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Douglas Rushkoff-- Present Shock and Presentism: Interview Transcript

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Rob Kall: And how is that different with a video game?

Douglas Rushkoff: I don't think it is. People can switch it off. With a video game, a kid will either enter the world or not. But I think they would get really mad (because they paid money) if they start going to a world and that world isn't how they expected it to be - or isn't as exciting, or it's too difficult. User attention is the big issue on the internet and in interactive entertainment. You see people going to a site, and they play with something for 30 seconds, and then they're gone. Then the company goes back to Stanford and hires more expensive interface designers, and says, "How do we retain them? How do.."

And they have sciences - things that they call, like, "Captology" - which are about how to make more captive interfaces. That brings the whole war on your attention to entirely new levels. If anything, that just makes it even more incumbent on those of us who are asking for nine, ten hours of people's attention to be humble about it, and to respect that our reader is giving us the gift of his/her time!

Rob Kall: You quote Aristotle, who said, "When the storytelling in a culture goes bad, the result is decadence." Has the storytelling gone bad, and is the result decadence?

Douglas Rushkoff: When the storytelling goes bad, you get Jerry Springer and Reality TV: these places where we can't tell stories anymore, we just watch. Too me, that's decadence, when you have a culture that entertains itself by humiliating people, or getting off on other peoples' pain. It's not the only response; we have that sick reality TV response class of storytelling, but we also have people who are willing to play and experiment with what storytelling can mean in this new landscape. And they'll always get criticized by critics at one point, but then they open up, and they they start experimenting, and you get renewal.

So on the one hand, there's the stuff I don't like; I talk about Forrest Gump as the kind of reaction I don't like, where they're trying to use the technology of movie making to somehow gloss over all of the inconsistencies, and bumps, and discontinuities of post-modern Western culture. We also have the stuff we like - like the Game of Thrones, and Caprica, and Jonathan Lethem, who are experimenting with storytelling without feeling either obligated to conform to traditional storytelling, or just abandoning all quality and values in an effort to get attention by any means necessary.

Rob Kall: You say (a little later in the chapter) that "The new challenge for writers is to generate the sense of captivity as well as the sensations and insights of traditional narrative, but to do so without the luxury of the traditional storyline. So they come up with characters who simply wake up in a situation, and have to figure out who they are, or what the heck is going on around them." Now, that's kind of like what happens in the Heroes Journey; after the character gets the call, and crosses the threshold, and is on the road in their new adventure. So in a way it's a piece of the Heroes Journey; without, maybe, the beginning and the first couple of steps, and maybe without the end.

Douglas Rushkoff: Right. And you're not watching some other hero do it. You are the hero.

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