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The First 21st-Century Movement: Douglas Rushkoff on Occupy Wall Street and Reclaiming the Internet from Corporations

Media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff talks to AlterNet's Sarah Jaffe about building a better Internet, the job-free future, and how Occupy Wall Street could save us.

The sudden rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement made media theorist and futurist Douglas Rushkoff very happy.

He's the author of two books that in different ways relate to the growth of spontaneous mini-societies of protest around the US.  Life, Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back is a history of the metastasizing of the corporation throughout society and a manifesto of sorts for ways to live without them.  Program or Be Programmed  is a call to arms for today's wired generation to learn how to create for themselves rather than using uncritically the programs created by those corporations.

He also recently wrote a piece for CNN's Web site asking if jobs were becoming obsolete. The piece prompted a response from AlterNet as well as many others (and is being played out in public squares around the country as the occupation movement works by consensus rather than by wage incentive).

On October 20, Rushkoff hosted a conference called ContactCon in New York City, bringing together open source programmers, technologists of all stripes, activists, and other forward-thinking folks not just to discuss, but to help build new programs and applications for a Web not controlled by corporate power. Instead of taking part in scheduled panels, participants broke out into small self-selected groups to work on solving real-world problems, like connecting Occupy Wall Street activists to technologists who can create tech they need, or organizing a social network where the 99% can organize debt strikes. Though beset by some of the usual problems of tech conferences (dominated by white men), ContactCon did offer an alternative to the usual marketing-heavy, venture-capitalist-dominated Web conferences. 

He took some time recently to talk to AlterNet about all these things. 

Sarah Jaffe: Tell me about the idea behind  ContactCon.

Douglas Rushkoff: The idea behind ContactCon was in some ways the Internet equivalent of the idea behind Occupy Wall Street. My original Internet meme, the name of my first email list, my first radio show was called "The Radio Squat." I always saw the Internet as an opportunity to occupy the media.

I was raised when media was something that rich corporate programmers made and the rest of us consumed. The Internet did to television what the telephone did to radio. Media became this place where we could do stuff, where we could be creative. I became aware of this at the same time as psychedelics, feedback, cybernetics, all of these extremely self-similar discoveries seemed to be being made at the same time, all of them spoke to a revitalization of human social activity and connectivity and a diminishment of top-down, corporatist, hypercapitalist control methods.

Watching the 'net develop it seemed that this bottom-up promise had been surrendered to Wall Street. The big Internet stories in the paper weren't on the culture page, about how we were changing as a people, they were on the business page about what IPO is happening and is Twitter going to buy Digg going to buy Groupon. I was getting invited to speak at conferences where everyone there was a marketer. I was invited to this conference called “Pivot” and it turned out to be a marketing conference, and I yelled at them and said, “You are not what is going on, you are the obstacle to what is going on.”

I decided to do a different conference, to fold the wild fringes, the disruptive, chaotic social 'net back to the center, invite all those folks doing interesting and independent stuff and sort of reify the 'net values of 1992 back up to 2012.