Present shock: Is a book written by Douglas Ruskoff that addresses the issue of the digital age warping our concept of time. The title of present shock is playing off the title Future Shock which was written by Alvin Toffler. Ruskoff says that we used to be so preoccupied with the future that we would always plan, and were never able to enjoy the moment. He infers that all of this diligent planning brought us to a place where we are the future, and have the time to slow down and be present.
Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always- on. It’s not a mere speeding up, however much of our lifestyles and technologies have accelerated the rate at which we attempt to do things. Its more of a diminishment of anything that isn’t happening right now -and the onslaught of everything supposedly is.
Ruskoff introduces the term presentisim and addresses the impact that this philosophical doctrine has had on our society.
How has our idea of a narrative changed?
Rushkoff makes the argument that there is a narrative collapse because we no longer have the patience for traditional linear stories. He uses video games such as Zelda and the Sims as examples of virtual games that don’t necessarily have an ending. He also notes TV shows such as Seinfeld and family guy as examples of shows that veer away the normal plot structure, sitcoms like these show that there is a narrative collapse because one could understand the plot of any episode without seeing any prior episodes. One does not need to watch these shows in order and these shows never have a specific resolution to them.
Overwinding: Rushkoff notes that if one were to acknowledge the environmental implication of every action one could fall into an unhealthy obsession. Although an act such as littering technically could have a ripple effect 10,000 years down the line, these thoughts could become obsessive and unpleasant to have. This results in our efforts to manage time efficiently. Overwinding is ” an effort to make the now responsible for the sort of effects that actually take real time to occur. In an interview on YouTube Rushkoff uses the example of a student spark noting Hamlet. Our world is preoccupied with getting the quickest results possible while wasting the least amount of time. Another example he uses is weight lifters who use steroids to get results as quick as possible. He feels that this type of manic behavior always results in misery for the person attempting to overwind.
Presentisim seen in Alcoholics Anonymous: A lot of the present shock that Rushkoff discusses is seen in the program of AA. One of the major themes of AA is living one day at a time. Many times a newly sober alcoholic has one foot in the past and one in the future, a concept that was described in the book Present Shock. The newly sober member usually regrets the harms done from drinking, or projects some future calamity. A common AA term is self centered fear, which is a term that directly deals with the alcoholic’s inability to stay present. AA teaches its members to compartmentalize life in 24 hour increments. Many AAs ready literature such as the daily reflections, and the 24 hour book, which helps them focus on their goals for that 24 hour period. Many times it is difficult for an alcoholic to wrap their brain around the fact that they can never drink again, so they say to themselves ” I wont drink for today” or even “I wont drink for this moment.” Along with being a physical disease it is also a disease that centers in the mind, hence why alcoholics continually go to meetings, AA teachers its members how to live life and life’s terms, and gives them a blueprint for living that really works. Members learn to change there thinking by going through the 12 steps of recovery. AA gives very practical tools that help the alcoholic live comfortably without having to put the alcohol in their system. This design for living is all mapped out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and it is all contingent on living in the present moment.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a one day at a time way of living. We try to break life into small pieces that we can handle. We stay sober one day at a time, or when necessary, one hour at a time, or one moment at a time. We do our jobs one task at a time. We solve problems one problem at a time. We clean our past, one mess at a time. And we conscientiously try to turn our lives and our will to the care of God as we understand him.
Personal experience: When we saw the YouTube interview with Douglas Rushkoff I couldn’t help but connect it to AA. I’ve been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for a while now, and I can say for certain that many AAs deal with their fair share of present shock in the beginning. AA taught me how to live life in the present, which is something I was unable to do prior to arriving there. I remember when I was about 3 months in I was driving outside and looking at the trees and started to cry with joy, the reason I was so happy was because it was the first time in a long time that I was actually present. There is a poem by Spencer Johnson called the precious present which connects ones happiness to being present at all times. My last drink was on 11/27/11 and until that point I don’t ever recall being present. Today I am present most of the time. I’m able to experience things as they come along, and try my absolute best to live in the moment. This way of life is obviously easier said than done. I often find myself wondering in the future or past. Although this is a hard discipline I can say for certain, I have the most peace when I’m living in the now.