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Time and again

Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe is out. He’s made it available on the Web under a Creative Commons license again, so you can always download it and read it if you aren’t sure about buying it in the store.

This one didn’t work so well for me. As an extrapolation of current cultural trends, I can’t make it dovetail. Doctorow gets the tribal aspect of Internet culture right — we do form tribes across the time zones, driven by our own interests — but I’ve never ever seen a tribe form around a specific time zone. In fact, part of the attraction of the Internet tribe is the knowledge that whenever you log onto the MUD — hit the IRC channel — visit the bulletin board — fire up AIM — whatever — someone will be there. Part of the attraction is that the Internet is always on. Time is irrelevant.

And the tech sucks. One of the McGuffin ideas is broken; one of the character plans to make a fortune from a scheme in which people with more than 10,000 songs on their car MP3 player get to skip tolls. Doctorow loves redistribution of information, which I appreciate, because I do too. However, incentivizing heavy file sharers does not magically pay for itself. Rather, it costs you money because people move towards the behavior which you’re rewarding.

Now, you can fix this by changing the threshold from a fixed number to a percentage; the top 5% by the number of songs shared metric get a free ride on the Mass Pike. But I don’t want to rant endlessly about a single technical point. I want to observe that Doctorow is letting his passions and his technical fondness take over his actual story. He wants extrapolations to say a certain thing, so he writes them that way. Eastern Standard Tribe veers too far towards polemic.

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