Playing the Future

Richard Gehr reviews "Playing The Future: How Kids' Culture Can Teach Us to Thrive in an Age of Chaos" by Douglas Rushkoff.

Published June 24, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

Douglas Rushkoff has morphed into a regular Faith Popcorn of generational boosterism. In "Playing the Future" he bum rushes readers through a tsunami of twice-baked opinions, arguing that the young are better-equipped than their elders to adapt to an uncertain future in a high-velocity culture of chaos and fragmentation. "Screenagers," Rushkoff's marketing term for kids born into a culture mediated by television and computers, are the "latest model of human being, and are equipped with a whole lot of new features." These include enhanced powers of pattern recognition amid the colorful chaotic flux of Mandelbrot Sets, video games, movies like "Pulp Fiction," that gooey Gak stuff, and Power Rangers reruns.

For Rushkoff, it's goodbye to linear thinking, duality, mechanism, gravity, metaphor, and God; and hello to chaos, holism, animism, consensual hallucination, recapitulation, and nature. But unless I'm mistaken, linear thinking et al. were also on the late '60s theoretical hit list. Even more confusing is the "we" used throughout the book. Are "we" interested fogies curious about this wild new adaptive behavior evinced by our children's video game virtuosity? Or is opposing "we" oldsters to the young a cynical attempt to flatter the latter into accepting Rushkoff as their champion and media-friendly spokesguru?

"Playing the Future" is generated in a free-associative, post-Doug Couplandic style that begs one question after another. Arguments and concepts poached from various popular-technology and New Age sources pop up as though sprung full-blown from his word processor. All surface, "Playing the Future" argues for its own validity as short-attention-span pontificating. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just usually confined to more economical rants in the preaching-to-the-choir pages of Wired or New Age Journal.

By Richard Gehr

Richard Gehr has been writing about music, books, film, television, and other aspects of popular culture for more than two decades. He has contributed to several books and written for Rolling Stone, Vibe, O, the New York Times Book Review, and Spin.

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