The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'cory doctorow'
Cory Doctorow, freelance writer and novelist, has written a short article on how to write productively in the age of ubiquitous distraction. The advice he gives is rather novel; he dismisses the usual advice about switching off one's internet connection, and is also scornful of the idea of ceremony, or of setting the right mood. (And understandably so; acknowledging the idea of there being a right mood or atmosphere for evoking one's inner muse could lead to finding excuses, consciously or subconsciously, for not actually doing anything.)
The single worst piece of writing advice I ever got was to stay away from the Internet because it would only waste my time and wouldn't help my writing. This advice was wrong creatively, professionally, artistically, and personally, but I know where the writer who doled it out was coming from. Every now and again, when I see a new website, game, or service, I sense the tug of an attention black hole: a time-sink that is just waiting to fill my every discretionary moment with distraction. As a co-parenting new father who writes at least a book per year, half-a-dozen columns a month, ten or more blog posts a day, plus assorted novellas and stories and speeches, I know just how short time can be and how dangerous distraction is.
Short, regular work schedule. When I'm working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I'm working on it. It's not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it's entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there's always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn't become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day's page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you've already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.
Leave yourself a rough edge. When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you're in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you're in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day's knitting so they know where to pick up the next day — they call it the "hint." Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night — it's hard to build on a smooth edge.
Realtime communications tools are deadly. The biggest impediment to concentration is your computer's ecosystem of interruption technologies: IM, email alerts, RSS alerts, Skype rings, etc. Anything that requires you to wait for a response, even subconsciously, occupies your attention. Anything that leaps up on your screen to announce something new, occupies your attention. The more you can train your friends and family to use email, message boards, and similar technologies that allow you to save up your conversation for planned sessions instead of demanding your attention right now helps you carve out your 20 minutes. By all means, schedule a chat — voice, text, or video — when it's needed, but leaving your IM running is like sitting down to work after hanging a giant "DISTRACT ME" sign over your desk, one that shines brightly enough to be seen by the entire world.
After the recent "privacy Chernobyls", in which the personal data of millions of Britons went missing, possibly ending up in the hands of criminals, Cory Doctorow argues that personal data should be regarded with the same caution as nuclear waste:
The metaphor is apt: the data collected by corporations and governmental agencies is positively radioactive in its tenacity and longevity. Nuclear accidents leave us wondering just how we're going to warn our descendants away from the resulting wasteland for the next 750,000 years while the radioisotopes decay away. Privacy meltdowns raise a similarly long-lived spectre: will the leaked HMRC data ever actually vanish?
The financial data in question came on two CDs. If you're into downloading movies, this is about the same size as the last couple of Bond movies. That's an incredibly small amount of data - my new phone holds 10 times as much. My camera (six months older than the phone) can only fit four copies of the nation's financial data.
Every gram - sorry, byte - of personal information these feckless data-packrats collect on us should be as carefully accounted for as our weapons-grade radioisotopes, because once the seals have cracked, there is no going back. Once the local sandwich shop's CCTV has been violated, once the HMRC has dumped another 25 million records, once London Underground has hiccoughup up a month's worth of travelcard data, there will be no containing it.
Writing in InformationWeek, Cory Doctorow delivers a scathing indictment of Facebook, and its eyeball-herding business model:
Facebook is no paragon of virtue. It bears the hallmarks of the kind of pump-and-dump service that sees us as sticky, monetizable eyeballs in need of pimping. The clue is in the steady stream of emails you get from Facebook: "So-and-so has sent you a message." Yeah, what is it? Facebook isn't telling -- you have to visit Facebook to find out, generate a banner impression, and read and write your messages using the halt-and-lame Facebook interface, which lags even end-of-lifed email clients like Eudora for composing, reading, filtering, archiving and searching. Emails from Facebook aren't helpful messages, they're eyeball bait, intended to send you off to the Facebook site, only to discover that Fred wrote "Hi again!" on your "wall." Like other "social" apps (cough eVite cough), Facebook has all the social graces of a nose-picking, hyperactive six-year-old, standing at the threshold of your attention and chanting, "I know something, I know something, I know something, won't tell you what it is!"
If there was any doubt about Facebook's lack of qualification to displace the Internet with a benevolent dictatorship/walled garden, it was removed when Facebook unveiled its new advertising campaign. Now, Facebook will allow its advertisers use the profile pictures of Facebook users to advertise their products, without permission or compensation. Even if you're the kind of person who likes the sound of a benevolent dictatorship this clearly isn't one.To be honest, Facebook doesn't seem quite as bad about this as other (such as MySpace, which has the chutzpah to make logging-in users click through interstitial ads, knowing that cool-obsessed teenagers will endure any amount of intrusive advertising as long as it's bright and flashy and ugly-nu-rave enough). Though all this could change if it does start using your name and picture to endorse some product which you once bought. (Though if it does this, it could be on shaky legal ground. It's quite likely that its retroactively amended click-through agreement would, following the great click-wrap power-grab tradition, state that users will consent to endorsing all products they buy without their knowledge in return for their fix of zombie vampire monkey robot ninja action, though whether any sane court of law would find this reasonable is another matter.) Certainly, them having removed the ability to opt out of their marketing programme does feel rather sleazy.)
Fear not, though, as Cory says that Facebook, like all other social networks before it, is doomed, by a simple law which limits the lifespan of a social network to the initial period of growth:
Sure, networks generally follow Metcalfe's Law: "the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system." This law is best understood through the analogy of the fax machine: a world with one fax machine has no use for faxes, but every time you add a fax, you square the number of possible send/receive combinations (Alice can fax Bob or Carol or Don; Bob can fax Alice, Carol and Don; Carol can fax Alice, Bob and Don, etc).
Having watched the rise and fall of SixDegrees, Friendster, and the many other proto-hominids that make up the evolutionary chain leading to Facebook, MySpace, et al, I'm inclined to think that these systems are subject to a Brook's-law parallel: "Adding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance." Perhaps we can call this "boyd's Law" for danah boyd, the social scientist who has studied many of these networks from the inside as a keen-eyed net-anthropologist and who has described the many ways in which social software does violence to sociability in a series of sharp papers.As more people join a social network, the tensions increase. Turning down a friend request is socially awkward, and unfriending someone literally says to them "you're dead to me". (OMG, teh drama!) As people from all walks of life join your friends list, the range of things that are suitable for discussion among all of them narrows considerably. Eventually, with your boss, your relatives and your friends all reading your profile, you're restricted to the most innocuously content-free of communications, until you stop bothering to log in, and your Facebook account goes the way of your long-moribund Friendster, Tribe and Orkut logins.
Of course, then comes along the next social network service, and the cycle begins again. Perhaps the next service will learn from its predecessors' mistakes and offer users the vitally important ability to compartmentalise information, to make certain parts of one's profile visible only to certain subsets of one's friends list. This is not a new idea; LiveJournal has allowed its users to do this with journal posts for a long time, and Flickr has a somewhat more limited version of this concept (allowing photos to be restricted to people flagged as "family" or "friends"). However, if a social network system is to be able to cope with real-world social relationships, and the fact that people present different aspects of themselves to different friends and acquaintances, such a mechanism is essential.
(via Boing Boing) ¶ 4
The Age has a profile of Boing Boing and Cory Doctorow, who, incidentally, is speaking in Melbourne on Tuesday:
It was Boing Boing that first noticed that "black people loot, white people find" groceries in the now-infamous captions of news photographs taken after hurricane Katrina.
"The greatest threat to an artist is obscurity, not piracy," says Doctorow, who has released three other novels on the internet. "All the people out there who didn't buy my books mainly did so because they hadn't heard of me, not because they could get it for free.
Apparently British technogoth scifi author Charlie Stross has uploaded to a new Sony PSP:
"Charlie was teetering on the precipice of transhumanism for the whole last year," said his friend and collaborator Cory Doctorow. "His lifestyle and cerebral/neurological capabilities had been ramped up through intensive ideation and selective smart-drug use to an exquisite pitch just short of the Singularity. When he laid his hands on that sweet, sweet hunk of hardware, it provided the critical mass of complexification necessary to tip him over fully into the Extropian ideal condition."
(Stross himself has posted a correction, saying that it was a Palm Pilot he uploaded to. Which makes more sense; would anyone with Stross' copyfighter credentials really want to upload to a Sony PSP? I imagine that, with the DRM infrastructure, it would be too much like being trapped in a prison for all eternity (or, at least, until the batteries run out).
Anyway, he may not be the first to have done so; it is rumoured that Australian hard-scifi writer Greg Egan's absence from the publishing world is due to him having uploaded some years ago:
Aussie critic and potential "Spiker" himself, Damien Broderick, comments, "I tried to visit Egan years ago, and found myself stuck in a timelike infinity loop once I got too close to his nominal address. Only the concerted efforts of Stephen Baxter, Vernor Vinge and Greg Bear were able to free me. And even now, all my interior organs remain reversed. I subsist solely on amino acids of alternate chiriality."
Really? And I thought he was too busy fighting for asylum-seekers' human rights.
Seen at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park this afternoon:
He didn't speak, though did spend some time staking out a corner with his eclectic collection of signs and printed materials. For some reason, nobody seems to have gone up to him and asked about the finer points of Christian Atheism.
One of his signs:
A bit further on, a chap in a baseball hat was either waving or threatening to burn an American flag; a crowd had gathered around him and were remonstrating vigorously with him. Not far from there, Cory Doctorow and his posse of copyright-policy troublemakers had set up and addressed the crowd on the evils of the broadcast flag and WIPO treaties.
The Solomon Islands' economy, government and indeed their entire civil society are collapsing. How can this be fixed? Easy, by the magic of free WiFi. (No prizes for guessing where I found this link.)
After a lot of rehashing, the first draft of Unwirer, Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross' story about illegal wireless networking in a dystopian alternate America, is up. It's not bad, in a rather dark and paranoid sort of way. I suspect they'll have a hard time cutting 4,500 words from it.
Cory "bOING bOING" Doctorow and Charlie "Antipope" Stross are collaborating on another short story, The Unwirer, set in a world where Jack Valenti runs the FCC, all Internet transactions cost money, operating unlicensed network sites is criminal copyright infringement, and wireless networking is a sort of underground guerilla resistance. And they're posting it to a specially commissioned blog as it's written.
He'd lost his job and spent the best part of six months inside, though he'd originally been looking at a from a five year contributory infringement stretch -- compounded to twenty by the crypto running on the access-point under the "use a cypher, go to jail" statute -- to second degree tarriff evasion. His public defender had been worse than useless, but the ACLU had filed an amicus on his behalf, which led the judge to knock the beef down to criminal trespass and unlawful emission, six months and two years' probation, two years in which he wasn't allowed to program a goddamn microwave oven, let alone admin the networks that had been his trade.
Oh yes, the last part of Jury Service, Charlie and Cory's short story, is up, and it's quite good.
Oh yes, part 3 of Jury Service is up.
"But from traces of carapace scraped off the walls of the Bey residence nursery, we have obtained a partial genotype. Tell your guidebooks or familiars or whatever to download Exhibit B for you. As you can see, the genome of the said item is chimeric and shows signs of crude tampering, but it's largely derived from drosophila, mus musculus, and a twentieth-century situationist artist or politician or something called Dan Quayle. Large chunks of its genome appear to be wholly artificial though, written entirely in Arabic, and there's an aqueous phase Turing machine partially derived from octopus ribosomes to interpret them. It looks as if something has been trying to use the shari'a code as a platform for implementing a legal virtual machine. We're not sure why, unless it's an obscure joke."
Ah yes; the second part of Charlie and Cory's post-singularity story Jury Service is out, and it's a corker.
Jury Service, a (so far) pretty doovy post-singularity scifi story by Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow, with biotech, nanotech, Welsh and Islamic cultures, airships and more. Pretty nifty, but the following paragraph struck me as a bit incongruous:
"Monkeys! You think I'm worried about monkeys? Brother, I once spent a month in a Tasmanian work-camp for public drunkennessimagine, an Australian judge locking an Englishman up for drunkenness!"
Falling into the myth that Australians are more accomplished drinkers than the English, where in fact Australians drink their beer in wimpy little half-pint pots (or slightly larger glasses in Sydney), while in England you don't get through life (or university at least) without learning how to down the pints like nobody's business before the pub closes at 11pm and still manage to stagger home. (Or so a friend of mine with a hollow leg tells me.)