. We were impacted by digital technology and the reason why digital technology is working against our social collective nature is that digital technology has been really utilized as an extension of television, industrialism and extractive consumer capitalism, rather than being allowed to develop on its own right now.

The problem is that when the internet culture began to grow, business began to fail. People spent less engaged moments with one another talking about ideas.

So along came Wired Magazine and other business ideologues to argue that instead of looking at the internet as the enemy of business, we should look at it as the amplifier of business.

Thanks to digital technology, we can now get these exponential business plans and growth, we just have to make sure we use technology rather than unleashing human potential.

The internet was meant to be a social space right?

It was meant to help scientists communicate in a decentralized fashion. It was a research tool.

It was ARPANET, but it naturally became so social that the army didn't want it anymore. It became sort of too social.

Is there a way to return to this space of knowledge exchange?

Yes. Part of that will happen through increasing poverty. When people are on the dole, weird art and culture starts to happen because you're no longer in a climate mindset. But as long as capitalism works for a lot of people, they're going to do it because you can really make money with these machines.

What do you think about the democratization of journalism and the possibility that everyone can become a journalist today?

You can democratize the keyboard. Everybody can type words onto screens. But real journalism requires training and an extended apprenticeship with a real journalist.

You go to journalism school, because there are billions of dollars being spent on misinformation and disinformation. So you've got to spend a little bit of time and training and money on people who can deconstruct those lies and figure out the truth. It's a skill. The democratization of typing has undermined the professionalism of journalism.

With the instant spread of media like videos and pictures, now as a journalist, it feels harder to be there at the right time and get the proof we need...

The information gathering has spread, but you still need journalists. Because when the raw video is there, we need more real journalists to analyze the story and talk to people, not less. There are so many tapes and eyeballs and people getting murdered and everything is on camera somewhere.

It's like the video of George Floyd’s death. Do you think that this video was actually the ideal use of social media?

I can’t say that it would be the “ideal use.” It's an appropriate use of social media in a nation where black people are getting killed. The ideal of social media, and I’m an idealist, would be to connect all the people of the world in a loving, harmonious engagement. But, until that point, I'm exposing and documenting systemic racism and murder in a way that foments actual social change.

The real problem in the US, and I would blame social media and its biases for this as well, is the people who were most activated by that video are using the term “defund” the police. And what they really mean is not “defund” the police, what they mean is reallocate spending from the militarization of the police or the increase in other social services, but they don't mean abolish the cops.

Some of them do now because that's what they think “defund” meant. But they came up with such a bad way of expressing it. Social media does have this tendency to encourage reductive branding that polarizes discussions and makes any incremental change impossible.

Do you think that social media can be more isolating than anything else?

It separates people and it creates increasing granularity between kinds of people.

Social media breaks everybody down into their own little category. It does that because it's trying to create consumer segments and extreme loyalty and engagement.

Eli Pariser described the “filter bubble” as “a one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click.” Thanks to these algorithms, our news feed is constantly evolving according to our interests and those of our friends.

How do we get out of this spiral?

I don't know if you do it with social media. These are the wrong tools for the job. I don't use social media. I mean, I have tried to tweet a few times over the last six months to get involved with Twitter conversations but it doesn’t really work. It’s like ice-skating, there is no traction. I've got my “team human” group and a lot of them are way more radically progressive than I am. So if I fail to meet their expectations, or if I display some ignorant white male institutional confusion, they’re much less tolerant.

Are people on social media for approval and to confirm their own worldview?

Yes, for confirmation and to attack those who they think may be wrong from the safety of their computers.

All the “team human” arguments on how to avoid that are: engage with people in real life, live locally rather than internationally. It's part of why I want to stop doing interviews or stop being some public intellectual. I just want to engage with my school in my town.

But then, during the lockdown, people were having contact with their families and friends through video calls. What's your perception of this kind of social reconnection?

I see good and bad in it. On the one hand, we're using the net for great stuff now that we didn't before, but on the other hand, I feel like the night my dad caught me with cigarettes and he took me in the backyard and made me smoke the whole pack. I feel like that with the internet.

We're so overloaded. I'm nauseous. I'm Zooming all day and I’m trying to live my life through a digital straw. I wonder when it will be done, will people be using the internet more or are they going to turn this thing off for like a year?

So do you think there would be an after and before COVID?

Yeah. We'll just see what it is. There was definitely an after and before 9/11 online. After 9/11, people became much more comfortable with surveillance and security. They thought that maybe the net went too far. 9/11 was like an example of a decentralized technology being used against the mothership. This period of complete immersion in the net, I think it is training people on how to try to establish some imitation of rapport online, trying to connect to others in some way, to imitate eye contact but the body knows we're not really connecting.

During the lockdown, it seems that people had to slow down their ways of living, take time. Would you say that this pause is going to help “team human” realize their need to act on their own and with better judgment?

Anything that restores a person's coherence helps. The positive part of COVID is that it's forcing us to do things that we should have been doing anyway. So I was having a hard time saying no to talks, I traveled on planes and destroyed the environment and wore myself down and did it again.

Now that we have COVID, a lot of people are not driving to work or doing quite as much. They can say, “look, my kid needs me now. I gotta go.” It's almost as if the disease is giving us the excuse to be a little French about our time.

I know French people who wouldn't take a job because it was too far to walk home for lunch. That's beautiful. It's a value system that doesn't get laughed at. Here, you need an excuse that everyone agrees on.

Are you positive about the future?

Yeah, people are becoming aware of that. Their dissatisfaction with how things are. I do think we're ready. Wherever people are having the most fun is usually the direction to go in. When I see what's left of the white male-dominated or capitalist American society, those people look angry and dissatisfied and hateful, not like they're having good deep and intimate fun. So maybe if we, somehow, and some of us anyway, can start to show why it's so much more fun to be human....Yeah, it could be contagious.

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