Transcript of Interview with Cory Doctorow by Elektrischer Reporter

The video of the interview can be found at Elektrischer Reporter.

Yeah, my cover I did from Mark Frauenfelder and his wife Carla Sinclair. Some of their friends sold out a print magazine in the ninty eighties called Boing Boing. I think they were originally doing it in colorado and then moved to SF to do it. And that was a time in America where distributors picked up zines in sort to distribute it nationally all over the US.

And that meant that all in a sudden zines that could previously only be gotten either through the post if you know that they existed or in your home town were suddenly availabe at stores all over the country. This created a huge explosion in zines including for Boing Boing. Boing Boing did very well for a while.

And then the distributor went bancrupt and they took all the zines with them because they were sitting on lots of inventory for the zines and they were sitting on lot of money that paid out of the zines and none of that money was ever given back to the publishers. It went all to the bankers.

And so Boing Boing folded up as a print concern and this was the time at which Wired Magazine was launching, the dotcom bubble was growing in Sf and Mark ended up as the managing director or editor in chief of Wired Online, Wired Digital.

So that kept him really busy and he moved from there to doing lots of other tech reporting including fo The Industry Standard. And one day he was doing a piece for the standard on Blogger, on Blogger the service.

And he thought you know, I should start a Blog, so that I can write about it for The Industry Standard, I can try a blog. So he started a blog and he needed to call it something, so he called it Boing Boing and started blogging on it.

And then he asked me if I would guest edit for him on holidays and when he came back he said you know you did a great job why don´t you stay on board. It seem like a great idea to me. I had read Boing Boing growing up when I was a teenager. I worked in a bookstore were we sold Boing Boing back in those national distribution days. So it seems like a good thing for me to do. We invited a couple more people in over the years and now we have a blog.

With the caveat that all numbers about statistics of readers on websites are bullshit, our bullshit numbers seem to be quite large compared to other peoples bullshit numbers. And certainly we have a larger bullshit audience than most other peoples bullshit audiences. So I think that there is some truth there as to why – I think that there are a few things that contribute to it.

Naturally I hope we have good taste and that we write well. But I think the two other things that contribute to it are 1) that we are very descriptive in our headlines and in our opening sentences. We anticipate that the majority of readers and particularly the majority of new readers that find Boing Boing will find us in a search engine results page, on RSS feed, a forwarded link.

So that its been aggregated somewhere else. And that by writing as though that headline were the only thing the reader would get access to we assure those headlines that are like: Funniest thing ever! Just click it!

In favor of things like very discriptive, very plain headlines that are nevertheless intriguing to people who are looking for a specific piece of information. Thats been very good to us.

And then the other thing is we have just been around for a long time and the longer you are around the more people there are who have linked to you, the more people there are have linked to you the easier it is for someone to find you, the easier it is for someone to link to you.

It is kind of a rich get richer phaenomenon. They may not be fair but you know we were lucky. We were early on.

Oh yeah, sure. The four of us make a pretty decent living of Boing Boing and all the other things. Because Boing Boing has always been in support of our other activities. Its been kind of a open notebook in which you record all the useful and interesting things that you are involved with.

And so we continue to do all those other things, as are in some ways are primary activities even if its not a primary source of income.

Writing novels is really what I do. And I do some public speaking and some consulting and I write columns and so on. But yeah – Boing Boing makes a pretty good living. I could do just Boing Boing and live pretty comfortably.

I think there is some of that in the US. I mean I am a Canadian but I have looked in the US and I think there is some of that. I think that it focuses on the wrong aspect of what makes blogging distinctive. The thing that makes blogging distinctive is not its noncomerciality but the way that that influences the subject matters in the blog.

So the traditional publishing method is to identify subject matter that you think advertisers want to advertise against. So like there are advertiser who like to buy advertisements in magazines about racecars and than what you do is you try to write a magazine that will attract people to read the racecar magazines and the racecar advertisers will buy advertising in it.

And there is nothing wrong with that model. It has brought some great magazines to the field and other great publications but it is not the only way to do things.

And it is not I think how the best blogs do things. I think the way the best blogs works is you start with someone who is passionate in about some subject or a variety of subjects and they write about the things that are interesting to them.

And they hope that there will be readers who show there interests and that there will be advertisers who want to reach those readers. And so it kind of turns it on a tad instead of writing stuff that you hopeful attract readers. You write stuff that you hopeful express yourself and than you attract readers by expressing yourself.

And you know I think provided that you stick to that it doesnt really matter whether or not you have ads, the real metric is whether you are writing stuff that you are passioned about not whether or not you getting paid for it.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a Science Fiction novel that I wrote that is published in 2003. It was my first novel. And its a better world in which all the material problems of human society have been resovled. So there is enough money for everyone, there is enough food for everyone, there is enough everthing for everyone.

We all live forever. So whats left? And whats left is how you apportion those resources that are inherently scarce like only one person can sit in a restaurant at a table at a time. Only so many people can go to Disney World at any given time.

So how do you apportion all the rest of that stuff. And I posit that one way you can do it is through a reputation economy. And so I invented some magical technology and that magic technology is something that allows a computer system to know how you feel about everything in any given time.

So how do I feel about this flowerpot, how do I feel about you, how do I feel about this restaurant, how do we feel about each discret thing in the universe. Now obviously we dont have this technology but based on the idea that you can calculate that if I – you will then have a score that is the aggregate score of how all the people in the world who know you feel about you.

And if I run into you and I habe never met you before I can look at how your score is. I can look at how highly regarded you are by the whole world and how highly regarded you are by people who are friends of mine.

And based on that all scarce resources are apportioned. So if I show up at a university and stand behind the lecterne and start teaching provided I have enough Whuffie – which is what this metric is called – I am a teacher.

If enough people think I should be, I am. If I stand up at this restaurant and I start serving people at the tables – If I have enough Whuffie with the servers and the chef then I am the major D (?).

And so its a Gedankenexperiment it is not intended as a proposal for a social order. It is meant as an allegory about how a lot of resources get apportioned on the internet and particularly how we manage resources in a post scar city world of certain kinds of entertainment and other ideas where culture has stopped being hard to transmit where in fact culture is now hard to stopped form being transmitted.

And so thats a really different world to inhabit. You know: the Napster-World. And so what do you do when that kind of stuff that was previously precious because its scarce is now precious because its infinite.

It was really about looking at things like but also at things like Napster at a world in which there would suddenly this stuff that we used to value because it is hard to get a hold off is now even more valueable because it was hard to stop getting people from getting a hold of it.

No I dont think so. I dont think a reputation economy is – at least as envisioned in Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom is entirely utopian. For one thing as you see in the book it rewards a popular idea over good ones. So people who say unpopular things dont attract a lot Whuffie. So minority points of view and unpopular points of view are not really protected.

And I think our first duty in a liberal democracy to protect minority points of view and a diversity of opinion. The other problem with that is that it has the same economics as blogging and really as a if the real world. Which is that the rich gets richer.

So more Whuffie you have the easier it is to attract opportunities to get more Whuffie and that makes it easier for you tho get more Whuffie and that is not ideal that is not a system – a system with that kind of stratification of the social order without social mobility is not the hallmark of a good liberal democracy.

Sure yeah, I think we already see some of that. I think that actually the most interesting one is invisible. It is not an articulated system but rather a set of assumptions. I think that it is critical that the internet was designed by engineers and scientists and not by layers and polliticians.

The way you do engineering and the way that you do science in some important ways hasnt changed much since the enlightenment and it is predicated on the idea of peer review, publication and peer review and open access to knowledge.

You know the difference between alchemy and science is whether or not you tell people what you are doing. You know if you dont – if you write it down in a book and no one esle can see it – thats alchemy, its superstition.

As soon as you start publishing what you think you know and other people can poke holes in it you get science.

And so that is why I think when you hit for example Control R, when you recieved a email, that the reply imports the entire text that the message you are replying to.

Even though if a lawyer were it who were designing it they go: thats a copyright violation we musnt do it. The way that engineers and scientist do engineering and sciences: I publish a paper I give it to you and you mark it up with a red pencil.

And thats in fact how our email conventions function. So I hit reply I mark up your email as though I was marking up a scientific paper with a red pencil. And its very different ethic from the ethic that reigns in other diciplines particularly in law and politics and so what we have done is started to push a certain kind of scientific approach to knowledge sharing through the whole world.

And I think you see that reflected in a lot of other cultures and particularly in meshup culture and so on. That open publishing ideal is really originates on the internet. Originated in science, propagated through the internet and is now finding its home in humanities and in other fields of endeavour.

As a result of the internet infecting the way that we think, can do business and all fields of endeavour. So now even lawyers write like engineers, do business like engineers.

You know William Gibson and his new book in Spook Country he talks about cyber space eroding, that is to say turning inside out and (soling?) to infect the real world, and I think thats true.
I think cyber space was always best understood as a metaphor. I think Gibson or Sterling called it the place where you are when you are talking on the telephone, the place where the telephone conversation takes place.

And I had a really interesting conversation with a guy named Tom Jennings who created a system calles FidoNet which is one of the early multi-system-conferencing systems, before we had wide spread access to the internet. So it is a kind of aquivalent to the usenet, but you could do without being a participant in an academic institution or large cooperation.

And so there were message ports that span the whole world and people all over the world participated in them together. And one of the things that was a common sort of discord on FidoNet, one of the common arguments was about wether or not someone had the right to talk to you this way in your own home.

So someone would say: That message was very rude and if you gonne be that rude you have to leave my house, because the feeling was that because the message is on your computer that the person who had sent it to you was in some sense in your house.

And they were speaking to you in a way that was unforgivable as a guest in your home. And because this was before the term cyber space was widly understood and before we had that concept that a conversation between two computers over a network doesnt take place in one place or the other but rather in some third virtual space inbetween that we able to actually start to reconcile some of this difficulties.

And I think that that was one of the most important contributions that cyber space made to the real world.

But that said, I think some of the cyber spacial ideas are everding I think that for example there are – some of the distributed presence tools like Jaiku or Twitter that were starting to see the kind of distributed presence information that kind of – I think who wrote said that in Wired Magazine? – It was – Clive Thompson in Wired Magazine called it up propriative sense for the real world.

So you know propriative sense is the sense that you have – its a kind of almost a sixth sense that you have of kind where your body is in space and when you put your teeth together it is how you know that your teeth are actually comin together.

And he says that we have that kind of ambient sense of where everyone in the world is around all the people and matter are around us and how they are feeling. And that is one of the ways in which cyber space I think has evaded in the real world.

So one of them is – we just saw Nikolaj Nyholm do his presentation about facial recognition software. Someone is gonne get facial recognition software really right and when they do that every photo on the internet will suddenly have a name associated with it.

Every person in every photo will be identified. And that will be an enourmous rapture of privacy. Photos that you previously thought private because they couldnt be aggregated to your name will suddenly aggregated to your name and husband and wifes will brake up, children will have fights with their families, people will loose their jobs, polticians will be felt, people will go to jail, sometimes justified sometimes not, dissidents will be rounded up and executed or disseapear or put in jail.

All of that stuff will happen as a result of this and this is just one of many. There are lots of ways in which we take disparate pieces of information and combine them.

RFID I think will be one of the ways in which this will happen. We have a myth that RFIDs can only be read in a very short distance.

I actually have one in my pocket from the conference here. So this RFID it does two things: When you bombard this RFID with radio energy so it senses or interacted with radio energy and then transmits by radio a unique number, a globally unique identifier.

And the myth is that you can only read it from a very close distance and thats because you can only excite it, you can only bombard it with radio energy from a close distance. If you try to excite this with radio energy from you know the top of that building over there you have to pump so much radio energy into the air that passing birds would fry and fall out of the sky. So thats not practical.
But if you had a reader just here on this post and I put the RFID on it the reader would excite the RFID and the RFID would start transmitting it´s unique identifier and if you had a very focused antenna on the topp of that building and a reader here the antenna on the top of that building could see it.

And as we have more RFIDs in our lives readers which contain the exciters the bombarders will start to propagate and you will see them all over the place.

In additon you will see people I think putting in rogue bombarders, things that just emit radio energy in order to excite an RFID so if you want to read all the RFIDs passing by this point, you hide a little RFID bombarder in this post and you go stand on the top of that building there with your sniper antenna and that two part system works to read the RFIDs at a very great distance.

And thats I think is going to be an enormous privacy rapture because now what we have is the ability to track people through time and space, not just by the police, allthough thats bad enough and by governement thats bad enough, but by criminals, by snoops, by you know racists, by all kinds of elements who suddenly are gonne be able to keep track of us.

And I think its fundamentally because we have designed these systems without any privacy controls. And we decided that it is good enough to just make one that has no privacy controls and we can add the privacy controls later.

It is gonne be very hard to do that. So I think that you gonne see these giant privacy raptures and I think that everyone of them is gonne be a kind of earthquake for society. Its gonne up and all kinds of institutions it is gonne up and all kinds of relationships.

And it is gonne make it harder for many of us to conduct our lives. There is a fundamental dignity in being able to be private. Its not because the things we do are shameful. But because they are not public. Everyone of us poops. You know there is a book: Everybody poops! We all go to the toilette and we poop. But you need to be a very special kind of person to want to do it in public.

There is nothing wrong with it but it is private, its personal. And I think we are gonne loose some of that and I think that´s a real shame.

2 Gedanken zu „Transcript of Interview with Cory Doctorow by Elektrischer Reporter“

  1. Verdammt, genau, mir fällts wie Schuppen von den Ohren. Da sitzt man stundenlang da – vor, zurück – und hört irgendwann nix mehr. Klar, maitre d! Danke.

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