Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff is an American media
Media of the United States
Media of the United States consist of several different types of communications media: television, radio, cinema, newspapers, magazines, and Internet-based Web sites. The U.S...

 theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source
Open source
The term open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology...

 solutions to social problems.

Rushkoff is most frequently regarded as a media theorist, and known for coining terms and concepts including viral media (or media virus), digital native
Digital native
A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technology, and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts...

, and social currency.

He has written ten books on media, technology, and culture. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

Syndicate, as well as regular columns for The Guardian
The Guardian
The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

of London, Arthur
Arthur (magazine)
Arthur magazine, a free bi-monthly 50,000-copy periodical, was founded in October, 2002 by publisher Laris Kreslins and editor Jay Babcock. It has received favorable attention from other periodicals such as L.A. Weekly, Print, Punk Planet and Rolling Stone...

, Discover
Discover (magazine)
Discover is an American science magazine that publishes articles about science for a general audience. The monthly magazine was launched in October 1980 by Time Inc. It was sold to Family Media, the owners of Health, in 1987. Walt Disney Company bought the magazine when Family Media went out of...

, and the online magazine
Online magazine
An online magazine shares some features with a blog and also with online newspapers, but can usually be distinguished by its approach to editorial control...

s Daily Beast,
TheFeature was an award-winning online magazine and community dedicated to covering the technological, cultural and business evolution of the mobile Internet and the wider mobile telecommunications industry. Sponsored by , it was launched in August 2000 and continued through June 2005...

 and meeting industry magazine One+.

Rushkoff currently teaches in the Media Studies department at The New School University
The New School
The New School is a university in New York City, located mostly in Greenwich Village. From its founding in 1919 by progressive New York academics, and for most of its history, the university was known as the New School for Social Research. Between 1997 and 2005 it was known as New School University...

 in Manhattan. He has previously lectured at the ITP at New York University
New York University
New York University is a private, nonsectarian research university based in New York City. NYU's main campus is situated in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan...

’s Tisch School of the Arts
Tisch School of the Arts
Tisch School of the Arts is one of the 15 schools that make up New York University ....

 and taught a class called Narrative Lab. He also has taught online for the MaybeLogic Academy.


Rushkoff graduated from Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 in 1983. He moved to Los Angeles and completed a Master of Fine Arts
Master of Fine Arts
A Master of Fine Arts is a graduate degree typically requiring 2–3 years of postgraduate study beyond the bachelor's degree , although the term of study will vary by country or by university. The MFA is usually awarded in visual arts, creative writing, filmmaking, dance, or theatre/performing arts...

 in Directing from the California Institute of the Arts
California Institute of the Arts
The California Institute of the Arts, commonly referred to as CalArts, is located in Valencia, in Los Angeles County, California. It was incorporated in 1961 as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning in the United States created specifically for students of both the visual and the...

. Later he took up a post-graduate
Postgraduate education
Postgraduate education involves learning and studying for degrees or other qualifications for which a first or Bachelor's degree generally is required, and is normally considered to be part of higher education...

 fellowship from the American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

. He is currently a PhD candidate at Utrecht University
Utrecht University
Utrecht University is a university in Utrecht, Netherlands. It is one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands and one of the largest in Europe. Established March 26, 1636, it had an enrollment of 29,082 students in 2008, and employed 8,614 faculty and staff, 570 of which are full professors....

's New Media Program, writing a dissertation on new media literacies.

Rushkoff emerged in the early 1990s as active member of the cyberpunk movement, developing friendships and collaborations with people including Timothy Leary
Timothy Leary
Timothy Francis Leary was an American psychologist and writer, known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs. During a time when drugs like LSD and psilocybin were legal, Leary conducted experiments at Harvard University under the Harvard Psilocybin Project, resulting in the Concord Prison...

, RU Sirius
R. U. Sirius
R. U. Sirius is an American writer, editor, talk show host, musician and cyberculture celebrity. He is best known as co-founder and original Editor-In-Chief of Mondo 2000 magazine from 1989–1993. Sirius was also chairman and candidate in the 2000 U.S. presidential election for The Revolution Party...

, Paul Krassner
Paul Krassner
Paul Krassner is an author, journalist, stand-up comedian, and the founder, editor and a frequent contributor to the freethought magazine The Realist, first published in 1958...

, Robert Anton Wilson
Robert Anton Wilson
Robert Anton Wilson , known to friends as "Bob", was an American author and polymath who became at various times a novelist, philosopher, psychologist, essayist, editor, playwright, poet, futurist, civil libertarian and self-described agnostic mystic...

, Ralph Abraham
Ralph Abraham
Ralph H. Abraham is an American mathematician. He has been a member of the mathematics department at the University of California, Santa Cruz since 1968.- Life and work :...

, Terence McKenna
Terence McKenna
Terence Kemp McKenna was an Irish-American philosopher, psychonaut, researcher, teacher, lecturer and writer on many subjects, such as human consciousness, language, psychedelic drugs, the evolution of civilizations, the origin and end of the universe, alchemy, and extraterrestrial beings.-Early...

, Genesis P-Orridge
Genesis P-Orridge
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is an English singer-songwriter, musician, writer and artist. P-Orridge's early confrontational performance work in COUM Transmissions in the late 1960s and early 1970s along with the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, which dealt with subjects such as prostitution,...

, Richard Metzger
Richard Metzger
Richard Metzger is a television host and author. He was the host of the TV show Disinformation , The Disinformation Company and its website,

, Grant Morrison
Grant Morrison
Grant Morrison is a Scottish comic book writer, playwright and occultist. He is known for his nonlinear narratives and counter-cultural leanings, as well as his successful runs on titles like Animal Man, Doom Patrol, JLA, The Invisibles, New X-Men, Fantastic Four, All-Star Superman, and...

, Mark Pesce
Mark Pesce
- Biography :September 1980, Pesce attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology , for a Bachelor of Science degree, but left in June 1982 to pursue opportunities in the newly emerging high-technology industry. He worked as an Engineer for the next few years, developing prototype firmware and...

, Erik Davis
Erik Davis
Erik Davis is a North American writer, social historian, cultural critic and lecturer.He is noted for his study of the history of technology and society and his essays about the fate of the individual in the dawning posthuman era...

, and other writers, artists and philosophers interested in the intersection of technology, society and culture.

As his books became more accepted (his first book on cyberculture, Cyberia, was canceled by its original publisher, Bantam, in 1992 because editors feared the Internet would be "over" by the original scheduled publication date in Fall 1993 - it was eventually published in 1994 ), and his concepts of the "media virus" and "social contagion" became mainstream ideas, Rushkoff was invited to deliver commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered
All Things Considered
All Things Considered is the flagship news program on the American network National Public Radio. It was the first news program on NPR, and is broadcast live worldwide through several outlets...

, and to make documentaries for the PBS series Frontline.

Rushkoff was awarded the Marshall McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan
Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar—a professor of English literature, a literary critic, a rhetorician, and a communication theorist...

 Award by the Media Ecology Association for his book Coercion, and then invited to become a member and eventually sit on the board of directors
Board of directors
A board of directors is a body of elected or appointed members who jointly oversee the activities of a company or organization. Other names include board of governors, board of managers, board of regents, board of trustees, and board of visitors...

 of that organization. This allied him both in spirit and affiliation with the Media Ecologists, a continuation of what is known as the Toronto School of media theorists including Marshall McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan
Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar—a professor of English literature, a literary critic, a rhetorician, and a communication theorist...

, Walter Ong
Walter J. Ong
Father Walter Jackson Ong, Ph.D. , was an American Jesuit priest, professor of English literature, cultural and religious historian and philosopher. His major interest was in exploring how the transition from orality to literacy influenced culture and changed human consciousness...

, and Neil Postman
Neil Postman
Neil Postman was an American author, media theorist and cultural critic, who is best known by the general public for his 1985 book about television, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For more than forty years, he was associated with New York University...


As a result, Rushkoff was invited to participate in government and industry as a consultant - which usually consisted of a single lecture or appearance, and led to much consternation among his readership. His associations ranged from the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Commission on World Culture and the US Department of State
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 to Sony Corporation
, commonly referred to as Sony, is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, Japan and the world's fifth largest media conglomerate measured by revenues....

 and TCI.

Simultaneously, Rushkoff continued to develop his relationship with counterculture figures, collaborating with Genesis P-Orridge as a keyboardist for Psychic TV
Psychic TV
Psychic TV or PTV, is a video art and music group that primarily performs psychedelic, punk, electronic and experimental music...

, and credited with composing music for the album Hell is Invisible Heaven is Her/e. Rushkoff taught classes in media theory and in media subversion for the New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, participated in activist pranks with the Yes Men and eToy, contributed to numerous books and documentaries on psychedelics, and spoke or appeared at many events sponsored by counterculture publisher Disinformation.


References to media ecologist and Toronto School of Communication founder Marshall McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan
Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar—a professor of English literature, a literary critic, a rhetorician, and a communication theorist...

 appear throughout Rushkoff’s work as a focus on media over content, the effects of media on popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 and the level at which people participate when consuming media. Rushkoff’s colleagues in The Toronto School include Neil Postman and Lance Strate.
Rushkoff worked with both Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary on developing philosophical systems to explain consciousness, its interaction with technology, and social evolution
Social evolution
Social evolution is a subdiscipline of evolutionary biology that is concerned with social behaviors that have fitness consequences for individuals other than the actor...

 of the human species, and references both consistently in his work.
Leary, along with John Barlow
John Perry Barlow
John Perry Barlow is an American poet and essayist, a retired Wyoming cattle rancher, and a cyberlibertarian political activist who has been associated with both the Democratic and Republican parties. He is also a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and a founding member of the Electronic...

 and Terrence McKenna characterized the mid-90s as techno-utopian, and saw the rapid acceleration of culture, emerging media and the unchecked advancement of technology as completely positive.
Rushkoff's own unbridled enthusiasm for cyberculture was tempered by the dotcom boom, when the non-profit character of the Internet was rapidly overtaken by corporations and venture capital
Venture capital
Venture capital is financial capital provided to early-stage, high-potential, high risk, growth startup companies. The venture capital fund makes money by owning equity in the companies it invests in, which usually have a novel technology or business model in high technology industries, such as...

. Rushkoff often cites two events in particular - the day Netscape became a public company
Public company
This is not the same as a Government-owned corporation.A public company or publicly traded company is a limited liability company that offers its securities for sale to the general public, typically through a stock exchange, or through market makers operating in over the counter markets...

 in 1995, and the day AOL bought TimeWarner
Time Warner
Time Warner is one of the world's largest media companies, headquartered in the Time Warner Center in New York City. Formerly two separate companies, Warner Communications, Inc...

 in 2000 - as pivotal moments in his understanding of the forces at work in the evolution of new media.
He spent several years exploring Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 as a primer for media literacy
Media literacy
Media literacy is a repertoire of competences that enable people to analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres, and forms.-Education:...

, going so far as to publish a book inviting Jews to restore the religion to its "open source" roots. He founded a movement for progressive Judaism
Progressive Judaism
Progressive Judaism , is an umbrella term used by strands of Judaism which affiliate to the World Union for Progressive Judaism. They embrace pluralism, modernity, equality and social justice as core values and believe that such values are consistent with a committed Jewish life...

 called Reboot, but subsequently left when he felt its funders had become more concerned with marketing and publicity of Judaism than its actual improvement and evolution.
Disillusioned by the failure of the open source model to challenge entrenched and institutional hierarchies from religion to finance, he became a colleague of Mark Crispin Miller
Mark Crispin Miller
Mark Crispin Miller is professor of media studies at New York University, and the author of the book: Fooled Again, How the Right Stole the 2004 Elections. He is known for his writing on American media and for his activism on behalf of democratic media reform...

 and Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein is a Canadian author and social activist known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalization.-Family:...

, appearing with them at Smith College
Smith College
Smith College is a private, independent women's liberal arts college located in Northampton, Massachusetts. It is the largest member of the Seven Sisters...

  as well as in numerous documentaries decrying the corporatization of public space and consciousness.
He has dedicated himself most recently to the issues of media literacy, participatory government, and the development of local and complementary currencies. He wrote a book and film called Life Inc., which traces the development of corporatism
Corporatism, also known as corporativism, is a system of economic, political, or social organization that involves association of the people of society into corporate groups, such as agricultural, business, ethnic, labor, military, patronage, or scientific affiliations, on the basis of common...

 and centralized currency from the Renaissance to today, and hosts a radio show
Radio programming
Radio programming is the Broadcast programming of a Radio format or content that is organized for Commercial broadcasting and Public broadcasting radio stations....

 called MediaSquat on WFMU, concerned with reclaiming commerce and culture from corporate domination.

Awards and appointments

Douglas Rushkoff has served on the Board of Directors of the Media Ecology Association, The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and is a founding member of Technorealism, as well as of the Advisory Board of The National Association for Media Literacy Education, and HyperWords

He is the winner of the first Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, given by the Media Ecology Association, in 2004.


Douglas Rushkoff’s philosophy developed from a techno-utopian view of new media to a more nuanced critique of cyberculture discourse and the impact of media on society. Viewing everything except for intention as media, he frequently explores the themes of how to make media interactive, how to help people (especially children) effectively analyze and question the media they consume, as well as how to cultivate intention and agency. He has theorized on such media as religion, culture, politics and money.

Technology and cyberculture

Up to the late-90s, Douglas Rushkoff’s philosophy towards technology could be characterized as media-deterministic. Cyberculture and new media were supposed to promote democracy and allow people to transcend the ordinary.

In Cyberia, Rushkoff states the essence of mid-90s culture as being the fusion of rave psychedelia, chaos theory
Chaos theory
Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

 and early computer networks. The promise of the resulting “counter culture” was that media would change form being passive to active, that we would embrace the social over content, and that empowers the masses to create and react.

This idea also comes up in the concept of the media virus, which Rushkoff details in the 1994 publication of Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture. This significant work adopts organic metaphors to show that media, like viruses, are mobile, easily duplicated and presented as non-threatening. Technologies can make our interaction with media an empowering experience if we learn to decode the capabilities offered to us by our media. Unfortunately, people often stay one step behind our media capabilities. Ideally, emerging media and technologies have the potential to enlighten, to aid grassroots movements, to offer an alternative to the traditional “top-down” media, to connect diverse groups and to promote the sharing of information.

Rushkoff does not limit his writings to the effect of technology on adults, and in Playing the Future turns his attention to the generation of people growing up who understand the language of media like natives, guarded against coercion. These “screenagers”, a term originated by Rushkoff, have the chance to mediate the changing landscape more effectively than digital immigrants.

With Coercion (1999), Rushkoff realistically examines the potential benefits and dangers inherent in cyberculture and analyzes market strategies that work to make people act on instinct (and buy!) rather than reflect rationally. The book wants readers to learn to “read” the media they consume and interpret what is really being communicated.


Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism explores the medium of religion and intellectually deconstructs the Bible and the ways that religion fails to provide true connectivity and transformative experiences. The book mainly wants readers to reflect on why things are a certain way and not attribute them to some predestined reality.


Most recently, Douglas Rushkoff has turned his critical lens to the medium of currency
In economics, currency refers to a generally accepted medium of exchange. These are usually the coins and banknotes of a particular government, which comprise the physical aspects of a nation's money supply...

. One of the most important concepts that he coins and develops is the notion of social currency
Social currency
- Definition :Social currency is a common term that can be understood as the entirety of actual and potential resources which arise from the presence in social networks and communities, may they be digital or offline...

, or the degree to which certain content and media can facilitate and/or promote relationships and interactions between members of a community. Rushkoff mentions jokes, scandals, blogs, ambience, i.e. anything that would engender "water cooler" talk, as social currency.

In his book, Life, Inc., Rushkoff takes a look at physical currency and the history of corporatism
Corporatism, also known as corporativism, is a system of economic, political, or social organization that involves association of the people of society into corporate groups, such as agricultural, business, ethnic, labor, military, patronage, or scientific affiliations, on the basis of common...

. Beginning with an overview of how money
Money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given country or socio-economic context. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange; a unit of account; a store of value; and, occasionally in the past,...

 has been gradually centralized throughout time, and pondering the reasons and consequences of such a fact, he goes on to demonstrate how our society has become defined by and controlled by corporate culture
Organizational culture
Organizational culture is defined as “A pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration" that have worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to...



  • 2010. Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age Ebook ISBN 9781935928164
  • 2009. Life, Inc.: How the World Became A Corporation and How To Take It Back ISBN 9781400066896
  • 2005. Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out ISBN 9780060758691
  • 2003. Open Source Democracy A Demos Essay
  • 2003. Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism ISBN 9781400051397
  • 1999. Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say ISBN 9781573228299
  • 1996. Playing the Future: What We Can Learn From Digital Kids ISBN 9781573227643 (Published in the UK in 1997 as "Children of Chaos: Surviving the End of the World as We Know it" ISBN 0006548792)
  • 1995. Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture ISBN 9780345397744
  • 1994. Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Cyberspace
    Cyberia (book)
    Cyberia is a book by Douglas Rushkoff, published in 1994. The book discusses many different ideas revolving around technology, drugs and subcultures. Rushkoff takes a Tom Wolfe Electric Kool Aid Acid Test style , as he actively becomes a part of the people and culture that he is writing about...

    ISBN 9781903083246

Fiction works

  • 2002. Exit Strategy (aka Bull) ISBN 9781887128902
  • 1997. Ecstasy Club ISBN 9781573227025

Graphic Novels

  • 2005-2008. Testament ISBN 9781401210632
  • 2004. Club Zero-G ISBN 9780972952934


  • 2009 - 2010 Digital Nation, Life on the Virtual Frontier. Web site and documentary
  • 2009 Life Inc. The Movie
  • 2004 The Persuaders. This documentary examines the psychological techniques behind popular marketing and advertising trends, determines how these methods influence how we view ourselves and desires, and postulates on the future implications of these persuasive approaches at work.
  • 2001 Merchants of Cool, a groundbreaking, award-winning Frontline documentary which explores the people, marketing techniques and ideologies behind popular culture for teenagers. This video attempts to answer whether or not teen popular culture is reflective of its population or manufactured by big business and related groups.


  • The Media Squat (creator and host): freeform, bottom-up
    Bottom-up may refer to:* In business development, a bottom-up approach means that the adviser takes the needs and wishes of the would-be entrepreneur as the starting point, rather than a market opportunity ....

    , open source WFMU radio which examines similarly open source, bottom-up solutions to some of the problems engendered by our relentlessly top-down society.

External links

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