Thursday, May 5, 2011

OBMAG #3- The Cory Doctorow Interview


If you don't know who Cory Doctorow is, you may be living under a rock.  Of course, we here at OBSOLETE! applaud anyone who chooses the  "Sub Silicis" lifestyle. Those of you who choose to spend time in the digital realm, however, have much to thank Mr. Doctorow for.

The Canadian science fiction writer and journalist is an editor of Boing Boing. He is a leading advocate for liberalizing copyright laws and has worked on copyright issues for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His novels, including Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother and Makers are all available as free downloads under a Creative Commons license.

Doctorow's 2009 book Makers is a wonderful story of Feral Technology, a vision of post-scarcity Amerika where hardware hackers battle the Disney empire for the last scraps of the withered economy, and the resources they mine are the detritus of consumer culture.

Cory sat down for an interview at ICON 35 in Cedar Rapids, IA, where he was the special guest author.  We spoke as he prepared shots of espresso in his motel room with an amazing portable handheld espresso maker.
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OM: I see that you have a book in your room.  What's your feeling about print media?  Does it have a future other than nostalgia?

CD: Long-form narrative is particularly well suited to books, because books have no other purpose than to have words in them. There is no temptation to do something else. Reading long-form narrative off a screen, I find that I'm always tempted to "alt tab" and see if I've got any email. Or, you know, to see if anyone is putting a lemon in his nose on youtube. Even the dedicated e-book readers tend to, because of future creep, acquire other networked features. The Kindle's got games, the ipad has email and so on. They are poorly suited to read long-form narrative on.  On the other hand, e-book versions of the narrative combined with physical possession of the book is intensely complimentary. If you really enjoy a book, you can loan it to a friend without totally losing possession of it. Likewise, the downsides of an electronic book can be overcome by the upside of having lots and lots of them in one place.

I think that bodes well for the long-term survival of the book.  Especially now, when combined with network text.  It can be instantiated very close to its demand, both in time and in space. The number of places that a book can be generated out of nothing but a digital file is increasing and having seen some of the Espresso Book Machines I've been really impressed with them. That creates a possibility-space for books to spring into existence when you want them. They are not very expensive- even the print-on-demand books. This way, even if demand is very thin, you can deliver the physical book. The beauty of the networked text is that even if that audience is very geographically dispersed, the network text connects those people- it allows them the find each other.

I think that blended story of the e-book and the physical book is a powerful one, in the way I don't find in other cases, like CDs and mp3s, for example.  I have yet to see the huge advantage that CDs have over mp3s.  I'm such a low-fi person, that I don't really hear the difference. My friends who are musicians, though, tell me that when you make music to be born into the mp3 format you make very different artistic choices. It's hard to justify giving over a large portion of your home to the storage of CDs or DVDs when all of that music could be stored on a single hard drive.

OM: How do feel about the resurgence of vinyl?

CD:  I don't know if you saw that Brian Eno interview this week about how digital technology is changing how we listen to music. Vinyl's characteristics changed the way you experienced music.  Vinyl required that you stop what you are doing every twenty minutes, which is really different from a CD or an mp3. It also requires a certain amount of reverence because it's so fragile.

OM:  That brings up how I feel about the underground newspaper. Also the way we watch movies.  I remember seeing "The Man Who Fell To Earth" in a church basement in Detroit in 1982. It was a very communal experience.  Our "tribe" all went to this place and watched a scratchy print and passed joints. Watching DVDs at home seems like a very insular experience. Listening to vinyl is a physical act.  Reading an underground newspaper is a physical act.  It gets your fingers black.

CD: I don't think that I totally agree that watching movies at home needs to be solitary.  The 0-Day pirate trading scenes, no matter what you think of them ethically, that is an intensely social experience. Also, with delayed fertility, my wife and I are part of a cohort who is having kids in their late 30's and our social networks are falling apart. They stay together digitally.  My wife worked at the BBC on a thing called "Social Schedule." As more and more of the BBC offerings are going on line, this allows you and your friends to set a time to watch, for example, the latest episode of the East Enders, and there is an IM window at the bottom of the screen, so that you and six of your friends can come together socially. The technology can be isolating, but it doesn't have to be.

OM: It's a different social experience. It lacks the physical space. But I admit, as much as I want people to experience this paper physically, I have to use a blog and Facebook to promote it. 

CD: Sure, the demand is spread out geographically. In 1962, putting out the Village Voice, everyone who wants to read it is in the Village.  It's pretty straightforward to get it to them....more

Read the full interview in the online version of OBMAG #3 at: ScribD or order your own paper copy at the top righthand side of this page.....