Saturday Jun 06, 2009

Cory Doctorow's "Makers"

Cory Doctorow was kind enough to give me an advanced reader's copy of his upcoming book Makers, which I read in about three sittings. Granted, I'm a Cory fanboy, and I devour his writings like Pop-Tarts (often simultaneously), but this one is, in my slightly biased opinion, his best yet.

It's a love story set with mild sci-fi context, as opposed to a sci-fi story with romantic themes embedded. However, "love" isn't just about interpersonal relationships; Makers is about people who thrive on labors of love - literally thrive, in a post-collapse economy. What's frightening is that Cory wrote the book as the global economy was unwinding at the end of 2008's North American summer season; by the time I got the book in March we were mumbling about new depressions of all kinds. As I read it, I was repeatedly reminded of Shoshanna Zuboff's theme in her book In The Age Of The Smart Machine (now 20 years in print), as she relayed it to Sun's systems engineers in 1995: When we think about a divison of labor in a corporation, we're also creating a division of love, because we should love what we do on a daily basis. Zuboff challenged us to think about individual empowerment, and what it means to really build things rather than create information In intervening two decades between Smart Machine and Makers, a number of business leaders have cried that business schools teach graduates how to make synthetic things - derivative securities, economic models, hedging strategies - but not tangible, real-world goods. If anyone doubts the verity of those long-standing concerns, please visit Detroit for the basis of a case study.

What if we really enter an age of massive free agency, of corporations orbited by tinkerers, coders, freelancers, constructors, and destructors? This idea has been sitting in a pile of (electronic) notes for three months, and only gestated into a blog when James Gosling took the stage at JavaOne wearing a T-shirt promoting the Java Store as a way to create value from labors of love. Makers on a fine grain scale.

So what's the book about? It's about love. It's about how (and why) others love us, or don't. It's about economics and corporations, and at the same time economics and corporations don't behave the way you'd expect at all times. It's about rights - not just copyrights and rights to use, but rights of expression and relation as well. Every time you think the book is taking a financial detour, it snaps you back to a personal future that is (in William Gibson's words) just not evenly distributed.

The only bad part: You can't buy the book until November (but you can pre-order it now, hint hint). Guess what everyone I know is getting for the holidays.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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