Makers, Doctorow, Cory
Cory Doctorow is turning into one of my most useful ‘cheats’ in making sense of the ongoing collision between technology and human drives that is today’s world of electronic commerce, social media, enterprise 2.0, and the teeming mix of catchphrases, acronyms, and neologisms cluttering my inbox and browser windows. Doctorow does just the opposite of "teching the tech;" that lazy approach to storytelling of sprinkling random technological terminology into an otherwise ordinary story. Instead he takes a solid understanding of current and near term technology trends, extrapolates them in not just plausible, but defensible directions, and then explores how real people are likely to react and respond to that imagined environment. The result is an absorbing, and sometimes moving, story of our human need to create, connect, and matter.
The core of Makers is the story of two tinkerers, Perry and Lester, driven by the desire to make interesting stuff out of whatever is lying around. In Doctorow’s near future, this includes last year’s kids toys loaded with robotics, speech synthesizers, and multiple sensors discarded for this year’s models. Rip off an idea from an old Keystone cops movie, mix in some open source software and he has you imagining a golf cart maneuvered by half a dozen creatures out of Toy Soldiers. Down one path, this creative energy might lead to radically new models of work. Down another, it might trigger ugly immune responses from a threatened corporate economy and their lawyers. Doctorow explores several of these and other paths. Through it all he keeps us and his story grounded in human scale and human needs and wants.
Along the way, Doctorow generates multiple scenarios of new models of organizing work and likely responses from existing organizations and professions threatened by change. Because of his keen eye for the human reality of his stories, Doctorow’s scenarios are both more plausible and more compelling than similar efforts from pundits and consultants peddling their theories.
From time to time, government agencies and large organizations invite certain kinds of writers to come in and help make sense of the changes on and just over the horizon. These efforts draw an extra share of ridicule from outsiders who assume that the exercise is about predicting specific inventions and innovations. Here, Doctorow offers a stellar example of how the process really works. In a recent essay titled "Radical Presentism" he offers more reflections on how this imagining process works. But you’ll have more fun reading the story itself.