Freesteel Blog » Cory Doctorow
Review written last year. Finally got round to posting it because he’s addressing Europython, which I am missing.
Cory Doctorow’s lack of a good title for his book Little Brother (thought up and written from start to finish in only 8 weeks) seems not to be a drag for any of his admirers, which is strange considering how he says that good titles on the posts are important to the success of his uber-blog BoingBoing.
The book’s subtitle, “How hacker kids declared war on the Department of Homeland Security”, is considerably better and gives something for his fans to think about. But, like the excellent title of his short story Scroogled, it’s a pale wash-out of its promised premise.
Cory Doctorow’s publishers brought forward the UK release of the novel Little Brother from from November to October, putting it ahead of the US election and the anticipated closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
This is relevant since the Guantanamo Bay one of the themes of the book, and it wouldn’t do for it to be over-taken by events — always the risk for near future SF where the author is not willing to apply any imagination and continues in a state of denial of the dire predictions for the future.
I could go on at length about all the important issues that Cory, with the acquesence of his publishers, left out of this book when they chose to waste a lot of young people’s valuable thought-space with this piece of sloppy ill-thought work, but time is short and there’s money to be made, and I’ve covered this theme in my earlier review of Doctorow’s newspaper columns.
Let’s look at what’s actually in the book.
From a distance, this story is a misguided first draft of a revisionist history of the War on Terror.
On the one hand, all-American white kids have had a small number of their civil liberties ineffectively breached in America regarding surveillance, while on the other hand far away in Pakistan, Iraq and Gaza people die nightly in bombing raids that are planned in America, paid for by American taxes and using American military robot airplanes remote controlled from a base in Nevada.
But Cory doesn’t acknowledge that integral half of the War on Terror at any point in his book. No way. This is about kids.
Remember how, back in the old days, the story was of kids hacking into the Pentagon computers? It doesn’t happen any more, does it? Why? Are Pentagon computers no longer interesting, now that we know that most of those cool state secrets do not exist and the only thing they’re trying to hide are yet more torture photographs from Abu Ghraib? That wouldn’t do. You wouldn’t want your fictional characters to be exposed to anything ugly like that, because then if they didn’t do anything about it (eg reprogrammed bomb targets out into the sea), that would mean they were bad people and that their life challenges were somewhat trivial and irrelevant. So let’s pretend it isn’t there.
Another facet side of the War on Terror is the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. This features in Cory Doctorow’s book, except the prisoners are instead white kids from America — like the main character, who identifies precisely with his target audience.
A recap: Back in 2002 the Guantanamo Bay inmates were swept up in the hundreds as part of a proxy invasion of Afghanistan. They were paraded around a military base in orange jumpsuits, branded as “the worst of the worst”, and kept unidentified for years to provide the politicians the space to lie about their made-up crimes. Their presumed guilt was one element in the raft of propaganda supporting the second rapid invasion in the middle east, this time for the oil which, in no small part, fuels Cory Doctorow’s crazy jet-set lifestyle that keeps him distracted from pondering what the oncoming future means for the next generation, and exercising his influence by publically setting an example.
In Chapter 2 of Little Bother a terrorist group detonates a series of ten charges along the length of the San Francisco Bay Bridge destroying it completely, while simultaneously blowing up the underground train tunnel beneath the bay with enough explosives to break through to sea bed and flood it with water! All in order to cause economic damage to the United States amounting to what will probably be less than a one percent of the damage caused by a proper San Francisco earthquake. In Chapter 9 of the book, we get the rest of the information:
Al Qaeda was definitely responsible for the bombing. Six different terrorist groups had claimed responsibility for the attack, but only Al Qaeda’s Internet video disclosed information that the DHS said they hadn’t disclosed to anyone.
And that’s it!
Friends, this is a work of fiction. Cory Doctorow is free to made up anything here, and make it connect to the plot. The utter carelessness with which he chose this signature event of the book tells you all you need to know about how much thought and interest he put into his research and creativity. This is worse than Hollywood blockbuster movie material.
For a start, what kind of childish imagination makes you think of the tunnel as some kind of thin-walled pipe snaking along the sea floor, rather than, as it is, bored many metres down in the bedrock that not even a freight train of TNT would be able to punch through? This is idiocy on the level of gas limos project.
Clearly, no terrorist group has ever or would ever (a) place ten separate bombs on one target when it could have a far greater effect spread out through the whole city, or (b) not leave trails of real evidence all over the place when doing something of this scale.
By choosing this fictional and wholly unrealistic terrorist action, Cory Doctorow helps to mythologize Al Qaeda terrorism in the West as being well-resourced enough not to require the biggest bang for their meagre bucks. After all don’t forget that 9/11 required no more than ten box cutters, some flying lessons paid for by the state of Georgia, plane tickets purchased with a credit card, and some willing volunteers.
Nor did he pick a terrorist act of the sort which would make it possible to spin his yarn through the neighbourhood of the perpetrators in order to illuminate their side of the story. There are lots of ways to do this that would have been hugely enriching to the novel. For inspiration of just how wacky these connections could be, consider the decision of the McCain/Palin ticket in the 2008 Presidential election to obsess over Bill Ayers the “domestic terrorist”. These are new dimensions that would have appeared in this book had it been written properly by an author who cared.
But we don’t get that richness from Cory Doctorow. He’s not interested. He’s not done a shred of homework nor put in any thought, either about terrorism, or about the about technical requirements for breaking things. He’s intelligent enough to know about the ridiculousness of the airlines removing the possibility of “moisture bombs” from passenger’s toiletries, and would probably laugh at the idea of a terrorist plot involving the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting through (how many?) cables with blow torches (assuming he even looked it up), but when it comes to his efforts in his own book, does he show any signs of being bothered to think it through?
But back to the story. In Chapter 3 the team of all-American white kids are picked off the street at random by the Department of Homeland Security and interrogated by idiots for a week for information about their involvement in the bombing of the bridge. They are detained in a secret prison on Treasure Island, which is clever because it’s where one of the main pillars of the Bay Bridge stands, now cut off by Al Qaeda’s act of demolition. According to Wikipedia it’s an artificial island made from spoil produced by drilling the tunnel through thick bedrock.
Why is the prison kept secret? Beats me. Guantanamo Bay was never secret; only the identities of the prisoners were secret in order to hide the lack of evidence against them. Generally, the police always like to announce to everyone in a big press conference that they’ve caught the bad guys. Though sometimes they later have to manufacture evidence and extract confessions to prove it. A bomb has gone off? “Round up twice the usual suspects,” said Captain Renault in Casablanca.
It’s time for another excerpt. Here’s a bit from the end of Chapter 3, which shows off his prize-winning writing:
“I think you should really reconsider your approach to this situation,” Severe Haircut woman said. “I think you should do that right now. We found a number of suspicious devices on your person. We found you and your confederates near the site of the worst terrorist attack this country has ever seen. Put those two facts together and things don’t look very good for you, Marcus. You can cooperate, or you can be very, very sorry. Now, what is this for?”
“You think I’m a terrorist? I’m seventeen years old!”
“Just the right age — Al Qaeda loves recruiting impressionable, idealistic kids. We googled you, you know. You’ve posted a lot of very ugly stuff on the public Internet.”
“I would like to speak to an attorney,” I said.
Severe haircut lady looked at me like I was a bug. “You’re under the mistaken impression that you’ve been picked up by the police for a crime. You need to get past that. You are being detained as a potential enemy combatant by the government of the United States. If I were you, I’d be thinking very hard about how to convince us that you are not an enemy combatant. Very hard. Because there are dark holes that enemy combatants can disappear into, very dark deep holes, holes where you can just vanish. Forever. Are you listening to me young man? I want you to unlock this phone and then decrypt the files in its memory. I want you to account for yourself: why were you out on the street? What do you know about the attack on this city?”
“I’m not going to unlock my phone for you,” I said, indignant. My phone’s memory had all kinds of private stuff on it: photos, emails, little hacks and mods I’d installed. “That’s private stuff.”
“What have you got to hide?”
“I’ve got the right to my privacy,” I said. “And I want to speak to an attorney.”
“This is your last chance, kid. Honest people don’t have anything to hide.”
After getting set free a week later, Marcus doesn’t tell his parents where he’s been.
He goes to his room, retrieves his copy of Paranoid Linux for the X-Box (intended for use by Chinese and Syrian dissidents, but can be used to crack this loss-leading gaming machine), burns it onto a stack of DVDs, and hands it out lots of people in other parts of the city. Pretty soon he’s established a city-wide independent, non-US government sanctioned, encrypted, peer-to-peer wireless internet system and a new identity on it.
Easy, wasn’t it?
A series of juvenile adventures ensues, enabled by unmoderated communication within this network.
In Chapter 12 an improvised rock concert is organized in Dolores Park where our main guy has a great date with his girlfriend, only briefly interrupted by:
The police moved in in lines, carrying plastic shields, wearing Darth Vader helmets that covered their faces. Each one had a black truncheon and infra-red goggles. They looked like soldiers out of some futuristic war movie. They took a step forward in unison and every one of them banged his truncheon on his shield, a cracking noise like the earth splitting. Another step, another crack. They were all around the park and closing in now.
Cory Doctorow does a good dramatic reading of this episode here. It doesn’t seem so good in the text. And anyway, it’s only 9 years behind the curve, following the battle in Seattle in 1999, except without the politics or the excitement of having cornered the masters of the universe in their luxury hotel towers while they drafted the next round of trade agreements designed to require every city to sell their water supplies to transnational corporations.
There was newspaper article about him and his book, titled Cory Doctorow: willing science fiction into fact, but it should have actually been Cory Doctorow: using dated facts to create meaningless fiction. All his talks about writing always begin with the bald statement that:
“All science fiction writers, whether they admit it or not, are writing metaphorically about the present.”
If he was more truthful, he’s say:
“When I write science fiction, I am really writing about my own childhood.”
Among the things that could have appeared in his book, Doctorow could have written about a nimble bit of instant teenage hacking of a careless Microsoft-based government security network, making it possible for the main character to gain some sort of privileged access into the police networks in order to provide a wider perspective of what’s going on.
It’s fiction. And fiction should endeavour to show as much about all sides of the story as possible. These faceless storm trooper cops are people too. They have homes, and families, and beliefs that may or may not come into conflict with the jobs they are paid to do. What do they feel about it all? How do they deal with it?
Unfortunately, any such fictional speculation of this through available devices of, say, the electronic snooping of a private conversation between shifts from one of these police troopers to his girlfriend would interfere with their singularly one-dimensional nature and show up just how very two-dimensional all the main characters are while they fold their way through this uninspiring and predictable plot.
But back to the book.
After finally confessing to his parents about his ordeal in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security in Chapter 16, our kid spills his whole story to a friendly reporter, then gets picked up by his interrogators in Chapter 20 (including “severe haircut woman”) a second time, and, at the point where he is about to be waterboarded, he gets rescued by the California Highway Patrol who arrest all the federal agents, only to clear them all of wrong-doing and send them off to work in Iraq.
Angered by this lack of justice, our hero releases a video podcast about his story in preparation for defeating the state governor’s re-election bid.
Overall. After a very rough beginning, I warmed to the book in the middle chapters in spite of the implausibilities, but then got seriously pissed off towards the end as the lack of content became apparent. Yes I know fiction has to be entertaining and comprehensible, but it should also broaden your perspective and show you feelings you never knew you had so you can become a better more well-rounded person. Otherwise it’s an irresponsible and stupefying waste of time, totally purposeless and more inexcusable than government propaganda.
Reviewing the reviews, I can tell I am mostly alone with regards to my opinions about the worth this book, especially when compared to what it could have been. Even when you discount the conflict-of-interest reviews by other writers who will want Cory to plug their own books in his overblown BoingBoing blog, I am in a minority.
The review on Yehuda however matches my feelings:
I like Cory, and I like Boing Boing, but Cory did not succeed in writing a mediocre science fiction book. Little Brother is a really bad book with some good intentions, bad writing, very poor characterization, and a serviceable but ridiculous plot.
People have to say it. Make it known. Maybe one day when he hosts a week of a Clarion writers class, the students will get organized enough to pull out and exhibit some of the worst written sections from this highly-acclaimed novel and circulate it among the group as an illustration of how writing quality, like the quality of the meat in a burger bar, has little to do with commercial success.
Commercial success and fame are predicated on other factors. We don’t know how much he sells out without informing his readers on his uber-Blog.
It would just be kinder to the world if those whose work was chosen to be widely read by society could be bothered to put in a little more effort and thought into the work.
Even if their fame and unquestioning fan base means they don’t need to.
I blame the publisher for not sending this book back to him immediately with a note that it needs working on for a couple of years to gestate properly. You can’t expect writers to be wholly responsible for their own quality control and to know when it’s blatantly obvious they’re not doing a good job. This book is a disgrace.
Several days ago I woke up with an awful hangover from ranting all night in the pub
atwith Francis, a founder of Serious Change, some kind of campaign action group attempting to get the government and the public to take serious action about converting to a low-carbon economy without mentioning “climate change”, which they have deemed as a green lefty political turn-off.
The theory goes that because the issue gets pigeonholed by people as some sort of hippy-eyed woolly-left-wing radical idea, they then ignore it. So if you try and press the idea of the need for a low-carbon economy from within some other harder category (eg national security), then it might get taken seriously, and may even be adopted by right wing groups who get a lot of media coverage, like The Taxpayers Alliance — whom I think are just there to echo-chamber the extremist views of the newspaper proprietors whose media outlets cite them and lie about their credibility.
Now, I think I remember saying that I thought he had this whole thing backwards. The media and the public don’t categorize the existential threat of climate change as an environmental issue, and then ignore it. What they do is first choose to ignore it, and then categorize it as an environmental issue.
Consequently, it makes no odds what people or politicians say they categorize it as. You can bust your ass getting it out of that category, and they’ll put it into another one equally false and equally ignorable. This happens with all political issues, from financial policy to the procurement of weapons systems for so-called defence. It’s called lying. It sends you away on a wild goose chase for a while so you stop bothering them. Don’t fall for it.
The real way to win a political debate is to split the opposition — which is best done by dividing those who occasionally think from those who are idiots and can’t. In other words, cause them to argue with each other.
I suggested taking on the car drivers.
No. Don’t do that. We don’t want to offend them. Everyone loves their cars. We need them on our side. We won’t get anywhere if we attack them.
Listen, I said, you know all those rows of streetlights on the motorways and places where no pedestrian can walk? Well I want every last one of them off. They burn a huge amount of energy and they do absolutely nothing useful because all cars already have frigging headlights, don’t they?
But they’re good for driving at night when you’re tired, they’re not so hard on your eyes, etc.
Why do we put up with pandering to the comfort of car drivers all the time? Why do only they count? You’ve got David MacKay’s Without Hot Air publication. In the future there will be no streetlights on highways at all. You know that. I know that. And this is something we can do today without any added infrastructure, because all cars have headlights!
I want you to calculate how much energy will be saved by doing this immediately.
In Britain the Highway Agency has already warned it is researching the safest areas to implement a nighttime black-out which will be launched next year as part of an energy efficiency strategy.
Local authorities including West Sussex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Essex and Powys are also bringing in similar initiatives – despite motoring groups warning of an increased risk of accidents.
Regarding the motorway lights, it seems I am already behind the times:
- Streetlights on M40 motorway left on for 24 hours a day for FOUR months, Daily Mail, 15 February 2008
- Lights to go out on motorway — Portsmouth News, 21 April 2009
- Lights will go out on section of M27 to cut pollution, Southern Daily Echo, 21 April 2009
- Motorway lighting to be cut despite risk of more accidents, The Times, 13 March 2009
That Times article says:
Lighting will be turned off late at night on hundreds of miles of motorway despite an admission from the Highways Agency that a small increase in crashes is the likely result.
The measure is being introduced primarily to reduce carbon emissions but it will also save the agency several million pounds a year in electricity costs…
The agency has reassessed the benefits of motorway lighting and found that they were exaggerated. Research 20 years ago calculated that lighting cut crashes by 30 per cent, but the revised estimate argues a 10 per cent reduction.
Convinced yet that this is an issue that can be used to split car-driving-should-be-as-comfortable-and-safe-as-possible-above-all-else lobby?
No point in me putting this idea in a long rambley email which will get ignored, when it can go on a blog for future reference after it gets ignored.
You’re going to have to get all the figures. The only legitimate case people can make against switching off all streetlights that are beneficial only to headlamp wielding cars is the quantifiable increase in safety case. [Get hold of that Highways Agency reassessment and use it]
Fine, you say. If you want to use safety as an argument, and you’re happy with it as it is now, we’ll balance out the extra danger by a reduction in the speed limit to 55 miles per hour on all highways where streetlights have been turned off.
How would you like that!
Get the speed limit reduction safety trade-off numbers from the Highways Agency and use them to split the car driving lobby from their plain and simple love of driving their cars fast and in comfort at all times of the day and night. I guarantee they will shut up about this minuscule crash accident rate increase when faced with a trade-off against their precious danger-inducing speed.
Get them arguing too much about safety and danger on the roads, and the speed limit comes down. They would be wise to keep quiet as we turn off all their unnecessary motorway lamps. Of course, many of the loud-mouth petrol-heads won’t get the message and go on about safety, while the more clever ones among them try to shut them up.
Maybe if driving was less pleasurable, smooth, quick, easy, low-risk and well-lit, fewer people would choose to drive — often to somewhere that they are only going to drive back from after a few hours — and therefore fewer people would die from driving.
Just how do they highway safety these days? Is it deaths per mile per person driven, or is it deaths per day per person, whether or not they choose to drive?
It’s lucky that health statistics work like that — number of people who die per year from smoking related deaths, as opposed to the number of deaths per cigarette smoked — or there would be no point in encouraging people to stop smoking, would there?
Oh, and Cory Doctorow, don’t think I’m off your case, now that I’ve seen you’ve reviewed David MacKay’s without hot air book. How many hundreds of thousands of air-miles did you fly last year to avoid doing book signings over the internet, then?
Being Part 2 of the annual Freesteel Cory Doctorow season.
Not everyone gets to write a fortnightly column for a leading national newspaper in the UK. Newspapers need to sell copies, and nothing sells them better than puffed-up celebrities like Cory Doctorow, regardless of whether they have anything to say.
Fortunately, Cory Doctorow does have something to say.
Unfortunately he says the same thing over and over again, even when he knows there are better topics that ought to get more coverage. It is this consistent waste of a prime-time mind-share that makes me want to cry. I don’t know whether it’s laziness, inability to comprehend what’s important, or what. But anyway…
Let’s start with the message he’s been telling people his latest book is about, as best expressed in this podcast recorded in September by one of dis-information projects within the fake institute that employs my long time friend and blogging partner, Myron Ebell. (Refer to this subsequent discussion for clarity on what parts of the Ebellian doctrine they believe Cory is misguided about.)
Cory explains the plot of the novel in terms of a three point plan for political salvation:
- 1. Take control of your technology from the corporations and the state. You can do this by promoting free software ideals and resisting spyware.
- 2. Learn to call bullshit what it is. If you don’t understand the mathematics of improbable events, the politicians will be able to persuade you to surrender your liberties based on questionable justifications.
- 3. Get involved in the democratic and electoral process in order to change the laws and lock-down your gains in terms of civil liberties.
Having lacked any technology worth taking control of, and rarely having believed what politicians say (owing to a habit of looking things up), I’ve put a lot of hard work into Step 3, originally with the webpages PublicWhip and TheyWorkForYou (which was proudly endorsed by Cory Doctorow in 2004), as well as a number of more recent projects and actions that are reasonably out of the ordinary, yet wholly justified.
Not many people know about these projects, in terms of who is doing them and how they are built on tiny resources at hand and virtually no institutional support, but they represent a minuscule movement of a handful of citizens who are attempting to take back their democracy using internet means — just the sort of thing you’d imagine Cory Doctorow would get excited about.
And you would have thought that in the 27 articles that he has written for The Guardian newspaper since July last year, he would have had time to spare at least one single sentence giving the mass readers the low-down of what’s going on, what the potential is, and why it needs support, but he hasn’t, has he?
In order to write this post, I read every single Cory Doctorow article in The Guardian on the Edinburgh to Liverpool train following my three day visit to Glenrothes. If democracy is suffering in the UK, I am determined it’s not due to my idleness.
Synopses of Cory Doctorow’s articles
- 31 July 2007 – Copy killers
The digital rights management industry is lying to us about the point and effectiveness of their wares.
- 4 September 2007 – Pushing the impossible
Perfect copyright protection technology is an imaginary concept, like taking your spaceship past lightspeed.
- 18 September 2007 – Free data sharing is here to stay
The real shape of the information economy contradicts the mistaken metaphore of Intellectual Property.
- 2 October 2007 – Online censorship hurts us all
The DMCA is used more effectively as a tool for censorship than to prevent copyright infringement, and that’s much more threatening.
- 24 October 2007 – Is the blockbuster on the way out?
The whole intrusive proposed copyright protection regime that takes away our freedom and prevents smaller scale creativity cannot be justified in the interests of blockbuster movies, which anyway should adapt to the new situation like the video games industry did (with its multiplayer network gaming) or it deserves to die.
- 30 October 2007 – Why a rights robocop will never work
Technology to detect and prevent uploads of copyrighted material is a boondoggle.
- 13 November 2007 – Warhol is turning in his grave
The 60s pop art icons breached what we think of today as copyright law all the time when building their collages. To add insult, we now have “No Photography” signs all over the galleries which display this art. Cory wasn’t even allowed to photograph the “No Photography” signs themselves, because their typography and layout was subject to copyright! (He should have claimed to have designed the sign, although it was uncredited, and then he could have gotten away with it.)
- 27 November 2007 – Downloaded BBC programmes should be forever
DRM is impossible to implement on open source software, and current practice tries to give us fewer rights and opportunities than we got from our technologies in the last century.
- 11 December 2007 – Downloads give Amazon jungle fever
Why is Amazon so good at retailing physical products but one of the worst for e-books? Cory doesn’t know or speculate.
- 15 January 2008 – Personal data is as hot as nuclear waste
Cory proposes surcharging CCTVs with the clean-up and compensation costs for when the data being collected isn’t properly cared for and leaks out like toxic waste.
- 29 January 2008 – Copyright law should distinguish between commercial and cultural uses
Cory proposes reintroducing a form of “folk copyright” that worked before the age of the internet, when no one got into trouble for sharing their fan fiction and other stuff. He promotes the Access to Knowledge (A2K) treaty proposal at WIPO as a breath of sanity in the copyright debate.
- 21 February 2008 – “Intellectual property” is a silly euphemism
The term IP is intentionally misleading to embue the owner of it rights they would have over physical property that perhaps they shouldn’t with digital information.
- 11 March 2008 – Time to fight security superstition
An argument about how encouraging us to question the effectiveness of security regimes imposed by the government would make us safer in the end.
- 9 April 2008 – How ISPs throttle legitimate internet users like you and me
ISPs are keeping costs down by discarding bittorrent packets which their customers have paid to be delivered.
- 29 April 2008 – How to stop your inbox exploding
An unenlightening article about how he manages his email life that should have contained a lot more useful tips than it actually does.
- 20 May 2008 – The odds are stacked against us
This is his standard summary of the mathematics of rare events, including the paradox of the false positive.
Incidentally, the Journalisted project is designed to make journalists accountable by indexing all the pieces they write in a way that allows them to be tagged. Cory could have called on people to tag all articles in which the journalist misleads the public about the mathematics of rare events, in order that the data could be used to — fairly — damage their reputation, but he didn’t, did he?
- 17 June 2008 – Surveillance: You can know too much
Over-surveillance makes criminals harder to detect because you’re swamped with too much data.
- 1 July 2008 – Warning to all copyright enforcers: Three strikes and you’re out
An observation of the one-sidedness of copyright enforcement. Corporations would be more responsible if there were penalties against making hugely damaging breach of copyright allegations that turn out to be false.
- 15 July 2008 – Copyright enforcers should learn lessons from the war on spam
Spam countermeasures have had unintended consequences.
- 29 July 2008 – Illegal filesharing: A suicide note from the music industry
Another digital sharing of pop music rant.
- 26 August 2008 – Identity theft: Our dodgy love affair with utility bills will end in tears
Slice of life story about using gas bills to verify your identity.
- 9 September 2008 – Is Google Firefox hunting?
Taking control of your technology.
- 24 September 2008 – DRM: Sony’s Open Market consortium is a wolf in sheep’s clothing
DRM on music.
- 7 October 2008 – Database nation
This is about how the new biometric ID laws announced “last week” that may encourage him to emigrate from the UK just as his grandparents were forced out of Russia years ago by the prevalence of state surveillance. He’s mentioned Singapore a few times as a likely place to move to. I hate to say it, but I don’t think he’s done his research…
Incidently, this was brought into force by this 2008 vote by MPs in Parliament, which the Conservative Party walked away from, and about which he could have urged his readers to get democratically involved, but he didn’t, did he?
- 22 October 2008 – Free and open source software lets you laugh in the face of recession
Take control over your technology.
- 31 October 2008 – Bebo kids will value privacy when they see adults do too
Improbable events, and getting a grip on the government spying it’s used to justify.
- 6 December 2008 – Will EU repeat US copyright error?
A very reasonable case against the unjustifiable European copyright extension which is for the benefit of a very small number of very rich corporations, but results in an immeasurable amount of collateral damage.
Incidentally, there are ongoing campaigns against this copyright extension which he could have chosen and pointed people to, but he didn’t, did he?
I can’t disagree with the message in any of the articles. They are all well-written, reasonably put, and faultless in themselves. Newspaper articles are usually pretty good, because they employ copy-editors.
But getting out of the copyright rut in order to cover something more crucial to survival is probably pretty difficult for the public intellectual who has made so much hay out of it in recent years.
After all, if a highly trained academic like Lawrence Lessig can make a big public announcement in the summer of last year about how he is ceasing his copyright law related activities to concentrate on important issues that are a matter of life and death, such as political corruption, and then proceed to give a talk to the Carnegie Council three weeks ago called Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy about the usual irrelevant horseshit, then it’s no surprise that Cory can’t do it, and instead continues to sound like a broken record.
Who knows? It could be a lack of confidence. Maybe if I were to write a series of articles for a major newspaper, I’d also stick to subjects I could lay claim to know really well, so I didn’t get caught out looking stupid. After all, you’re there to look clever and get yourself rated as a celebrity expert. And all your friends and colleagues are happy, because at least someone is saying these things in the mainstream media where there is so little outlet.
And they don’t think that because there’s so little outlet, maybe it would be better not to waste it on something so trivial as copyright issues every day all the time.
It wouldn’t do to take risks and cover something else. You might have to quote something said or done by someone else. And these articles are all about you, aren’t they?
I’m on a train journey to Germany, so it must be Cory Doctorow season.
The pointless good-for-nothing time-wasting Etech 2008 conference happened last March in San Diego. Instead of watching it on-line, Cory Doctorow flew all the way there to the hotel from London for a couple of days and was interviewed in the lobby by adoring fan Mitch Wagner where he raved about the keynote speech by Saul Griffith on the engineering of climate change.
Unlike all his lazy legions of fans, I’ve produced a transcript for you who have no time for this to skim through:
Mitch: So what do you see at the show that looks interesting? You’ve been here a couple of days.
Cory: I actually think the first keynote is the one that made the biggest impression on me. That was Saul Griffith’s take on climate change as an engineering problem. Basically, lets look at the parameters of climate change. How much carbon can we put in the atmosphere? What happens when we put it there? What happens when the climate changes as a result of it? If we’re going to put N tonnes of climate changing carbon into the atmosphere and no more, how many Joules does that generate in coal, how many Joules does it generate in oil, how many Joules does it generate in nukes? How many Joules are left in the ground? Just kind of running the numbers on Joules on energy, then figuring out what we need to do as an engineering problem to save our bacon.
Mitch: So what was his conclusion? Are we all going to be burning dung in the future to power our laptops?
Cory: I have a feeling that burning dung is a bad idea. Actually, his conclusions were pretty interesting. He said that most people in America are going to have to cut their consumption by 10 times, but that doesn’t mean we have to put on hair shirts. This is not a cry to ‘live simply’. As Alex Steffen from World Changing says, “We don’t need smaller footprints, we need better handprints”. We need better tools. And Saul said, “I took a look at the stuff that I wanted to do in my life. I want to commute less. I want to excercise more. I want to eat better. I want better stuff. I want stuff that lasts longer and is better made.” And it turns out that if you eat more healthfully, live closer to work, live closer to your loved ones, take more time to enjoy your surroundings, and buy better goods, your energy consumption falls by 90%.
If you live in a better house and in more comfortable circumstance, your energy consumption plummets. So, he said, basically I looked around and I didn’t need to be an acetic. I needed to be decadent. I needed to live a kind of simoritic existance where I eat delicious meals all the time and kind of took it easy, and had some leisure in my life, and spent time with my loved ones, and exercised every day by walking to work or cycling to work. And when that was all done, I would end up having adjusted my energy consumption that was sustainable for the planet.
This hand-print nonsense has been showing up in Cory’s monologue for about two years. He’s citing to this Alex Steffen blogpost where he explains how much better it would be if our lifestyle tended to heal the ecosystem rather than destroy it.
You don’t say.
It would be nice if flying latrines hurled across an east African slum grew roses, but they don’t.
The podcast of Saul Griffith’s Etech 2008 talk has just come on-line, which means we get to hear the input data of this incident — those of us who chose not to waste 4 tonnes of CO2 with a 12 tonne warming effect on this frivolous trip to a California hotel to either meet with a bunch of people who lived too far away from to work with, or had come along from home with you in the first place.
Here’s the bit of Saul’s speech which is crucial:
If you read BP’s State of The Environment Report, Exxon’s State of The Environment Report, the Stern Report, IPCC reports, they all have some page that talks about the consequences of what happens with different temperature rises. And they’re interesting to me. You’d say that all reports are written by people who don’t want to be laughed at when they hand in their homework. So they’re very conservative by definition.
So when they talk about consequences, they give very dry one-line answers, like: “At one and a half degrees we’ll lose 10% of species. At two and a half degrees we’ll lose 15 to 40% of species. At three degress, one to four billion people will face water shortages. At three and a half degrees 50% of species lost. At four degrees entire cities including London, New York, San Francisco are lost to sea level changes.”
And what I find astonishing about all the reports is that not one of them thinks one step beyond their statements. You know, 10% of species lost or 25%, starts to look like ecosystem collapse. When ten to a hundred million refugees try to walk over a border, it’s not just one line in a report. I don’t think there’s been a case in history where ten million people try and cross a border without a war.
So you could say that if anything, everyone is underestimating what’s going on.
This is true. This is predicted. Events like this have happened both in the historical and the geological past. The fact that our puny minds, warped by our wholly deranged and decadent culture, are incapable of imagining it with enough force to feel threatened to do something about it is ultimately our own downfall.
What we are going through now is leaving a mark in the fossil record that will be visible in a billion years time when all the continents are different. We do not appreciate this.
Why pick on Cory Doctorow?
Here we have a man who wields an enormous cultural influence through his BoingBoing blog where he promotes the clear message that it’s cool to fly 200,000 miles for — as far as one can determine — nothing more than to feel the love from an audience as he rabbits on about the latest well-worn and ultimately irrelevant copyright injustice he’s just heard about.
He associates himself with the internet, yet never, ever insists that his lectures be conducted through what is now easily accessible video conferencing technology.
He has built up the social connections to be able to publish fast-selling popular Science Fiction books where he has the opportunity to help us to imagine with enough vividness the approaching and detailed future laid out for us by the scientists. But instead he wastes it on rubbish novels bunged off in two months flat that are out of date and politically ignorant of the phenomena that they portray.
He has recently had a baby who, if she is experiences a reasonably good life-span, may live to see the end of the century when the climate change consequences are really cutting in.
He writes a fortnightly column in a national British newspaper where he gets to talk about whatever he feels we need to know.
He is intelligent, reasonably enlightened, informed, and the closest thing we have to a public intellectual in this age.
And he is about the most regressive influence I can identify in our society when it comes to facing up to this challenge.
Everything converges perfectly into his character: the job as a science fiction writer (you couldn’t make this up), the provable level of knowledge, the inherited stake in the future, the lack of financial conflict of interest in terms of employment by an oil company, and the fact that so much of this man’s life is left littered around the internet that you can piece together exactly what he has to know.
In 500 years time, people are going to look back on this era, and think WTF!
This will be because as anyone who looks back on the distant past will notice that the years tend to telescope together. To us the year 1510 is indistinguishable from the year 1520, but that doesn’t mean the people in 1510 had any idea what was going to hit them in 1520, any more than we know what’s going to happen in 2018.
In 2508 I predict that human historians (if the species survives) would be wise to study the case of Cory Doctorow’s life and work as evidence to explain what is going on now. There is nothing special about him, beyond the fact that enough incidental material about is life may be preserved and could be available to rule out all the usual excuses for denial, such as conflict of interest, lack of intelligence, or unavailability of the alternatives.
Such scholars will be able to create theses and theories about the era because they will know what is coming up, and we don’t. Hopefully, they will have a better understanding of the human condition by then — in the same way that our modern scholars have a better understanding of chemistry than the people who lived in the fifteenth century.
I find it impossible to guess what is going on in Cory Doctorow’s mind in the sense that to me it is possible to resolve all the inconsistencies between what he knows and what he does.
What I do know is that if the message can’t get through to him, then it can’t get through to anybody. So his opinion is relevant.
It’s not going to happen it in time.
Because we are the Carbon Weevils.
Evidently this is related to the conference in Hamburg she’s just been to. I can’t give you a link because conference alerts takes things down too quickly, and I can’t even check it up yet on archive.org. I’ll be able to find out maybe in 5 months time what it was without asking. This is an information black-hole.
A tip for any of you reporters who don’t see your job as sitting back and waiting for the PR industry to spoon-feed you with well-crafted press-releases, she’ll be at the ECVP 2008 in Utrecht showing off her haptic experiments.
Update: Stumbled upon this crude visualization of point-cloud data used to make a music video. For decades CADCAM engineers have been trying to convert this sort of data into usable surface models (eg at the meshing round table). This is one of those insoluble problems, because only when you make a concerted effort to solve it do you realize that what seems to be enough data is in fact insufficient, and everyone who hasn’t gone through that process just thinks it’s because you’re not smart enough.
Anyway, what’s makes this effort cool is they’ve released the point cloud data in downloadable format so people can play with it. Some results, using standard applications, are here. Maybe someone in the wider audience will prove smart enough, having been exposed to some real messy data. Working from clean data at the start seems always to spoil the intuitive understanding of the problem. That’s why I am thankful that my initial CADCAM experience was with the output of NCG Toolmaker, where everything was broken and none of the surfaces connected up, as you get from proper solid modellers these days.
Why do I do this? Well, because I can. Someone has to do it, and out of all the wacky and motivated fans who cherish and love his work for some reason, none of them has bothered to duplicate the idea. So it’s my job. First obtain the facts. Then write the rant. The rant will be written later, it will include carbon calculations, and will be more wide-ranging than the internet inactivist one done halfway through the project.
The following uses footnote-linking technology, as I have grown to doubt the effectiveness of inlined hyperlinks.
Toronto-Los Angeles (3 February 2007)
Los Angeles-San Francisco-Los Angeles (~8 February 2007) to do a book launch in Borderlands. This is where he gets finally asked a question about climate change. Also mentions having been a Greenpeace campaigner, as well as his admiration of theyworkforyou.com.
Toronto-Los Angeles (4 March 2007)
Los Angeles-Las Vegas-Los Angeles’ (~19 March 2007) for a romantic weekend reviewing a fancy hotel. In case the butler is in any doubt, January comes exactly nine months after March.
Parental visit from Canada to California (~10 April 2007) presumably travelling by air in a manner that permits numerous brief visits.
Los Angeles-San Diego-Los Angeles (19 April 2007) to speak at 3 universities.
Los Angeles-New York-Los Angeles (6 May 2007) “just got off airplane from weekend on east coast about a book project” probably with chums at Tor Books.
Dubrovnik-Los Angeles (23 June 2007)
Los Angeles-Yosemite-Los Angeles (7 July 2007) for a pre-birthday weekend.
Los Angeles-San Diego-Los Angeles (~15 July 2007) as an instructor at Clarion marveling at the quality of the students — so it’s lucky it wasn’t the year I was there.
- Father to be announcement, expecting by end January.
Melbourne-Tokyo (29 August 2007) where he attended the 2007 Worldcon in Yokohama. where he had a very chummy interview with one of the main gatekeepers in the SF book publishing business who determines what you learn to like.
Dalian-Beijing (12 September 2007)
Beijing-Shanghai-London (17 September 2007) “unpacking boxes since Monday”, giving a total of four days for tourism.
Amsterdam-Boston (30 September 2007) Flew directly the the US and passed immigration in spite of visa difficulties, to attend the Viable Paradise, a week long SF writing workshop in Cape Cod as an instructor.
Boston-New York (7 October 2007) Drops in to see the his excited publishers in Manhattan about his new book that is going into print shortly, and which I suspect we are going to get a real earful in the coming months.
Clemson-San Francisco (11 October 2007) Flies to the Zend/PHP conference in time to give his keynote speech at 8:30am the following day. He can see the last five hours of the four day conference which was conveniently held on the grounds of the San Francisco Airport. There is no evidence that Cory writes much PHP code, or any other programming code at all. He also reports doing a little bit of consulting work there for Ideo, a company which does a lot of corporate design work, such as better steering wheels for Caterpillar bulldozers, and brand packaging the high-end beauty experience.
Second parental visit to London from Canada (25 October 2007) for a week of visiting and buying baby clothes.
Berlin-London (10 November 2007) Arrives back in London and reports having written six newspaper columns while sitting around the hotel room.
London-San Francisco (12 November 2007) In his words: “I would be going to look at an office tomorrow. Unfortunately I am off to San Francisco for a BoingBoing meeting; I’m literally flying 14 hours, having a six hour meeting, and then flying 14 hours back again, getting home on Thursday morning. I know that this is crazy, but when you have a pregnant person at home you are taking care of, you really want to stay home and not traipse around the world.”
San Francisco-London (15 November 2007) In his words: “I had the stupidest long haul flight this week: flew from London to San Francisco, 12 hours on Monday, landed, had dinner, slept, had a meeting all day on Tuesday, had dinner, slept, had lunch, got on a plane, 12 hours, got of in London on Thursday. So basically a day, plus a couple of nights in San Francisco, and like 24 hours in the sky. This sounds dumb, but we needed to do it. We have two face-to-face meetings a year more or less for BoingBoing, and they make a big difference. So I did it.” No evidence of this meeting shows up in the BoingBoing archives.
London-Vienna (22 November 2007) Flew in to give the usual speech about the at a festival for cocktail robots. This speech began: “So Science Fiction writers and to a lesser extent Futurists, when they write about the future, they’re really talking about the present…”, and continues with a proof of the philosophical inevitability of the Singularity. During the Q&A no one asks him about climate change, possibly because it’s a question about the future, and Science Fiction writers don’t want to think about that when it is inconvenient.
Vienna-London (23 November 2007) Flies back to London and rants: “Air travel is not fun any more. Air travel has not been fun for some time. Never going to travel again until the baby is due. I was doing the math, and I think this is the longest no-fly period since at least 1997, maybe as far back as 1995. Getting the the end of 10-12 years of non-stop air tavel. Taking my first hiatus from it, and I could not be looking forward to it more. I know lots of people who tell me you should travel less. That’s an interesting and useful bit of advice. I wish I could travel less. But the fact is, the way I earn my living, and the way that I fight for the causes I fight for, and the way that I stay in touch with people who care about my work means that I got to get on an airplane now and again. And every now and again turns out to be pretty frequently.”
- ^ Cory Doctorow (16 January 2007). Eastern Standard Tribe, Part 002 (mp3).
- ^ Google Unbound @ New York Public Library (21 January 2007).
- ^ State of the Copyfight 2007: Looking up, not out of the woods yet. (19 January 2007).
- ^ Cory Doctorow (26 January 2007). Eastern Standard Tribe, Part 003 – fixed (mp3).
- ^ Upcoming – Cory Doctorow Book Launch (1 February 2007).
- ^ Eastern Standard Tribe, Part 004 (mp3) (3 February 2007).
- ^ Eastern Standard Tribe, Part 005 (7 February 2007).
- ^ Audio from last night’s launch at Borderlands (9 February 2007).
- ^ a b Eastern Standard Tribe, Part 008 (mp3) (25 February 2007).
- ^ Cory Doctorow at UNC – Feb 22 at 2 (31 January 2007).
- ^ Ad Astra 2007 – There and Back Again (4 March 2007).
- ^ a b Eastern Standard Tribe, Part 009 (mp3) (7 March 2007).
- ^ Cory Doctorow: Iconoclast of the blogosphere (27 February 2007).
- ^ Cory Doctorow (21 March 2007). Eastern Standard Tribe, Part 011 — CONCLUSION (mp3).
- ^ Peter Gutmann’s A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection, Part 1 (mp3) (1 April 2007).
- ^ About ETech (26 March 2007).
- ^ Peter Gutmann’s A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection, Part 2 (mp3) (10 April 2007).
- ^ Peter Gutmann’s A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection, Part 3 (mp3) (14 April 2007).
- ^ There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life, Part 01 (mp3) (7 May 2007).
- ^ There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life, Part 02 (mp3) (12 May 2007).
- ^ Rudy Rucker, Terry Bisson and me in San Francico last night (mp3) (17 May 2007).
- ^ Authors@Google presents Cory Doctorow (21 May 2007).
- ^ There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life, Part 04 (mp3) (29 May 2007).
- ^ There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life, Part 05 (mp3) (3 June 2007).
- ^ Cory Doctorow (15 June 2007). There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow/Now is the Best Time of Your Life, Part 07 (mp3).
- ^ The iCommons harvest (25 June 2007).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 001 (23 June 2007).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 003 (9 July 2007).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 004 (14 July 2007).
- ^ a b The Hacker Crackdown, Part 006 (29 July 2007).
- ^ Comic-Con 2007.
- ^ OSCON Speaker: Cory Doctorow.
- ^ a b The Hacker Crackdown, Part 007 (7 August 2007).
- ^ Blizzcon, Anaheim Convention Center.
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 008 (13 August 2007).
- ^ Generation next: A masterclass with Cory Doctorow (25 August 2007).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 009 (mp3) (19 August 2007).
- ^ Cabin Rates for Spirit of Freedom.
- ^ a b The Hacker Crackdown, Part 010 (mp3) (29 August 2007).
- ^ Nippon 2007.
- ^ Podcast with Patrick Nielsen Hayden on the future of SF, copyright and tech (mp3) (31 August 2007).
- ^ A Surreal Summit (5 September 2007).
- ^ Cory Doctorow at the Bookworm, Beijing (video).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 011 (mp3) (20 September 2007).
- ^ a b The Hacker Crackdown, Part 013 (mp3) (2 October 2007).
- ^ Heroes of the Information Economy – the Makers. Picnic’07 (28 September 2007).
- ^ Make your business Climate Neutral.
- ^ Viable Paradise, 7-day bootcamp for sf/f/h writers (23 April 2007).
- ^ a b c d The Hacker Crackdown, Part 015 (mp3) (15 October 2007).
- ^ From International Standards to Web Practices, IP Mania Has Undermined the Idea of Real Property, of Freedom, of Creativity (10 October 2007).
- ^ Stay Free! How Open Source Affects Culture (11 October 2007).
- ^ [http://www.ideo.com/portfolio/re.asp?x=12276 Command Control Steering for Caterpillar] (1998).
- ^ Hera skincare packaging for AmorePacific (2006).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 016 (mp3) (21 October 2007).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 018 (mp3) (4 November 2007).
- ^ Europe’s Copyright Wars – Do We Have to Repeat the American Mistake? (8 November 2007).
- ^ a b The Hacker Crackdown, Part 019 (mp3) (11 November 2007).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 020 (mp3) (20 November 2007).
- ^ BoingBoing week of 11/11/2007 (11 November 2007).
- ^ Singularity.Cory Doctorow: A Singular Metaphor (24 November 2007).
- ^ Audio from cocktail robotics festival speeches in Vienna (29 November 2007).
- ^ The Hacker Crackdown, Part 021 (mp3) (25 November 2007).
Since he left the Electronic Frontier Foundation at the end of 2005, Cory Doctorow has experienced a meteoric rise. Paid-for air-travel to speaking engagements clocks out at at least 200,000 miles a year, and everyone seems to love what he has to say, from his routine speech at Duke University in North Carolina entitled “From Myspace to Homeland Security: Privacy and the Totalitarian Urge”, to the reading of his Guardian newspaper op-ed piece for Canadian radio called Copy killers.
This latter reading was done over the internet from his hotel room in Japan shortly before he went into China, the week after the cyber-dissident and Chinese blogger He Weihua was confined in a psychiatric hospital against his will for the second time in three years. His case was picked up by Reporters Without Borders.
I found out about it by listening to the interview with Watson Meng, founder of Boxun.com, which was broadcast in the same program as Cory’s Canadian radio piece. Since 2000 Boxun has been hosted from North Carolina, safely out of reach of the totalitarian urge of the Chinese Government.
It’s possible that Cory didn’t know about Boxun when he gave his “Totalitarian Urge” speech at Duke University, where he could have used his time to call on his audience to become more active in supporting this important service which has broken many of the stories of uprisings that the Chinese Government doesn’t want you to hear about. But then, he only happened to be the Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy at California University, and might not have had the time to find out about it. All I was doing was listening to all his podcasts for a research project about hypermobility.
While Boxun may be obscure, the situation for bloggers in China is common knowledge, so not knowing about what has just happened as you enter that country counts as willful ignorance. Maybe you don’t want to be bothered with it when you are being honoured by an invitation to the very exclusive Young Global Leaders conference where you will meet — if the World Economic Forum has chosen well — the people who will in the coming decades have their fingers on the nuclear trigger while their other hand grasps the financial levers that ensure this planet’s continued course towards environmental devastation. All the brightest CEOs and Royal Highnesses were there, and not a word was said that could have spoiled the party. The elite, as usual, smiled graciously and told itself that everything it was intending to do was all all right.
In my book a real internet activist with a celebrity status of the kind that means you are not going to get arrested or physically mistreated would have known about Weihua’s case, or at least one of the other 52 Chinese bloggers now in custody. A real internet activist would have made a fuss and arranged to visit the abandoned wife now fighting for her husband’s release. A real activist would have hired a psychiatry professor and barged into the hospital to get an independent examination of the victim. Such an activist would have made enough noise to ensure that the Chinese authorities understood that this problem was not going to go away.
I am not a public relations expert, but I believe that, had Cory done any of these things, it’s very likely he would never again get invited to a Young Global Leaders conference, but Weihua would be walking free and the cause of free speech in China would have been pushed forwards significantly. These interventions work. There are experts at Amnesty International who could have advised Cory about it while he was contributing to their special “struggle for freedom of expression in cyberspace” conference this summer.
But he didn’t do anything. It probably never occurred to him to do anything. Crossing that line between being an over-hyped, repetitive and in-demand motor-mouth, and actually doing something — or even encouraging other people to do things — does get in the way of your career. Going along month after month, touting yourself as a corporate adviser ready to teach business leaders how to make money and stay on top of the game in this changing world is what life is about. It’s not cool to actually contribute to those changes yourself, is it?
Thanks, Cory, for wasting our time and our most precious resource of public attention. Things in this world could be so much better if you were not the contented man you are.
Update: Searching BoingBoing reveals that He Weihua’s case was posted on BoingBoing by Xeni Jardin, one of the six contributors to that super-blog, on the same day that the news was released by Reporters without Borders. No further news has been produced. However, another Chinese blogger, Hu Jia, who has spoken against the Olympics organizers, was picked up on 28 December.
Additionally, a 2005 press release from Reporters without Borders explains how its secretary general was prevented from attending the “World Summit on the Information Society” in Tunisia. A day later:
Members of the organisation stuck a 2×3-metre poster on the floor of the exhibition pavilion among stands set up the countries taking part in the summit. It illustrated the 15 ‘enemies of the Internet’ – the countries that trample on free expression on the Net.
In these “black holes on the web”, sites are censored, draconian filtering systems set up and cyberdissidents and Internet-users harassed and imprisoned.
A real internet activist cannot functionally be welcome in all parts of the world.
Well, hello there. I’ve been exploring the podsphere since late last December and, since I like Science Fiction, I have run my ears through the huge number of free podcasts by Cory Doctorow, copyfighter and eco-tastrophe extraordinaire.
There are some good ones (Visit the Sins), but most unfortunately subscribe to the usual techno-myth of a future in which we become immortal beings after our brains have been uploaded into computers for back-up, emulation, and pleasure-seeking downloads into other meat-puppets.
It’s just not a good idea anymore, but it’s interesting because it’s the only future that could overcome our problems, such as the paradox of exponential economic growth, the dwindling stock natural resources available for exploitation, and the mounting evidence that the free ride Mother Nature has been giving us for the last couple hundred years is suddenly going to end. Whatever your views are on the rates of technological improvement, it should be pretty clear that we’re going to hit trouble far sooner than the time when the first person is able to duplicate themselves into a cyberspace simulation on a matrix of bunkers rammed with nuclear powered computing machinery.
That much was entertaining. However, what really got on my tits about these podcasts were the five minutes of idle chatter at the start where Mr. Doctorow does what he can to make the listener feel inferior and envious of his life, and of the way he can give the same speech over and over again which people want to hear, get passes into secret clubs in Disneyland, and generally have a cool time jet-setting around a world where everybody loves him.
There are some people who actually put in the months of thankless effort to write the free software information products to which people like him refer to, and I can tell you that none of what he has ever said has done anything to encourage them.
Well, after five podcasts I’d just about had enough of this, when I suddenly had an idea. I wondered: What if there was a sufficient information among this useless babbling to reconstruct the Cory Doctorow travel itinerary for the whole of the year 2006?
Doctorow is a Canadian national who, until December 2005, was employed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation to work out of London as an all-round advocate, able to represent the voice of the consumer at the WIPO conferences in Geneva. He gave up this job at the start of the year to become a full time Science Fiction writer, and then moved to Los Angeles in July to take up a one-year appointment at the University of Southern California as the US-Canada Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in a “Center for Public Diplomacy”– obviously because they thought that what he writes is more than just cheap SF trash that people might claim it was in order to accuse them of reading too much sense into it. So…
Futurologist (as long as the future doesn’t mention global warming), electronic consumer advocate, and all-round Mickey Mouse sell-out, Cory Doctorow’s travel plans of 2006
2006-01-01 began with his family on holiday in London.
2006-02-13 flight to Boston via Amsterdam after original route was canceled by bad weather. Returned for a London speaking engagement six days later, after giving a talk at Olin College, and being a Guest of Honour at an SF convention. (11826 km)
2006-04-1? flights from London to Brisbane, presumably including a return flight to Cairns for a dive on the Great Barrier Reef, followed by a trip to Melbourne, and then to Sydney on consecutive days to give popular talks, and then a return journey to London via a four day trip to Disneysea in Tokyo. (38971 km)
2006-06-30 fly off for a quick four day holiday in Rome. (2896 km)
His 2007 podcast season commenced with a many part reading of his novel about jetlag.
Let’s see, that’s at least 37 take-offs and landings, and 193,000 kilometres, composed of (approx) 2 short, 5 medium, 7 long, and 23 extended haul flights, which comes to at least 28 tonnes of carbon and other pollution in the upper atmosphere. Add another 7 tonnes for being an average rich white guy, and we’re up to approximately 35 tonnes, 80% of which is flying. Given as the total needs to be less than one tonne for the environment on which we depend to survive, we’ve got a little bit of a lifestyle problem here.
Now folks, there are two kinds of futures we can talk about; there’s the fake one which we like to imagine, where our grandfather gets cured of cancer at the hospital and lives forever, and then there’s the real one which we will all eventually be living in, whether we like it or not.
Cory Doctorow will say and do whatever he can to make Cory Doctorow’s life more interesting and fulfilling. However, there will be people in a 150 years time who are not Cory Doctorow who, when thumbing through his literature which might have just got out of copyright by then, are going to say, “My god, what were people back then thinking when they took this stuff seriously? Not a single person in any of his audiences bothered to ask him about how climate change fitted in with the future he was laying out.” He seemed like he really enjoyed his four day visit to the re-creation of Renaissance Venice in Tokyo Disneysea, but did he ever wonder where was the model of the early 21st century New Orleans?
Why didn’t anyone at that Singularity Summit one-day conference in May, to which he flew at the cost of £2300, shout: “For godsake Cory, we’ve got broadband in the home, and we’ve got high speed tele-presence and high-definition interactive videos, so why the hell didn’t you phone yourself in? It’s not like you came here to go diving in the sea. It’s just your words and your face, and if you’re not prepared to use this technology on which you have staked the meaning of life, why should anyone take any notice?” For that money he could have hired a meat-puppet to wear a humiliating Cory Doctorow mask and helmet-mounted camera, microphone and speakers to go round the room being him for the day, moving by joystick control. But no one thought of it. Maybe he’ll be one of those guys condemned in his futuristic stories as one who doesn’t upload his character into cyberspace and dies as a mortal because he can’t imagine life any other way.
Man, this species is doomed. We have some good simulations of physical reality — not quite as detailed as to the level of neural processes — but they’re called climate models. And we take no notice of them when they challenge life as we know it. Between official government predictions, which are all self-serving lies, and modern Science Fiction which can’t get beyond one overwhelming singular fantasy irrespective of the fact that we are going to continue to exist nowhere else but on this planet through all the rough times ahead, we simply won’t know what’s hit us. What’s wrong with you people? Please pay attention. Demand more from your heroes than simply cheaper and smaller Disneyland products.
Oh, and podcasters: please give the date in all your podcasts, since it’s a pain to keep having to reconstruct this information from elsewhere.