Programming people to read

First book in all-city reading program features guidelines to digital age

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



#nextchapter update

Previously: Washington State University Vancouver has offered a ­Bachelor of Arts in Digital Technology and Culture since 2003.

What’s new: The program has joined with local agencies and partners to launch #nextchapter with an all-city reading of the book “Program Or Be Programmed” by Douglas Rushkoff.

What’s next: A #nextchapter public workshop will be held at noon March 2 at the downtown branch of Vancouver Community Library.

Vancouver's first all-city read sprang to life Wednesday morning at City Hall with free copies issued of the program's first book and a discussion about our knowledge-based future.

A150-page paperback treatise, "Program or be Programmed" by Douglas Rushkoff, was selected to be the program's first read for its sweeping guidelines to the rapidly advancing digital age. Community members and businesses alike can better prepare to navigate the era by reading the book together, said Dene Grigar, director of the creative media and digital culture program at Washington State University Vancouver.

Thirty-thousand dollars was raised for the three-year program called #nextchapter and modeled after the concept of a small book club discussion expanded to cover the whole city.

In keeping with today's digital literacy, the program's name is prefaced by the hash symbol "#," also called a hashtag. The character classifies categories and similar topics that connect users of social media programs such as Twitter.

Grigar said she hopes the all-city read will spark digital conversations throughout the entire community, an effort that could even help draw tech-savvy companies to the area if its perceived to be on the cutting edge of technology.

Vancouver already has a plethora of technology-based businesses, she said, including tablet-maker Wacom; Logitech, which makes and distributes computer products; ITI, a provider of interactive computer programs to train truck drivers; and Gravitate, a Web design, development and branding business.

Grigar and her students want citizens to take ownership in these local industries.

"When we do bring on (more) companies that are tech-centered, we won't have this cultural gap," she said.

Author appears via Skype

Rushkoff also made an appearance at the event, piped in via Skype from his office in the media studies department at The New School in Manhattan. Rushkoff's book "Program Or Be Programmed" is formatted in an easy-to-read style and arranged in chapter titles that provide simple tips for moving through the digital era. For example, the book's first chapter is titled "Time, Do Not Be Always On"; and its second chapter, "Place, Live In Person."

"I've been interested in our migration from the industrial age to the digital age for some time," Rushkoff said.

He said participation is the biggest difference between the television-era technology that he grew up with and the computer technology of today.

The #nextchapter event and its all-city read are sponsored by a list of local institutions, including WSUV, Clark College, Evergreen Public Schools, Vancouver Public Schools and the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. It is also sponsored by the city, the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Comcast, and nonprofits CougParents and The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington.

The tools of technology are changing within every one of these entities, said Nancy Tessman, executive director of the local library district.

"This idea is terrific to come together and read about an idea," she said, reminding her audience that books are merely the packages that hold ideas. "Remember that libraries are here to make sure communities share an idea, and this idea is so pivotal for us right now."

Organizers said about 75 people participated in Wednesday's event.

Editor's note: The information box with this story has been modified to reflect corrections. The WSU-V digital technology and culture program has been offered since 2003. The next public meeting of #nextchapter will be held at noon on March 2 at the downtown branch of Vancouver Community Library.