Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The terror of 'real time'

By Douglas Rushkoff, Special to CNN
updated 11:03 AM EDT, Mon April 22, 2013
A young runner, left, stops by a Boston church blocks away from the scene of the bombings. The blasts exploded near the Boston Marathon's finish line on Monday, April 15, killing three people and injuring more than 170 others. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/us/boston-bombings-galleries/index.html'>See all photography related to the Boston bombings.</a> A young runner, left, stops by a Boston church blocks away from the scene of the bombings. The blasts exploded near the Boston Marathon's finish line on Monday, April 15, killing three people and injuring more than 170 others. See all photography related to the Boston bombings.
HIDE CAPTION
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
Boston: The aftermath of terror
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Douglas Rushkoff: New normal is constant info stream; we don't really know how to respond
  • He says terror attack coverage kept us in state of unending anxiety with little understanding
  • He says new era of 24/7 crises offers steady-state concerns rather than ones with endpoint
  • Rushkoff: We might as well develop sustainable approaches to solving crises in real time

Editor's note: Douglas Rushkoff writes a regular column for CNN.com. He is a media theorist and the author of the new book "Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now."

(CNN) -- So is this the "new normal"? That's the question I keep hearing as people try to comprehend the tragedy at the Boston Marathon and its chaotic aftermath. The answer is yes -- in more ways than you might think.

I don't mean that we're supposed to get used to explosions, school shootings and other threats arising seemingly randomly and without warning. But we should accept that the old ways of understanding and responding to conflicts and threats no longer apply.

In an always-on, post-narrative age, 24-hour cable and Internet news and Twitter feeds offer a steady stream of opportunities for panic and misinformation. We have a suspect; no, we don't; yes, we do. The school is on lockdown; no, it's not. False alarms are still alarms, after all. It's like we are all living in newsrooms, or as 911 operators or air-traffic controllers, for all the emergency interruptions and bulletins we navigate practically every hour.

Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff

Then consider the equally unnerving limbo we endure once there's nothing new to report. The stakes are too high to return to regular programming, so we just sit there, poised on high alert along with the police and journalists. This time, it was flashing blue lights and the search for a suspect. Before that, it was the live feed of Deepwater Horizon in the corner of the screen for weeks, belching oil into the sea. Whether interruptive or chronic, the anxiety keeps pouring in.

We live in a state of "present shock."

That was the week from hell

And even if network anchors still had the authority they once did, they would not be able construct a satisfying story around the onslaught of neverending news. When the journalists cheered as the police caught the marathon bombings suspect in the boat, it seemed that they were mostly relieved at reaching a definitive conclusion to a neverending news cycle. One news anchor actually declared "justice won" as she was at last permitted to cut to commercial. It rang false, because there's no genuine finality anymore. The story just doesn't end. Nor does the anxiety.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



For it's not so much a matter of responding to a particular crisis, threat or tragedy but of coping with the persistent flow of urgency itself. Some of the unease we feel with the Boston bombings comes from the nagging sense that we have no way of gauging where we are in the arc of violence. Is this the beginning of a new series of attacks, a rare event like the Oklahoma City bombing or part of some greater conspiracy yet to be revealed?

Of course, none of the usual narratives apply, for we no longer live in a world with beginnings, middles and ends. That quaint structure went out with the Industrial Age and the moon shot. We no longer design career paths; we no longer invest in the future. We occupy; we freelance; we trade derivatives. Everything happens in the now.

The long night of terror comes to an end
Friend: Suspect justified terrorism
Fareed's Take: Boston Marathon attack

Even terror. While there are certainly groups such as al Qaeda with political goals and a modicum of organization, for every plotted attack with strategic goals, there are many more that arise haphazardly, randomly -- by either sympathizers, copycats or mentally ill nihilists with no political justification whatsoever.

Boston's week of terror

We're no longer fighting enemies in the normal sense. We cannot begin a war on terrorism and then declare victory when we're done. We can't stick a flag in it and call it won.

No, the challenges of a post-Industrial society are less like conquests with clear endpoints than they are steady-state concerns. Oil is spilling. The climate is changing. Terrorists are plotting. Crises are never quite solved for the future so much as managed in the present.

But accepting the essentially plotless and ongoing nature of crisis needn't compromise our ability to respond appropriately and effectively. In fact, by freeing ourselves from the obsolete narratives we used to rely on, we can begin to recognize the patterns in the apparent chaos. We may not get answers to rally around or satisfyingly dramatic finales, but neither will we need to invent compelling, false stories to motivate ourselves into action.

In a world where crises are constant and perpetual, we might as well begin to develop more sustainable approaches to solving them in real time, rather than once and for all.

Life goes on.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Douglas Rushkoff.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT