What is media, what is literacy, and other Rushkoff ramblings

sat16sep2006—37w259d70%— 13h32m00s—0utc

People, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other’s values; media is the landscape where this interaction takes place; literacy is the ability to participate consciously in it.

Paraphrased from the introductory remarks to
Peter Durand’s mindmap of Douglas Ruskoff’s classic
Renaissance Prospects talk ((rap) at Pop Tech 2004:

(fright) ..what we have to do first then is understand the nature of stories and why we tend to believe them, why we mistake our stories and our myths for fact, and that’s going to be the beginning of how we can dissemble them. The moment that I got this, was, I guess I was a freshman in college when the third, and probably still worst of the Star Wars movies came out, Return of the Jedi. Luke and Hans get captured by those little teddy bear creatures, the Ewoks, on the moon of Endor, do you remember this? And the Ewoks are having their little barbecue party or whatever they’re doing, princess Leia is allowed to be free, because she’s a girl, whatever, but Hans and Luke are tied up. Do you remember how they get out of captivity? C3PO and R2D2 tell the Ewoks a story. C3PO speaks perfect Ewok, and he’s all golden, they think he’s a god. He starts telling the great story of the wonderful rebels, Luke and Hans, and how they’re fighting the imperial starship. R2D2 starts projecting holographic images of this battles, and you see the little Ewok eyes going back and forth, going “Oh my god!” They’ve never seen holographic technology, they’ve never heard a story told this well. The story so wins them over that these Ewoks not only release Hans and Luke, but they fight a war on their behalf. They fight a war against those big robot things. In which Ewoks die. What I thought at this moment — as an emerging little media theorist — was: what would have happened if Darth Vader had gotten down to that moon first and told his story, with his special effects? They’d have fought for him, I promise you! They’d have fought for him.

…and the style of narrative changed too, we started to get shows like The Simpsons, which were no longer this [the traditional crisis, climax, sleep narrative]; we didn’t care of Homer, what, is he’s gonna live or not, is he gonna lose his job or not. No, now what we’re doing in this big chaotic fractal-like media-space where we’re all talking and exchanging ideas with each other, giving away software to each other, now it’s about making connections. It’s about finding patterns in this media space. When you watch The Simpsons, the reward is not the cookie that you get for making it through the story, the reward is making an association. Oh, here they’re satiring Alfred Hitchcock. Oh, this is a satire of that commercial. Here’s, that’s… Connections, connections and openings, connections and openings. It’s no longer a beginninzg, middle, and end: it’s a series of connections.

17% of Americans believe the world will end in their lifetime and only 23% believe in evolution. Why? Evolution gives you a way out, evolution gives you an alternative to this. Rather than the preordained story, we can write another one, we can change, we can evolve, something else can emerge. The frightening thing about having an emerging narrative is that it means there’s no pre-existing story. It means maybe we weren’t put here with meaning at all. Maybe there was no intent. Maybe meaning is something that we do. Maybe meaning is something that we make, not a pre-existing condition. That meaning is made. But how? Through collaboration. Ain’t gonna get no meaning alone, it can’t be done alone in a series of consumer choices. We’ve tried that one. If you could do it that way, would we be doing this conference? No. You can’t. You only get meaning by connecting with other people. Through the discovery of connections and interrelationships.

Question: Something that resonated with me was a comment you made about [how] we need to develop a new kind of story through collective ownership and collective authorship, and there’ve been a lot of news stories that have come through various different individuals. The example was given from the X-Files that the authorship was taken over by a collective of individuals. My question would be, where do you see that threshold point where it’s taken from an individual and moved into the collective?..

The bane of my existence this question, for a long time. Because the main thing I’m studying these days is narrative: why do we construct narratives on reality? why do we need narratives? and then, how can we develop new narrative structures? I think some of you got this novel I wrote called Exit Strategy AM, and the challenge with that was I wanted to create some kind of an open-source collective experience, but I didn’t want to have the situation were if you’re letting a whole group of people write Star Trek with you, one kid kills Spock on the second page, and then you’re dead. So far I’ve found that the easiest way to do collective narrative experiments is to let the collective recontextualize the story.. the Talmudic process really.. There has to be a certain amount of agreement at the beginning: we’re going to play with this myth, we’re going to play with this story.

Follow me on Twitter!  |  Back to ELZR.com