Saturday, March 18, 2017

Throwing rocks at the GOOGLE bus by Douglas Rushkoff

When you read a book, sometimes you get the feeling of dejavu – a feeling that we have already seen or gone through it before. But how about reading a book that gives a feeling that is orthogonal to it – I mean vujade? That is, we have never seen this familiar thing in that light feeling.

This is my first book by Doug albeit he seems to be a prolific writer and has been writing for quite some time and I am impressed. 

Doug is a worried man like many of us about the direction in which the world is moving. He discusses the unequal distribution of wealth, and technologies like robots, AI, and algorithms moving rapidly to replace millions of jobs without much societal deliberation about the resulting consequences. He presents his thoughts on how they can be optimized to help the society as a whole instead of blindly running with the changes to wherever they take us. He might not give solutions for everything, but he does point out many potential pitfalls.

Key ideas that got my attention (by no means exhaustive).

1.  Concentration of wealth is not self-correcting.
2.  One has design for the velocity of business instead of focusing on growth - to quote him, Money is a verb not a noun. Don’t hoard keep it circulation.
3.   Growth cannot be an end by itself. He gives “twitter” as an example.
4.    Technology does take away jobs and the next generation jobs are less than previous one in terms of number and usually involves less skill and prone to commoditization.
5.    Most of us are in “extractive” business rather than generative and circulatory business which alone is sustainable over long run. This may sound forbiddingly abstract but will be clear when you read the book.
6.    Alternatives to charted business corporations models like Benefit corporations, Flexible purpose corporations are well explained with examples.
7.    Corporations did not emerge – they were invented and hence there is a scope for re-inventing them in order to restore the power of middle class. His focus is on distributed prosperity.
8.    His views on social media is very refreshing. (He gives examples in music and host of other industries.)
9.    He has brilliantly applied Marshall McLuhan classic litmus test questions on media
a.      What does the medium enhance or amplify?
b.      What does the medium make obsolete?
c.       What does the medium flip into when pushed to extreme?
He takes Automotive and Cellphone as examples – and I am convinced by his explanations.
10.  He highlights the benefits of local currencies and importance of thriving local economies.

Now coming back to his Twitter: It was successful, but it is not successful enough to justify the money investors have pumped in. Already it had good revenues, happy employees, users were well served, but it may never grow enough to win back 100 times the initial $20Billion bet. To do that, it has to grow bigger and faster than the economy of many nations! Isn’t that a bit too much to ask of an app that sends out messages of 140 characters or less?
He says that there is a disproportionate relationship between capital and value.

He points out that for some of the products prices may be low – but costs (he means social to a large extent) are high. Receptionist being replaced by answering machines, managers getting replaced by algorithms, workers being replaced by robots etc. His examples are really striking and poignant.

In any case, I am going to read more of his works.

Thanks for reading this far.



Ramesh N Raghavan said...

Madhu-san, Good to see your reviews again.. Looks like an interesting book to read.. Especially his thoughts on how businesses need to be restructured from the current extractive model. I have a friend who keeps insisting on how our current economic model is completely not sustainable and experiments such as Gift Economy. It would be good to read what Doug has to suggest here.

- Ramesh N R

Unknown said...

I like the point #5 and I have been thinking of this for quite a while. I come from the hype in analytics and AI work that is happening now. You are making money out of content that someone else generates and owns. In real world you see farmers getting raw deal while middlemen and consumers are making money!.
Will lookup at his books/articles, thanks for the review and pointer. Mani.

Suresh S said...


Yes, one of the major issues of our times has been the lopsided distribution of wealth. Given the way all countries are structured, this is going to be very difficult to change. Hopefully change can happen without violence because if the distribution becomes too lopsided, violent revolutions may result

mohan Krishnan said...

Madhu San,

Good to see you back online. I see that you have changed your style from narration to listing. Is it because this book had too many tracks to summarize?

Does the book talk about the sustainability of the current model? Especially growth in the context of shrinking job opportunities and shrinking physical resources?