Douglas Ruskkoff

January 17, 2005

Trudging up the hill to the Internet TIme Group Bunker, I listened to a presentation by Douglas Ruskoff at last October’s PopTech conference on my mp3 player. His topic was the coming rennaissance.

The first rennaissance expanded dimensions. Painters discovered perspective and shifted from 2D to 3D. Navigators circumnavigated the globe, making our flat earth into a sphere. The extended sonnet dimensionalized meaning by extending metaphor upon metaphor. Calculus extended math into the third and fourth dimensions. And the printing press enabled everyone to have their own perspective.

Like its predecessor, the coming rennaissance increases dimensionality. In lieu of 3D paintings we have virtual reality and holograms. Instead of going around the earth, we go take pictures of it from the moon and from space. Hypertext lets us connect things in finitum. In place of calculus, we have fractals (fractional dimensionality). The internet is our printing press. And instead of simply forming our individual perspectives, we’re becoming authors who express them.

To have a rennaissance, a re-birth, you need to be born in the first place. The Rennaissance with a capital “R” went back to the concepts of the Greeks. Likewise, we’re going back to things we’d rejected or buried: from individuals to groups, to feminism, to abundance, to bottom-up, to pro-nature, to open source, and to the emergent. These wonderful things fell from favor because we saw the world as an economy, not an ecology. Our presumption was scarcity, not abundance. Our reaction was competition, not cooperation. We grabbed for a bigger piece of the pie rather than making the pie bigger for everyone.

How does one embrace a rennaissance? You have to replace the old myths with new ones, and this you do by telling stories. In Return of the Jedi, Han and Luke are being held captive by Ewoks. C3PO and R2D2 tell the Ewoks stories using holographic projections and other “magic.” The Ewoks are sufficiently convinced that they not only release our heros; they go to war with them. This is what re-birth requires: a compelling story and a nearly magic new medium to tell it.

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