“Team Human” by Douglas Rushkoff – Lessons and Book Review

Title: Team Human

Author: Douglas Rushkoff

Category: Non-fiction, Technology, Sociology

Rating: 5/5

10-word summary: Technology should serve us and reflect our values and ideals.

About Team Human

Team Human is a fascinating book that paints an overview of the ways technology and humanity have influenced each other. People have always tried to invent new mechanisms and mediums to make their lives easier and better. These inventions often worked and benefited humanity.

However, sometimes the same inventions that were created for people end up enslaving them. The roles reverse and the technology meant to improve people’s lives takes over until people start working to improve technology itself. We adapt to the technology, accept it as our new status quo and then build our own lives around it. When this happens, our own creations end up creating us. Rushkoff believes that technology should always work for us. And instead of surrendering to technology, we should re-shape it in a way that benefits humans and reflects our highest values and aspirations.

And, most importantly, we should remember that we are all part of the same team – Team Human. In an era that represents the rise of the individual and also of loneliness, it’s important to remember that we are on the same team. He calls on us to hang on to our humanity and to use it to cooperate because that’s the best way to ensure that we will continue to survive and thrive as a species.

Lessons from Team Human

The things we create sometimes end up creating us

We often invent new things to make our lives better. And our creations often fulfill their purpose. But sometimes, our own creations take over our lives and then they dictate how we live. Instead of using these machines or mediums or re-building them to better fit our needs, we end up serving them and adapting to them.

One example Rushkoff gives is a common one: cars. When people in the US started to manufacture and sell cars, this made a big difference in people’s lives. Even though it took several decades and a lot of advertising, cars are now very common in the US and in many parts of the world.

Using a car obviously has many benefits: they help you get to one place faster and in a more comfortable way. But cars have started to influence us in ways we probably did not plan or anticipate. Because more and more people drive their own cars, cities are now built or adapted to make room for cars. We build new building with a lot of parking space to make room for people’s cars. And this, in turn, increases distances between places, making people drive even more.

Since cars are now part of our lives, we build parking lots and drive more. We don’t stop to question whether we need cars and we don’t invest more in better public transportation. This is an example of how our own creation ends up influencing how we live our lives and how we shape our world.

The Internet was meant to unite us all, but it’s actually dividing us

The Internet held a great promise a few decades ago – the promise to connect people from all over the world. On one hand, it is doing that. We can supposedly reach almost anyone on the planet if they are connected to the internet. On the other hand, it’s doing a terrible job at connecting us.

The connections we establish online are more superficial and they can make us feel more alone and misunderstood. Something that contributes to this alienation are the personalized feeds on social media.

Did you know that the feed of posts you see on all social media platforms is unique and optimized for you only? This means that we all see different things when we check our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube accounts. Moreover, it’s all private. I have no idea what kind of posts you see on your feed and you have no idea what kind of posts I see on mine.

While it sounds great to have a feed that is created especially for you, it’s also one of the reasons why we feel more alone and we are less empathetic. Unlike TV programs that we can share with friends or with the thousands of people who watch them, browsing social media is a solitary and private (or secret) experience.

Even though social media can, and sometimes does, unite us, it also decreases empathy, makes us feel alone and has a negative impact on our wellbeing.

We are part of the same team – Team Human

We now live in the age of individuality, competition and capitalism. All these – and many more factors – make us feel like we are alone and on our own. They make us think that we need to compete with everyone else to get what we want, so we often don’t care if others suffer because of our individual pursuits.

But we are people – social creatures and we need each other. We were wired to connect with and care about each other. And even though many factors make us forget this, we are on the same team. Rushkoff encourages us to be less selfish and to think about the greater good. He reminds us that we achieve more and we feel better when we cooperate.

Since humanity will face more and bigger challenges such as climate change or the rise of AI, we need to work together to find ways to deal with these challenges. And we need to remember that some problems cannot be solved just with technology and code. In order to solve them, we may need to look within and use our humanity.

What I like about Team Human

1. It covers a topic that is very important at the moment

The Internet is undoubtedly one of the inventions that had a big impact on our world. This technology and others that arise from it may soon alter our own identity and our world to an even bigger extent. Data is and will be used to predict and influence behaviour. Technology will allow us to become cyborgs or upload our consciousness on the Internet. AI may drive us out of jobs. Since all these things are likely to happen in the future, it is imperative that we educate ourselves on these topics and make smart decisions.

Even though this book does not go into detail about these technologies, it offers an overview of the ways technology and people have influenced each other over time. It helps us realize how important it is to use technology in a way that benefits us (but not at the cost of everything and everyone else). He also argues that any technology or medium that currently has a negative effect on us should be re-engineered in a way that serves us and that reflects our highest values and ideals.

2. Rushkoff has an informed perspective

Whenever I read a non-fiction book, I also want to know who the author is and what is his background. And when an author has expertise in a field (acquired through education or work), I am more likely to consider their perspective as accurate. Obviously, even a person with expertise can be wrong sometimes, but a person with no expertise will probably be wrong more often.

Douglas Rushkoff is a media theory professor, a thought leader and an author who wrote several books about topics related to technology. He often talked about the fact that social media should be used to solve our problems. And he seems to have a great understanding of the effects of social media and technology on our societies and culture.

He also includes references and this makes the information in the book seem even more trustworthy. I think that an author who does his research is more informed and more likely to have an accurate perspective on the topic he approaches.

3. He has a great and balanced perspective on technology

Rushkoff believes that we cannot – and should not – stop progress, but rather we should make sure to embed our best values in technology and design it in a way that benefits us.

When it comes to technology, and especially social media and the internet, people have different approaches. Cal Newport, the author of Digital Minimalism, believes we should learn how to use technology less and only when it serves us.

Jaron Lanier, the author of several books about technology believes that social media has a negative impact on ourselves and the world and he advises us to delete our social media accounts in order to force the app owner and developers to change the apps so they no longer have such a negative impact.

Rushkoff’s perspective is that we should re-make our apps (and other technological inventions, tools or mediums) in a way that serves us best and that embodies our highest values and our ideals. And I think this is what we should aim for.

Unlike Newport who tells us to simply accept the undesirable status quo and make an effort to control our behaviour, Rushkoff argues that the technology should be adapted in a way that best serves the interests we all have – as humans. His perspective is similar to that of Lanier in that they both think technology should be adapted to us, not the other way around.

And if we continue to create new technologies and to constantly analyze and adapt them to serve all our interests, then we will all feel less afraid and more excited about technology progress in the future.

4. The book is well-written, well-structured and interdisciplinary

I’ve been reading some great books recently and I feel like all of them are very well-written and well-structured, but I honestly think not all books are like that. Team Human definitely is.

The book is divided into chapters and each new idea is numbered. The entire book has 100 main ideas and this way of numbering passages reminded me of the Bible, but I think it makes it easier to take notes and find information in the book. It took me about 30 pages to get used to Rushkoff’s style and the structure of this book, but after that I felt that the information had a natural flow.

Team Human is also an interdisciplinary book. Even though the main topic is technology and its effects, it touches on many topics to explain the relationship between technology and people. There are chapters on economy, agriculture, spirituality, biology and all these offer us a different piece of a complex puzzle. However, the book does not go into detail about these so it is not too complicated or overwhelming. I would say that Team Human is similar in a way to Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, but I prefer the first one because it is more concise.

5. The values and philosophy that seem to transpire from it

Something curious and wonderful happens when reading some great books – we get a glimpse of the author’s identity. While reading Team Human, I felt like I could easily identify some of the values and beliefs that Rushkoff holds dear. It seemed obvious to me that he deeply cares about increased equality, empathy, collaboration, fairness, personal responsibility, justice and more.

I have only experienced this with a few books so far, but I love it when I can learn a bit about the author that wrote the book. I try to infer what they believe in and how they see the world. And it’s a wonderful experience, especially when it seems that they share some of your values or your worldview.

6. Some of Rushkoff’s ideas overlap with those of Jaron Lanier

I previously read two books by Jaron Lanier and I love his perspective on social media and the internet. So when I realized that Rushkoff seems to share some of the same beliefs, I started appreciating both authors even more. For example, they both believe that social media has some negative effects that we should not accept. Instead, we should advocate for change. They both believe that technology can be remodeled in a way that serves us better. And they both seem to think that the people who own these apps and technologies should try to take responsibility for what they created and improve them rather than just making plans for how to escape to a safe place in the case of an apocalyptic event they helped cause.

7. Team Human is a manifesto

Most books are a source of information. Some books go one step further and try to provide us with a blueprint, a philosophy or a way to live. I believe Team Human does that and it encourages us to:

  • look for the ways technology is influencing us
  • remember that technology should work for us, not the other way around
  • adapt and re-make any technology to better serve us when necessary
  • collaborate with others more and think of the greater good

Of course, the book itself has much more information and you will better understand Rushkoff’s perspective when you read it. But I think this is the main philosophy of Team Human and I think the world would be a better place if we all decided to follow this manifesto.

What I don’t like about Team Human

1. It does not offer practical advice

To be honest, I loved this book. I could hardly find one thing I did not like about it. But if you are expecting this book to tell you how to act, then you may be disappointed. I think this book is meant to help us better understand how technology can influence us and how we should react. But the book only offers an ideal or a philosophy to apply in our lives.

It does not tell us how to apply it in simple, practical steps. Rushkoff does not tell us what apps to use, what accounts to delete, what web browsers to use and so on. He simply offers us a vision that we should guide ourselves by. However, this did not make me like the book any less. I simply think this is not the type of book to offer practical advice.

Quotes from Team Human

“There’s a reason for our current predicament: an antihuman agenda embedded in our technology, our markets, and our major cultural institutions, from education and religion to civics and media. It has turned them from forces for human connection and expression into ones of isolation and repression.”

“Our smart devices iterate and evolve faster than our biology can.”

“We invent new mechanisms for connection and exchange, from books and radio to money and social media. But then those very media become the means through which we are separated.”

“If we don’t truly know what something is programmed to do, chances are it is programming us. Once that happens, we may all be machines as well.”

“We have ended up living in a state of perpetual interruption that used to be endured only by 911 emergency operators or air traffic controllers, only we do it 24/7 and we pay for the privilege.”

“Whoever controls media controls society.”

“Things may look bleak, but the future is open and up for invention.”

“We must learn that technology’s problems can’t always be solved with more technology.”

Should You Read Team Human?

Yes. I think this book will help you better understand the dynamic between technology and us. The examples in it will help you consider how technology impacted different areas of our lives over time. And it will also offer you a model for how to think of technology and technological progress from now on.

This is a wonderful book that is informative, researched and full of great ideas. It’s also easy to read and I think anyone can benefit from it. Since technology is shaping all our lives every single day, I think you should read this book to better understand how that happens.

Have you read Team Human? If you have, what did you think about it?

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