Thursday, June 29, 2017

Doctorow @ Printer's Row

A couple weeks ago at the Printer's Row Lit Fest, I got to catch Cory Doctorow in conversation with Mary Robinette Kowal. Mostly focused on his new novel Walkaway, the discussion jumped to some interesting places. Very brief notes below:
  • Waiting for Kowal, Doctorow tries to think of a regency analog for the old cyberpunk chestnut that she's "in Switzerland having her blood changed".
  • Walkaway discussed as a discussion of "theory vs. practice" of economic behavior. Doctorow notes that the Chicago School is very much what the novel is challenging.
  • "The thing in reality is that people rise to the occasion"—they don't just always act in semi-rational greedy ways; people throughout history meet its challenges in different ways.
  • References made to Rebecca Solnit's Paradise Built in Hell.
  • "In theory, the wiki doesn't work at all, it ONLY works in practice."
Jump to part 5 of Palmer's
excellent essay "On Progress
and Historical Change
" for more
on the papal election exercise.
  • Shout-out to Ada Palmer's novels but especially her history classes' recreation of Medici-era papal elections, and how they show that some parts of human history are over-determined, while there's still surprising amounts of wiggle room for some factors.
  • We're warned to beware of desires phrased as objective observations, like Zuckerberg claiming that young people today don't care about privacy.
  • In fact, they do! Discussion of Danah Boyd's It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens and fairly advanced privacy tactics by young folks, like Facebook resigning, re-activation cycles.
  • OPSEC is hard.. a lot of the time opsec starts with "have a time machine, and think better about what you were going to do before you did it."
  • CIA & similar described as this very weird world where essentially they're just runing a le CarrĂ© LARP without realizing it.
  • "I like SF for art reasons".
  • "The railguns  & the zeppelins are never far from my mind."
  • "If you a critique of technology that says: technology is allowing the powerful to assert more power over the powerless...that's a fair critique, but your answer can't be: 'therefore, we should advise the powerless to give up on technology', because then they'll just be even more outgunned."
  • Discussion of what Luddism was actually about (not anti-technology per se; rather against practices that destroyed communities and individuals)
  • "Steampunk is 'love the machine, hate the factory.'" Walkaway an attempt to think about keeping the machine while losing the factory; "can we cleave a technology from its social context?"
  • Douglas Adams on technological opinions: any tech invented before you're 18 has been around forever, anything you encounter between 18-30 is the way of the future, anything after 30 is terrible.
  • Doctorow embraces the tag of materialism, and discusses an ideological position he calls "The Promethean Left", which isn't based on "abjuring stuff" but rather on smart technological progress. Uses the example of IKEA book-cases getting much more efficient, cheaper, less materials-intensive over time. If the Earth can only support 1/6th its current population at American standard of living, maybe the solution is not to reduce the population or the standard, but figure out how to reduce the inputs on everything by 5/6. Some of that might be doable.
  • "Our ideal future shouldn't be that every lord lives like a peasant, but that every peasant lives like a lord."
  • Can't help but wonder if there's some connection between this Promethean Left and the Viridian Design idea.
  • Walkaway is about distribution.
  • Discussion of luxury/positional goods, how they shift over time—buttons as an example of "paleo-bling".
  • Aside on the bonkers nature of Rolex manufacturing and licensing. Interesting point that if it weren't for vibrant counterfeiting industries, positional goods wouldn't be particularly lucrative—people would just buy one and stop.
  • Discussed the idea of social engineering in Walkaway, trying to learn how to recognize and selectively de-emphasize certain cultural patterns.
Very cool talk, Doctorow and Kowal are both excellent speakers/thinkers. Walkaway is steadily working its way up my TBR pile, will report back.

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