This probably should have been written a month ago, but it is what it is. I should be careful writing this entry. If done wrong, I might come off like a wing-nut conspiracy theorist (not that all conspiracy theorists are wing-nuts). But, as usual, I am writing about somebody else so I think I’ll be okay. It feels appropriate to blog about a blogger, especially one as renowned as Cory Doctorow. If you are unfamiliar with Doctorow or his work, you should know that he is a highly intelligent and frequently sought-out blogger, journalist, commentator, activist, and even science-fiction/cyberpunk author. He is an advocate for copyright reform legislation, as well as supporter for open-source material. He was also close with “hacktivist” Aaron Swartz.
I interviewed Cory last month, just as his latest novel “Homeland” was being released. While I originally reached out to his people regarding the book, the conversation quickly turned to include other topics such as wikileaks, internet neutrality, security, Aaron Swartz, among other topics. Given the introduction I just gave about him, it should not be surprising that Homeland focuses on hacking, open-source documents, political conspiracies (and campaigns) and activism. The novel opens at Burning Man Festival, but the majority of the plot takes place back in San Francisco. The lead character, Marcus Yarrow, seems like a 19 year old version of Doctorow himself. “Homeland” has everything: politicians, smart, hip, young techo-savvy kids from the valley, a revolution; it even has an Occupy scene or two and a cameo appearance from Wil Wheaton (sort of).
The book focuses on Yarrow working on a political campaign for an independent candidate, who is a breath of fresh air. This politician – Joe Noss – seems to represent most of us who are fed up with the current political system, and others who are sick and tired of the patriarchal oligarchy currently perpetuated by Washington, Wall Street and the Big Banks. But the novel is also about – perhaps more importantly – access to information; where we get our info from, who is controlling it, spying, and internet privacy. Now before you go dismissing Cory as some underground crackpot, let’s look at his credentials.
His parents were “techno-utopians” and “sort of quasi-doctrinaire Trotskyist school teachers.” When he was 28, he founded Opencola, a free P2P software company. (P2P stands for Peer-to-peer, a common file-sharing model used Napster, torrent-sites and others). He has taught many courses in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. on public policy, copyright law, computer engineering and programming. He was awarded an honourary doctorate in 2012. Clearly, this is a man who knows what he is doing.
Doctorow was also a mentor to Aaron Swartz, the 26 year-old comuputer wiz-kid/activist who committed suicide in January. Swartz was being put on trial for stealing code from Harvard University, code that was available on the university’s servers for anybody who wanted it – and knew how to get it. There were accusations of misconduct on the part of the prosecutors. Swartz also helped found Reddit, one of the foremost open-source sites for social news and media, and was involved in a host of other projects when he died.
Homeland predicts (or at the very least puts forward the idea of) a nation-wide cyber-security attack. If you think that is far-fetched, you need look no further than the group Anonymous. Some have called them called cyber-terrorists, others activists and heroes. While many of their “attacks” have been relatively small up until this point, cyber-security expert James Lyne (who himself is only 26) said, in a recent interview with Bill Maher, on the March 1st episode of Real Time, that we should be pooling our resources into stopping a massive, global security meltdown. Again, as usual, Cory Doctorow seems to be right on the money in this regard.
I also asked Cory about Julian Assange and wikileaks. While he wasn’t big on the former as a person, he strongly believes in wikileaks as a journalistic organization and defender of freedom of information act. Whatever you many think of Assange, wikileaks, Doctorow, Swartz, and others like Bradley Manning and Lawrence Lessig, the issues the Doctorow covers in both his fiction writing, essays and lectures are clearly ideas that we all need to think about.
Homeland was released in February, 2012 as a sequel to his novel Little Brother. He also a book out he co-authored with Charles Stross titled “The Rapture of Nerds” released in September.
You can visit his website at http://www.craphound.com
To hear my interview with Cory: http://cjsf.ca/vanilla_archives/2013_February_11_17_00.mp3
“Anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn’t give you the key, they’re not doing it for your benefit.“