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Digital Utopia and its Flaws
March 4, 2004 4:56 AM   Subscribe

Digital Utopia and its Flaws
Cory Doctorow In Conversation With R.U. Sirius

"Every other media revolution that we've had from Gutenberg to the radio to recorded music and so on, ended up with an industry that's a thousand times larger, that makes a thousand times more money, and makes available a thousand times more work. That happens every single time! If you go back far enough, you will find the guild of clavichord makers decrying the advent of the lute."
posted by moonbird (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Disruptive technology is evil.
Ashcroft told me so.
Be a conservative and preserve the old ways.
New is bad.
Value add is in direct contradiction to fundamentals.
Do not attempt to improve upon the glorious past.
posted by nofundy at 5:09 AM on March 4, 2004


"Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom revolves around the concept of Whuffie, which are like points based on reputation and trust. Whuffie— social approval points —have basically replaced money." (Doctorow) - Aren't they using the Whuffie over there on Orkut ?

BTW, moonbird, thanks for the link. "The NeoFiles"are quite fun, as a related but more thoughtful counterpart to Wired's "Gee whiz! Look at that cool new...." approach.
posted by troutfishing at 5:32 AM on March 4, 2004


Some fascinating stuff there, especially on the different ways on preserving virtual communities from abuse. There seems to be a choice between what you might call the metafilter and the slashdot strategies.
I find the Friendster-type networks very hard to use and annoying. One of the reasons for that is that they cap scale. That's one mechanism for dealing with scale is to just shrink it and have an enforcement measure inside the architecture that keeps it to a certain size. And then you say, "well we know how to defend at this size and we'll just never build anything bigger."

And then you have stuff that says OK, let's see if we can exploit scale and create moderation mechanisms where we call on the community to moderate itself. "
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:05 AM on March 4, 2004


red and orange? see how the colors blend, my friend...
posted by luckyclone at 6:36 AM on March 4, 2004


...the guild of clavichord makers decrying the advent of the lute.
Isn't the lute a much older instrument than the clavichord?
posted by kickingtheground at 6:41 AM on March 4, 2004


So it's not hard to think about a kind of nanotech future where virtually all objects are available on demand. In that kind of world, both the traditional Marxist and the traditional Keynesian analyses don't make a lot of sense. These are predicated first and foremost on the regulation of scarce and valuable objects.

Similar concepts appear Australia Project from Marshall Brain's on-line novel "Manna".

Actually, a great deal of these recent on-line "digital utopia" stories are quite remniscent of the 1930s-era concept of Technocracy, which sought to destroy the need for a working class via continental-scale automation and resource distribution based on energy expenditure. While the theory is more than 60 years old, perhaps it is only recently that technology appears overwhelmingly powerful enough to the public so that popular consciousness is willing to entertain such ideas with more than a little bit of seriousness.

Whether people will actually want to destroy the need for a working class is another question.
posted by PsychoKick at 7:18 AM on March 4, 2004


Doctorow on e-books, a discussion tangential to this one.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:17 AM on March 4, 2004


"So it's not hard to think about a kind of nanotech future where virtually all objects are available on demand. In that kind of world, both the traditional Marxist and the traditional Keynesian analyses don't make a lot of sense. These are predicated first and foremost on the regulation of scarce and valuable objects.
"
- This is the Cornucopian ideal, yes. It will take us quite a while to get there (if ever, but I'd give the project at least an even chance of success).

However, on the road towards this utopian ideal, Julian Simon's assessment of the dynamics of scarcity - facts on the ground, if you will - in market capitalism will be at play : as natural resources are depleted, their rising cost will entice inventive humans to develop substitutes for those resources. But neither Doctorow, Simon, nor any of the Cornucopians have noticed that this, in essence, means that humans will be consuming the natural world (which currently supports human life) and replacing it with human artifice. And - at some point in the process - it will be necessary for us to replace, wholesale, various functions of the deteriorating Global biosphere.

Or, to put it bluntly - along the way to Doctorow's hypothetical cornucopian future - we will be consuming the living things on the planet and squeezing them out of existence. What will remain at the glorious end of the rainbow, when we can simply program our handy universal assemblers to conjure up the latest Playstation 63's so we can jack in by the shunts in the back of our necks and be off into our collective dreams? No doubt this will be a pleasant, well engineered matrix, yes, but.......
posted by troutfishing at 11:13 AM on March 4, 2004


Or, to put it bluntly - along the way to Doctorow's hypothetical cornucopian future - we will be consuming the living things on the planet and squeezing them out of existence.

I don't get where Julian Simon's idea comes from. One of the main purposes of nanotech is cheap spaceflight, so we don't have to use up all of this one planet's resources, or overpopulate it.
posted by jbrjake at 12:51 PM on March 4, 2004


jbrjake - I was stringing together two related themes there. I should have specified : Julian Simon (now deceased) wasn't talking about the possibilities of nanotech at all. One of his intellectual focuses lay in refuting the Malthusian limited resource arguments of environmentalists such as Paul Ehrlich and others - and this argument precedes even the coinage of the word "nanotech" by at least a decade.

So I was saying that we'll be in the resource depletion realm (Simon vs. Ehrlich) for while yet, although nanotech is already bearing some early fruit - but the field is still mostly in the research stage.

Simon tended to be right in the short run. In the long run, I'm not so sure - although I have great respect for his ideas - I'd put my money more (but not exclusively) with Ehrlich
posted by troutfishing at 2:16 PM on March 4, 2004


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