Channeling the Beam
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately in my first novel, the 1996 rave sci-fi thriller love story, Ecstasy Club, in hope of developing it for the screen. It has been 25 years since I wrote it, so I feel like I can read and enjoy it as if it were written by a whole other person — which, in some ways, I guess it was.
The book is about a group of young idealists who move into an abandoned warehouse in Oakland to live out their dream of forming a commune, throwing massive parties every night, and exploring the limits of consciousness, space, and time. To them, computer technology may as well be digital LSD. They become the throbbing, sexy, and enchanted epicenter of the Bay Area’s most ambitious subculture since the 1960s.
But not everyone is happy for their success. Commercial clubs, the cops, technology companies, drug dealers, media moguls — as well some much more mysterious forces — are all aligned against our kids and their mission to “break through” the veil of consensus reality.
Of course, our protagonists eventually realize the real path to shared consciousness and evolutionary progress is right here with each other. It’s not about making contact with aliens so much as making contact with each other.
But I can’t help but feel some longing for this original, naive vibe of the early digital age. Before digital technology became the province of soul-sucking corporations, it belonged to a dedicated subculture of cyberpunks, ravers, videogamers, VR technologists, chemists, technoshamans, DJs, conscious explorers, fractal artists, and computer programmers who believed we could hack reality itself and realize our shared destiny as a collective neural network.
Looking back, I see this book is both an homage and a warning, as well as a satire. It is a microcosm of the digital age, recapitulating how the early ethos of hacking reality itself was surrendered to the agenda of venture capital and social control — and why it’s not too late to retrieve the original spirit of this time, and its wild-eyed young enthusiasts.
Maybe with the gift of 25 years of distance, we can reset the trip. It’s not about breaking through to the other side, but making this side a place we can inhabit together, brilliantly.
Douglas Rushkoff’s upcoming book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, is available for pre-order. Rushkoff is a weekly columnist on Medium, and the author of books including Team Human, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Present Shock, and Program or Be Programmed. Rushkoff is host of the Team Human podcast, a graphic novelist, and a professor of media theory and digital economics.
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