ProductsDesktop Server For Scientific Computing For IBM POWER For IBM System z For SAP Business Applications Red Hat Network Satellite ManagementExtended Update Support High Availability High Performance Network Load Balancer Resilient Storage Scalable File System Smart Management Extended Lifecycle SupportWeb Server Developer Studio Portfolio Edition JBoss Operations Network FuseSource Integration Products Web Framework Kit Application Platform Data Grid Portal Platform SOA Platform Business Rules Management System (BRMS) Data Services Platform Messaging JBoss Community or JBoss enterprise
SolutionsApplication development Business process management Enterprise application integration Interoperability Operational efficiency Security VirtualizationMigrate to Red Hat Enterprise Linux Systems management Upgrading to Red Hat Enterprise Linux JBoss Enterprise Middleware IBM AIX to Red Hat Enterprise Linux HP-UX to Red Hat Enterprise Linux Solaris to Red Hat Enterprise Linux UNIX to Red Hat Enterprise Linux Start a conversation with Red Hat Migration services
TrainingPopular and new courses JBoss Middleware Administration curriculum Core System Administration curriculum JBoss Middleware Development curriculum Advanced System Administration curriculum Linux Development curriculum Cloud Computing and Virtualization curriculum
ConsultingStandard Operating Environment (SOE) Strategic Migration Planning Service-oriented architecture (SOA) Enterprise Data Solutions Business Process Management
Issue #16 February 2006
- How the Summit changed my life: GPS Consultant Jon Benedict
- A very long talk with Cory Doctorow, part 2
- A photo tour of Nashville
- Summit keynote speaker: Nicholas Negroponte
- Red Hat Summit: Tracks
- We've got a deal for you
- Open source development: The diversocracy
- Introduction to DocBook XML
- The sound of sharing: Headphone amplifiers built the open source way
- Video: EuroNext
- Delivering application and services availability
- Take our user survey
From the Inside
In each Issue
- Editor's blog
- Red Hat speaks
- Ask Shadowman
- Tips & tricks
- Fedora status report
- Podcast (XML)
- Magazine archive
Transcript of Cory Doctorow interview
RHM: First of all, I want to say congratulations on the lack of a day job. You've pretty much got every writer's dream wrapped up--you get to write and talk and do what you're passionate about all the time.
Doctorow: Although 10 days into it, and I think the total extra writing time I've had has been about two hours.
"Have you ever networked with other Civil War re-enactors who are also polyamorists and share your penchant for vegan cooking form 3,000 miles away? You will."
RHM: You're still blogging and working on Themepunks and probably still doing a lot of activist stuff, right?
Doctorow: Yeah, in one form or another. It certainly feels like I've been working on Themepunks for most of my life; it's a big long book.
RHM: Let's get the geek cred questions out of the way: When did you start out with computers? Were you a BBSer in the 70s or 80s--
Doctorow: It was before that. In 1977 we had a VAX terminal to the mainframe--the DEC mainframe--at the University of Toronto. It was a PDP-8, I think, that my dad was working on. We used to get these big rolls of brown printer paper that you'd feed into it because it didn't have a screen, and I would play with lines out and write BASIC programs.
[We had] an acoustic coupler; we didn't have a proper modem either. You'd get the phone out and you'd dial the phone--it's a rotary dial phone--and then when you heard the carrier you'd put the receiver down on this thing that had two suction cups, one for the microphone and one for the speaker, and it would make--I guess--a 50-baud connection. Neal Stephenson has memorably described this putting the phone down in the cradle as a technological soixante-neuf. And 10 years later, it feels so dirty.
RHM: [LAUGHS] I actually remember that setup. My dad is a newspaper reporter and when I was growing up, he had this huge briefcase [for the couplers]. Dad would bring it home and let us play; it was this huge, clumsy thing. Now the entire laptop is thin, tiny.
Doctorow: I guess more than a decade later I had the first Mac luggable which was like 20-something pounds. It was basically a Mac SE in an electric typewriter form factor, and that was an amazing thing to carry around; I carried it everywhere. I blame my ongoing struggles with lower back pain on a lifetime of carrying around things that were billed as laptops.
I once worked for Silicon Graphics Integrator and I did their road show for awhile and would go around and talk to prospective clients. It was just after SGI bought out Cray, and the joke was that the next thing SGI was going to deliver was the water-cooled laptop.
RHM: Now we know when you found the technology; when did you first find the web? There was a distinct point--just that "oh, shit" moment where you look at everything that's out there and think, "Wow, this is really going to be something." What was that moment for you?
Doctorow: I was really into BBSs, and it was through BBSs that I found work in CD-ROM programming, multimedia CD-ROM programming, as a contractor for the Voyager Company in New York, who were the people who made Hard Day's Night, Neuromancer, and Spinal Tap interactive CDs. [Voyager CD archive listing from The Institute for the Future of the Book] I think they were the first time anyone ever tried to deliver video with secondary audio--commentary audio. I remember thinking, "Wow, this is amazing" with the Spinal Tap one.
And [then] the market just cratered, right, and I'd dropped out of university to do this. I had been at the University of Waterloo doing an interdisciplinary program, an undergraduate program with a thesis at the end of it. I proposed for my thesis that I would deliver something hypertextual: a CD-ROM that would be a kind of deviant sociology project on fringe culture on the internet. About how the internet was far from making us more socially normal the way that those old AT&T "You will" commercials [said] that they would. You know, "Have you ever touched your child from 3,000 miles away? You will."
So yeah, [My thesis said that] it was going to make us a lot weirder, right, because, "Have you ever networked with other Civil War re-enactors who are also polyamorists and share your penchant for vegan cooking form 3,000 miles away? You will." That's what the internet was going to deliver to us, and the University of Waterloo said "Well, that sounds kind of interesting, but we prefer it on 8-1/2"x11" 25 lb. bond double-spaced, ALA stylebook." I said, "I really don't think that's going to do the subject justice." I got a job offer to program CD-ROMs, and it was like, "I can stay here and pay you guys not to make a CD-ROM, or I can go make about 15 times what I'm making working in a science fiction bookstore and I can make CD-ROMs," so I just dropped out of school and took the job. Then the industry collapsed.
Through BBSs, I knew a lot of Mac users, because I was in all these early Mac BBSs. There was this really nice GUI client-server Mac BBS platform called First Class that came out of Toronto. The guy who made it was basically--if I remember right--[trying to make] an enterprise email program. One of the programmers decided to extend it to allow it do conferencing, and ran a BBS on it out of his basement. That turned into their line of work; no one really wanted enterprise email, but everyone wanted conferencing.
It was really slick. And his boyfriend worked for Apple, so the two of them had a great combination. He was a developer on the product, his boyfriend was a developer for Apple, so they could really push the limits for what the thing could do. And there all these ad agency people in Toronto, which has got a huge ad agency presence, who were on this BBS. A lot of them were looking for multimedia developers, and I went around, started going around to all these ad agencies in town that I knew through the BBS scene, and saying, "You know what you guys need? You really need to start thinking about delivering Gopher sites for your clients, because how are they going to sell products on the internet unless they have their own Gopher sites?"
And I found an agency that was willing to take a chance with this. Not to their credit, [or] because they felt that Gopher was going to be the future, but rather, that they sort of thought, well, the future is going to be delivering interactive online services to our clients. We need to figure out what that means, and right now that means Gopher, and maybe it will be something cooler in the future, but we should start as soon as possible rather than wait for the perfect platform to emerge.
So I sort of developed the Gopher sites for them, and halfway through the project, I found a copy of Mosaic, and I walked in and said, "Gopher sites cancelled, we're going to make a website instead," and showed them the 80 websites that existed according to the Mosaic homepage, and they were just blown away, [so] we developed a web site.
Doctorow: Yeah, that's a lot earlier than me. This wasn't super early, it was like four years after Berners-Lee shipped Mosaic; this was like 1992. But the thing was, Mosaic existed for a long time, but TTP stacks and TCP stacks and people who do dialup for you were a lot harder to come by. I had a dialup shell at the University of Toronto for 50 cents an hour in like 1988, but that was it, that was the closest you could come to getting a real internet connection.
You could dialup using a terminal, and then at 9600 baud you could run Gopher and Lynx and comparable services. I used to lug my laptop around town, showing... ad agencies, going "Look, look, it's Gopher. It's like that BBS you've been using except... people can get it without paying [long distance] charges."
It was really hard to come by TCP stacks. The Apple, actually, had this psycho thing where they charged either $1,000 or $10,000 for the TCP/IP stack for the Mac OS. I think it was clearly targeted like site licenses; they wanted to license an enterprise's worth of TCP licenses.
At the time I don't even think you could buy an Ethernet card for most of the machines that Apple was shipping... the thing that saved us all was this guy Adam Engst who edits the Tidbits newsletter for the Mac. He's still around; he's a great guy. He published a book called The Internet Mac Starter Kit and somehow his publisher (which I think was Pearson) got a deal from Apple where they were able to put a floppy disk in the book that had Mac TCP on it. Once you had that, you could get online and the book was only 50 bucks. So you could by the book for $50 and get $1,000 worth of networking software from it. [LAUGHS]
And that was when Mac users, early Mac users anyway, were finally able to get on the internet... because Apple had this crazy pricing scheme for its networking. I guess there's a tie-in there to Red Hat and to the idea that all of this stuff that Red Hat is now doing as a commodity, used to be stuff that was unbelievably precious.
RHM: All right. I'm going to move us forward [in time] now. We've been talking about stuff from the past--let's talk about what's out there now. Where do you go now? What do you like to read for news, for art? Do you do a lot of aggregating? Do you like to go out and see what everybody's [website] designs are? What's the number one site on the web... the first place you head every morning when you get up?
Doctorow: My RSS reader, so it's 2,000 sites.
RHM: What's at the very top?
Doctorow: Whatever directory I was in last. [Do you] remember "This is the last page on the internet, it's over, you can go home now?" There isn't a beginning and an end for me on the network. So I think, when you ask that question it becomes pretty obvious that RSS has a long way to go, because I do have this aggregator; it's pretty good.
I finally found an aggregator [that] scales well, because a lot of them just don't scale well. A lot of them just run really slow and... tend to time out your machine a lot. They tend to not have real databases on their backend, so as the number of feeds and the number of articles in aggregate from those feeds gets larger and larger, they tend to get slower and slower.
But I found one that's really good, and at least it doesn't time out anymore, so you can zip through your feeds pretty quick in the morning, but it doesn't have any good mechanisms for migrating stuff to my attention based on that. So it's a lot of feeds, and I tend to scan them really quick.
RHM: What reader are you using?
Doctorow: It's an open source project called Vienna for the Mac. I tried all the commercial RSS readers for the Mac, and none of them are as good.
RHM: Is there anything out there, a website out there, that has simply just stunned you in the last couple of months, or maybe you read an article and you just said, "Well, where did that come from?"
Doctorow: That happens on a daily basis. If you want to know what the URLs are, go to BoingBoing, because I write about some [of them there].
But I think that the age of everyone goes to Disneyworld because Disneyworld is where all the cool rides are is coming to an end, and we're entering an age where everyone's got one good ride in them, and every day you go to the place that has aggregated all of the good rides for the day, and it's not--I don't have the conceit that BoingBoing is the only site that people who are interested in interesting things read because me, as someone who is interested in a lot of interesting things, I don't read any one site. There's new stuff all the time.
One of the great ways to lose an afternoon is to find an interesting link and follow the back link, and then find a site that's full of interesting stuff, and then just sort of linger there for awhile. But it tends to be that having done that for awhile, and reading that for awhile, you might--at least for me--exhaust [your] congruence with that author's interests after a day or two or a month or two, and it becomes less. [It's] not that I don't like it anymore, but it becomes less surprisingly interesting every day because I'm kind of aware of what that author is interested in.
There is a site called Paper Forest that I quite like. It's a guy who just blogs about paper crafts, which is art and sculpture made by cutting up bits of paper and folding them together, kind of like origami but also like those punch out and fold together dollhouses and everything in between. There's some very elaborate paper craft projects. Someone built a working V8 engine out of paper craft.
Depth is easy; depth is three Google searches away. Knowing what Google searches to make is a function of breadth.
RHM: That's insane.
Doctorow: Yeah, it's just amazing stuff. But after awhile, after having read paper craft for six or eight months now, when he posts stuff I'm a lot more discriminating about which of his links I follow. Because he's exposed me to so many good--really, really good--examples of paper craft, my bar for what amazes me in the field of paper crafts has gone up.
And it'll be something else next time. A while ago I was infatuated with a site called Circadiana that was being written (although she's tapered off) by a PhD candidate whose research is on sleep disorders. It was just amazing stuff, and genuinely fascinating. The little factoids and things that stuck with me... still come back to me all the time. Every time I get jetlagged, which is a lot because I travel a lot, I wait for a moment where I start to get chills, and then I look at my watch, and inevitably, it's about four in the morning in whatever time zone my body was left behind in. Your internal thermal circadian is different from your sleep circadian, [and it] drops your body temperature to its lowest point about two hours before you wake up. I get up [at] 5:30 or 6:00 every morning, so it's really interesting now: I can correlate this. I'll be walking around lunchtime in New York and I'll start to get chills and I look at my watch and think, "Okay, it's four in the morning in London."
RHM: I think that's one of the best things about blogging, just the little things that you pick up reading blogs and reading what other people are writing. Eventually we're all going to become masters of our own trivia universe.
Doctorow: Well, I feel like specialization is a pretty dangerous strategy in a world that changes as much as the one that we live in. Heinlein said that specialization is for insects, and that was in the '50s. You want to be nimble, you have to be general.
I started a software company once with a couple of partners, and one of my partners described me as "10 miles wide and one inch deep." I think that's a good characterization.
RHM: Some people would consider that an insult--shallow.
Doctorow: I don't think it's an insult; I think it's very hard to be 10 miles wide and 10 miles deep, and I'm enough of an adult to know that you've eventually got to choose one, and so the one I choose is to be 10 miles wide.
Depth is easy; depth is three Google searches away. Knowing what Google searches to make is a function of breadth.
RHM: One of the other things I did want to talk about was your work with Electronic Frontier Foundation. Obviously that's one of the big reasons why you're such a good fit to speak at the Red Hat Summit. Do have any idea what you think you might be talking about in June or what you'll be thinking about in June, or is it too far ahead?
Doctorow: Well, I expect that one thing that I'm going to try and get people's heads around is what DRM [Digital Rights Management] means. [It] isn't just about what you can and can't do with media, because I think that we start with the assumption that there [are] legitimate instances in which someone might want to technologically enforce rules about what you can and can't do with media. From there we kind of blindly follow that to a conclusion around technological countermeasures, technological protection measures, without spending a lot of time wondering about what the impact on business and free speech and due process will be from allowing companies to make file formats that are illegal to reverse-engineer, and to make compatible players for. That's a lot broader than the question: "Should or shouldn't people be allowed to make a million copies of a song?"
I think that that question... is an interesting one. Certainly, in the 21st century, it's going to be increasingly hard to argue that this should be scarce, that there are special bits, and that those special bits should be ones that are less malleable than all the other bits. As a practical matter, like that's going to be a sustainable position to take.
What happens if Microsoft is willing to publish [the] internals for its Microsoft® Office® documents format--embrace an open office standard--but simultaneously rolls out a system that by default encrypts every Office document before it's sent to someone else? Policy can be enforced [at the document level]--e.g., don't print or don't forward, or allow me to recall access to this document subsequent to its release.
For that to work, what has to happen is that the only clients that get the key have to be clients that Microsoft audits and approves and trusts not to give the keys to the user. Even though the file format for Office is free and open, and anyone can implement something that can read and write an Office document provided that they get it in the clear, it becomes not technically challenging but rather unlawful to produce readers that can read and write Office documents that originate in Microsoft systems.
I think it's something that a lot of technologists don't intend when they sit down to make themselves a system where... you can recall an accidentally sent-out email, but that consequence is surely there. It's one that I think Microsoft is not naive of, nor are companies like Apple when they sit down and make iTunes.
I think the real value of iTunes, is that it makes it unlawful to make a player for music that people have [invested] in, and so just like in the old days, if you spent a lot of money on a PDP mainframe... the switching cost [to go] to an IBM 360 would be so high that you might get stuck... even if you weren't happy with DEC and even if the processors weren't performing. The switching cost exceeded the drag on your business represented by not having the best tools for the job. The same thing will happen [for] millions of end users; average people, not businesses. You are going to get locked in to using Apple's music.
We tend to focus on "Are Apple's restrictions too draconian? Is it that bad that Apple won't let us play our music on more than five CPUs?" After all, five CPUs seems like a pretty high number given most households computer-owning patterns. "Is it bad that Apple will only let us stream our music to five people per 24-hour period?" or what-have-you. All of these things seem like particularly unreasonable conclusions.
But what we never ask is, "Is it bad for Apple to get us locked into a technological platform that we can't get out of unless we want to abandon our investment in hardware, software, media, and metadata that originate with it?" If you spend five years of your life organizing your music collection on iTunes, not only can you not get your music out of iTunes, you can't get the organization out of iTunes either.
RHM: There's a bigger picture rather than a smaller picture?
Doctorow: Yeah. And I think one of the things that I like to talk to people about in this context are the rewards to an author who wants to abandon DRM and the potential for authors who want to embrace digital business models. I'm lucky to have some credibility on that subject, having done that. There are some people who are very theoretical on the subject, and I hope that I can bring some practical explanations to it as a real practitioner of it, as someone who eats his own dog food.
RHM: Yes--I was able to read several of your novels under the Creative Commons license.
Doctorow: There's a great counter-example that I blogged about yesterday. The BAFTA awards, which is the British equivalent of the Academy Awards, just reviewed all their screeners in the propriety DVD format where you have to take receipt of a special DVD player that plays these things, and it interrupts every 10 minutes to give you a warning about piracy, and it comes with all kinds of crap on it. BAFTA allows producers to distribute to this, and about half of BAFTA screeners are distributed in this way. The other half are distributed with regular DVDs that you can play on any player.
One of the emails that I got when I was blogging about this was from someone who is on the BAFTA jury who said, "Well, every year I get twice as many screeners as I can conceivably hope to watch, and this year it was really easy to decide which half I was going to watch. I was going to watch the half that didn't require me to hook up another device to my television."
RHM: I have a list here of various cases and causes that I know have been in the news and on the EFF watchlist, and I was going to mention a couple of those and see if you had any interesting thoughts about them. First up: How about old Rick Santorum's National Weather Service Duties Act? That was one of the ones that I thought was the weirdest.
Doctorow: I don't know that I've [followed] that one. Is that the one where Santorum's proposing to privatize mass data that's gathered by federal government?
RHM: Yes. It's the one that restricted how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the National Weather Service (NWS) could present the data that they collect from national satellites. [They couldn't make the data available in "user friendly" formats.]
Doctorow: You know, I didn't follow it at all; I'm sorry. It sounds interesting, but it's not one that I was involved in.
RHM: I was hoping you'd know more, because last I heard it got kicked to the science committee and then I've heard nothing [since].
Doctorow: I do know that in terms of ownership of public data, this has become a real hot issue in Europe this week. There's a directive going through that would formalize an international agreement that government-created factual data--like weather and maps--would not only be property but it would be property that would be recognized across national borders. In the UK they call it "crown copyright" because the Queen technically owns all the maps of England. And it's a real problem, actually.
RHM: Next on my list was Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Do you think that's the next step in personal information collection, and if it is, do you or would you use a trackable discount card, or some other kind of card like that? I know they're talking about putting it into driver's licenses and--
RHM: I was going to say, one of the first places that technology is getting used now is in retail.
Doctorow: Well, it's [in] an American passport, and in London it's in the tube cards, the transit cards. Used to be that you could choose whether you wanted a paper card or a contact-less RFID-based transit card, [but now] they've taken away the choice. You're now stuck with RFID-based transit cards, and I have really ambivalent feelings about [that].
I know that various people have demonstrated that these things can be read at much longer distances than advertised. At the various hacker conferences [in] Las Vegas last year--there's two of them in a row, Defcon and Blackhat--someone demonstrated reading these things at about 60 feet, and that was passively. Actively, you could read them a lot further than that. So even though these things are rated for two or three inches, I think that they... have the potential to be read a lot further, and carry a very large risk to privacy.
I know that RFID vendors stress that all that the RFID carries is an identifier of the product, not a unique serial number. In other words, it's like a SKU but not a serial number, so it says, "This is a copy of Mao's Little Red Book," but it doesn't say "This is Cory Doctorow's copy of Mao's Little Red Book."
But the thing is, I think that as we move through space, we can be identified uniquely by... the collection of objects that we carry. So I might be one of several people wearing Levi's jeans, but I'm probably the only one wearing Levi's jeans and--
RHM: --carrying Mao's Little Red Book.
Doctorow: Yeah, or my bohemian leather shoulder bag or whatever, right? And all of these things collectively add up to a unique identifier that can be tracked through time and space.
What I do with tube cards: They charge you to replace your tube card if you lose it, but they don't charge you if it's stopped working. So every seven days--because I buy one-week tube cards--I microwave my tube card and then I bring it to the station and I say, "My tube card stopped working," and they give me a new one. Since I pay cash for them, there's no way to connect the two. The result is [that] they only get seven days of data from me, and no persistent data stream.
I was just on a ski holiday in France over the Christmas break, and I was using... RFID-based lift tickets. In order to go through the turnstiles to get on the ski lift, you had an RFID card. They're now making ski gloves that have a pocket for the card on the back... so you just brush the turnstile with your hand and that unlocks and lets you through. But I was quite concerned that if they wanted to, because the ski hills are owned or operated in cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, that it wouldn't be very hard to add an RFID reader that was unobtrusive, at various points throughout the town, and used that to track your motion through the town, or through the resort area, you know‚
RHM: [And use the data to] find out which bars are popular, which restaurants are the favorite?
Doctorow: For the same reason people track visitors to their websites, and what pages they go to, and how long they linger there, and so on and so forth. I think that that's the kind of thing that invites abuse. Now Europe has got very, very strong data privacy rules, but they're [in the process of adopting] terrible data retention rules. [They] require ISPs and anyone else who gathers this kind of information to hold it for about two years. The equivalent for an average-sized ISP is like a linear foot of CDs per day.
For very large-sized ISPs or phone companies, it's like a linear foot of CDs per hour. This is mountains of data that they're going to have to gather, and make available for the police. And also presumably have around where people who are miscreants can get at it. Obviously it's safer to have no personal information gathered on you than to have some personal information gathered on you and stored somewhere; that always creates the risk that some person will gain access to the information that shouldn't, and will proceed to use it in a way that's detrimental to your interest.
So I do worry that RFIDs are part of a greater trend that puts our privacy at risk, and proposes to track us much more thoroughly. There were a couple of people who've got interesting takes on this. The one that I think is most interesting is Bruce Sterling's. He published a book very recently calling Shaping Things, which is a kind of design manifesto for life in the era of RFIDs and 3D printers, which he sees as very closely linked, because 3D printers and RFIDs are both things that track and gather and substantiate and operate on information. He proposes that we are entering an era of a new kind of artifact called the "spime".
Spimes in Sterling's view are objects that don't exist until someone asks for one. So in other words, it's the object on demand. Each of which has a unique identifier that tracks it from cradle to grave, and allows us to gather information on it the way that Amazon gathers information on your spending habits. This allows all of us to gather information on our social usage habits of the artifacts around us.
Sterling sees this as an environmental... necessity because he believes that we are in a world where our inability to track and effectively end-of-life objects is literally drowning us in our [own] garbage. So he thinks that in terms of safety and effective disposal and manufacture... we're kind of doomed.
RHM: What do you say to people who turn around [and respond]: "Well, that's the way we're going to customize things," or "What we want is services and products that are tailored specifically to our needs, and the way we get that is by knowing our needs." How do you make the two agree with each other? We want to move ourselves forward, but we don't want to open up ourselves to risks--
Doctorow: I think it all comes down to the requirements for it. You can... require mechanisms for a user to control when their RFID is being read or be notified when an RFID is being read, and depending on which requirements you set, you'll get different outcomes. Not all RFIDs are created equal. If you have an EZ pass or a toll pass and you're in California, chances are that the California Highway Patrol is actually reading your toll pass--not just at toll booths, but on random stretches of highway without your knowledge and without your ability to stop it. They're just keeping track of who's going where on the freeway.
I think as the owner of that device it should be your choice whether or not you choose to disclose the fact that you're driving down Freeway 101 at a certain time at a certain speed. You should be able to tell your pass not to disclose that kind of information. That's for starters. I think we should be looking for an RFID-based future in which the owners of RFID devices are... masters of their destiny [and] warrantless searches can't be conducted on their person and warrantless surveillance can't be conducted on their activities because of the design of the technologies... in their hands.
As a secondary matter--this is a much harder one, and I don't have an easy answer to it--the fact is that we tend to undervalue our privacy before a breach, and it's only after a breach that we... worry about it. So we're happy to give our personal identifying information to companies in exchange for--
RHM: Seventy-nine cents off a box of pasta.
Doctorow: Right, or baby food, right? But then we spend the rest of our lives getting cards from baby food companies on the anniversary of our child's birth, even though our child died six months after it was born. It's only then that we go, "Christ, maybe 79 cents was too little to allow this company into our family relationship." So I don't know how you solve that.
RHM: Moving on from RFIDs to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): their recent proposed treaty on the protection of broadcasting organizations. The US is backing specific protections for online content providers. Scary?
Doctorow: That is indeed very, very scary. It's scary for a couple reasons. I mean, well, it's offensive and it's scary. It's offensive because it starts from this visibly untrue position, which is that without protection--legal protection for their investment in video on the internet--webcasters won't invest in webcasting. It's pretty clear that webcasters are investing in webcasting as fast as dollars can be funneled towards the internet, if not faster. There's hardly any sector that can lay claim, especially at this particular moment in the age of Yahoo Video, Google Video... companies can't be founded fast enough to soak up the investment capital on internet video right now, so that's the grounds on which it's offensive. It's scary because what it does is it creates a set of intermediaries on the internet for video [and] and not even [just] for video--for audiovisual material which technically can include things like software or even webpages. It creates a group of intermediaries who aren't people who created things, but people who merely distribute things.
In other words, if Red Hat downloads a tarball of a package that it intends to include in the distro, the author of that package--or authors in all likelihood--have already granted Red Hat permission to use that software through the GPL [or] through a comparable open source license, much as the authors of the 53 million Creative Commons license works on the internet today have already granted that permission.
But under the broadcast treaty regime, under the webcasting provision the US government has advanced, you would have to get permission not just from the author, but from whoever it was who was hosting the material. Now copyrights are generally afforded to an author as a means to incentivize new creativity. But the people who are being given a monopoly in the webcasting provision aren't people who are creative. They are people whose sole contribution to the work is to electromagnetically modulate. Right?
They're not authors; they're modulators. They're file hosters. They're intermediaries. They're the first people who got there, so the first person who's gone out and corralled all the video and put it in their repository or digitized all the public domain to video and put it in their repository, gets these sole and exclusive rights to those copies and to all subsequent copies made from those copies, even though they didn't create them, even though they don't own them, even though they're not owned by anyone.
This is a really scary idea. Services like Google Video, for example, could never have come into existence in this regime because Google would not only need to know that it was free and clear under copyright, they would have to secondarily find that they were free and clear on their broadcast right, and no one knows what the fair use rights are going to be under broadcast rights. They're certainly going to be a lot narrower than they are for copyrights.
RHM: One of the things that really shocked me was the ownership period that they were bandying about: 50 years!
Doctorow: Yeah--imagine saying that you have a 50-year monopoly over something that lives on the web. What is the web going to be in 50 years? I mean, it just turned 10 years old. What you're really saying is, in order to incentivize the creation of the first NCSA homepage, we're prepared to give you a 50-year monopoly over it. Well, go to the internet archive and look what the NCSA homepage looks like. Is that something that we really need a 50-year monopoly over?
It's nuts to say that publishing needs to be able to restrict Google Print, or that publishing needs DRM, because there is nothing more clear to me right now than the idea that publishing's biggest problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity.
RHM: And some web pages, do we really want them around 50 years from now? [LAUGHS]
Doctorow: Does Jerry Yang need 50 years for Yahoo in order to become a millionaire? If someone went out there and reproduced version 1.0 of Yahoo, that first Yahoo homepage right now, would it threaten Yahoo's business? Do we need those new exclusive economic rights?
We have very few exclusive rights that accrue to people on the basis of an investment, as opposed to on the basis of creativity. One of them is the investment in medical research. If you do original medical research you do get a monopoly over that research even though it is largely factual. But that monopoly lasts for six months. So what we are seeing is that the process of electromagnetically modulating creative common license video gives you more of a stake in it than conducting original medical research does when you've conducted original medical research, not just more but a hundred times more of a stake.
RHM: That is an excellent point.
Doctorow: Thank you. Well, it's a credit to Jamie Love from the Consumer Project on Technology for that.
RHM: [Let's] talk about the publishing industry. They probably don't like you a lot right now but if you succeed they are going to like you a whole lot.
Doctorow: Well, I think... there are people in the publishing industry who think that what I'm doing is a very good idea. Then there are the ones who... speak out against Google Print and think of me as the devil incarnate. It's nuts to say that publishing needs to be able to restrict Google Print, or that publishing needs DRM, because there is nothing more clear to me right now than the idea that publishing's biggest problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity. The number of people who read books right now is in free-fall. The number of people who read magazines is in free-fall, the amount of books being read. The relevance of traditional publishing is dwindling and dwindling fast and to say that what we need are mechanisms to make our work harder to find and harder to consume as a means to control and rescue our destiny is just ridiculous.
But my publisher for example, Tor Books, they're the largest publisher of science fiction in the world. They're a division of Holtzbrinck, which is one of the largest publishing conglomerates in the world, and I think that they sat down and said, "Well, look, the future of this stuff is clearly digital and clearly nothing we've done so far has anything to do with the future of digital." And if they don't know what people are going to be doing in the future they can't plan for it and they can't be there, [so] they are going to be playing catch-up.
And so what they figured, I think, is that if they let me do the Creative Commons DRM release rather than prescribing how people must and must not use digital text, we could rather invite them to tell us what they felt visual text was for. Because the biggest problem for us... is obscurity, then we would sell more books as a result.
So we can have this short-term play which is we sell more books because we give the electronic text away. Then [there] is [the] much more important long-term play which is that we can identify what the market opportunities are for electronic text before anyone else, because we give away books and ask people to tell us what they do with them when we give them to them.
So it's a win-win. None of this is... dot com exuberance. [It's not:] "Oh well, if only we'd give away enough of this stuff we will make it up in volume." It is: Right now giving away e-books sells print books and tomorrow when print books stop selling all together--
I don't think that information necessarily wants to be free or doesn't want to be free or whatever. I just think that if your business model is based on bits not getting copied you are screwed.
RHM: You will know what to do with your e-books?
Doctorow: Giving away e-books will give us the insights we need to stay in business, right? I mean that is pretty hard-nosed capitalism. That is not [some] kind of patchouli-scented info-hippie crap.
RHM: I think I've read you using that phrase before.
Doctorow: I've used that phrase before.
RHM: That was actually one of the ones I was going to pull off later and toss back your way--I was going to say, "So you are not an info hippie and you are not--what is it? "Free software info hippie‚"
Doctorow: "The information wants to be free" is the phrase. Info hippie, yeah. I don't think that information wants to be free, I think that computers are machines for copying bits and that once you... turn something into bits, they will get copied. I don't think that... information necessarily wants to be free or doesn't want to be free or whatever. I just think that...if your business model is based on bits not getting copied you are screwed. It is too light--you need another business model.
The absolute comparison to all this copyright protectionism is to governments [that] spend extraordinary sums of money on helping out businesses or individual people who built their homes on the side of an active volcano. All right? People have built businesses on the idea that their bits won't be copied. And then government goes to these incredible lengths to see to it that their bits won't be copied. That is like people who have built businesses on the idea that they won't get rained on asking governments to take extraordinary measures to see to it that rain stops falling. The thing to do is to not build your business on not getting rained upon.
RHM: There are two very distinct sides to that argument because there is the side that says that it is eventuality, which is kind of an unwavering position because one of the groups of people is saying this is going to happen. And the other group of people is saying this shouldn't happen. So it is kind of an ideological war between those two groups, I mean they are very, very black-and-white, very different opinions. How do you think change is going to come about when you have two groups that are so diametrically opposed?
Doctorow: Well for the people who say it shouldn't happen aren't thinking very well because when they say it shouldn't happen what they mean is we should go back to the pre-Napster days when 80% of the music ever recorded wasn't available at any price. What they mean is that we should leave the libraries in the state that they are in now.
We are assuming 7% of the books in the library are both in copyright and in print. 93% of the books that Google tries to digitize out of the library are either out of print, not commercially available, or in the public domain. I think that is an indefensible position. To say that I want to live in a world where most art disappears from history after 50 years is an indefensible position. I just don't have a lot of sympathy for it.
You know as authors, as creators, there are a lot of terrible things that get done to us; people rip us off, they plagiarize us, they criticize us unfairly and so on. Those are all par for the course. But the one thing that I think that every author, no matter what medium she works in, has a real creeping horror of is being banned, is being censored, is having all of your books piled up and set fire to. And when you look at what the protracted term of copyright coupled with the impossibility of legally digitizing large courses of work is giving us, it is a slow-motion burning of the library.
You know all that film stock that is turning into slime. All of those books that aren't available anywhere and whose pages are crumbling, all the newspapers that are disappearing from the archives.
I used to work in a library where we gave out newspapers. We kept 30 days' worth, and then we would get the microfilm and we would make the microfilm available. By the end of 30 days most of those newspapers were in tatters. The microfilm didn't fare a lot better and oftentimes we find in microfilm that it was crap, you know, that it was missing stuff, that it hadn't been scanned correctly or the microfilm would just go missing. You know that is not an eventuality any of us want. I know your dad was a newspaper man, he didn't write all those articles not to have them read. Removing them for posterity doesn't do him any favors.
RHM: Yes, that is one of the terrible things--now [my dad] writes for a hometown paper so he writes the Garrison Keller [weekly column] on home life and living in the country and that kind of thing. He has been doing this for a couple of years but his paper is very tiny so they are not online. So he doesn't have any of his stuff really stored in digital format--all we have are these clippings. We're trying to find a way to scan all of those, get them in and get them digitized so that they will be preserved [for our family].
Doctorow: Yes, absolutely and you know, what is the half-life of newsprint? I mean you know, there is a reason that we make toilet paper out of this stuff, right? It is disposable. It is like literally: toilet paper is not an archival media. Toilet paper is not a substrate for--
RHM: Can I quote you on that one? [LAUGHS] All right, let's move on a little bit from the publishing industry. Red Hat is in North Carolina and right now the topic of the Diebold e-voting lawsuit is huge. There was just a court battle here and... Dibold's attempts to supercede North Carolina's open e-voting software laws [failed]. But now it is coming up in Wisconsin and Diebold is getting ready to fight it there. What do you think of this?
Doctorow: Well, I think--I am not an authority on this. We have people at EFF who are and I think if you really want to get the inside story there are people here you could talk to about this stuff. But in terms of what I think is going on with Diebold is this: a company... has hidden behind the fact that it makes sub-standard software that is not fit [to] be marketed. And they are now being revealed by these open publishing laws--these sunshine laws that require their source to be audited. They can no longer do what they were... doing.
For example in the case for Swarthmore... there was a whistle-blower memo which said that they had been secretly logging into the voting machines. After they lost their vote counts they would crash so often and people would call them up and say, "What am I going to do? You bastards convinced me to buy one of these voting machines from you and now I am going to lose my job." And they would follow-up by saying, "Well don't worry about it. When we told you that we couldn't log into these things, we can log into these things. You just tell us what you think the vote count was and we will reset it to that."
Well this whistle-blower memo came out and people's response wasn't to argue that it was untrue. [Their response] was to say that the person who wrote it--a Diebold employee-- [wrote the software] as a work-made-for-hire that they held the copyright to, and that they should be able to use copyright law to suppress this publication.
That is what the Swarthmore case is about, right? This is crazy. And I think that increasingly this is what is emerging. To ask a government to apply or engage in something this sensitive, tell us how they are doing it, let us examine what they've done, [that] is pretty reasonable I think.
It is very hard to defend the position "We can't tell you how it is we are counting the public vote because if we do other people will be able to count them and we will go out of business." I just don't think that is a defensible position.
RHM: But you do think that electronic voting is definitely doable?
Doctorow: Oh yes, sure. It is doable if you have a fallback position. All Diebold was asked for in the initial phase of this fight, all anyone asked Diebold to do was to keep a paper tape that recorded the votes alongside the digital vote count.
Diebold makes 40 different kinds of machines--they make EKGs and ATMs and cash registers. All of these machines produce paper tape, right? But when it came to voting machines for some reason Diebold characterized adding a paper tape count as transcendentally difficult, saying that this couldn't be done. And you know in my view the reason that they believe that is because when there is a paper tape there is something for their poor customers to do when the machines crash, which is consult the paper tape.
And there's no longer this conflict of interest that they have when the machines crash without a record to keep all of it very quiet, right? No one wants to be known for having bought the service that is "the thing that has just lost the vote count." Diebold can solve that problem for you by staking the new vote count. You and Diebold [both] have a reason to keep silent about how badly their machines perform. Suddenly you've been enlisted in their scam. You know, it is like the old-time big cons where con artists would first get you to do something naughty: The Nigerian convinces you to send him some money so he can help you embezzle and then as a consequence‚
RHM: Once he has you on the hook--
Doctorow: What are you going to do? Are you going to call the police and say, "I was helping this guy embezzle money and then he ripped me off?" Once Diebold has a mechanism to cover up its failings, what are people going to do when the failings go by?
So I think... governments are only being reasonable when they demand that you tell us how you count the public vote, given there is reason to believe that there are irregularities, and given that these things will be imperfect. We keep backup paper tapes, records of all kinds of stuff in case machines fail. We have arrays, we have all kinds of fallback positions for all kinds of technology. Why wouldn't we put a paper tape in a voting machine? No one from Diebold has ever been able to articulate a case against putting paper tapes in voting machines except to say it is hard and expensive.
And when you say, "Well, what do you mean it is hard and expensive?" Their answer is always, "Well how many voting machines have you made? You've got to believe us. We are the experts."
The pharmaceutical industry says the same thing. We go in and we say, "It seems to us from your securities filings, your tax returns, that all of this money that you say that you need from your accountants to develop more pharma you end up spending on either developing [things] like anti-obese drugs to sell to rich people or marketing or reformulating drugs that have already run out their patents to get a new 20-year patent on them. There is not a lot of actual, serious hard-core R&D on stuff that you claim you are doing R&D on. Why should we continue granting you ever more sweeping patents?" And they say, "Well how many lifesaving pharmaceutical drugs have you manufactured? If we tell you that this is the only way to manufacture it, who are you to tell us that we are wrong?"
I had a hilarious discussion at Lycos once with... one of the representatives from the pharma lobby who argued that he too worked for a non-profit, public interest, non-government organization just like EFF and Amnesty International.
Doctorow: Because, after all, industry associations are non-profit and what could be more in the public interest than having life-saving drugs? Therefore non-profit public interest, that's him. Welcome to looking glass land.
RHM: Let's go back into the looking glass over here--this dropped in my in-box [just recently] and I figured I'd bring it up just to see what you thought. The U.S. passed a Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act--
Doctorow: This is the story on if you annoy someone you go to jail?
RHM: Yes, buried in it was this: "anyone who uses a device or software to originate telecommunications without disclosing [their] identity but with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass someone, can be fined or imprisoned no more than two years." Think about that.
Doctorow: I didn't follow this very closely, I confess. I had a really busy day yesterday. But my colleague Xeni Jardin edited together responses from a lot of different people who have had legal and legislative backgrounds. Apparently there is an existing statute that already does this and what this is is kind of gilding the lily. There is already... a ridiculous law on the books--I think it is probably [part of] the communications decency act or something--that already accomplishes this in America and that all this is is a kind of backup for that one. So it is no news in that sense.
But I think the bigger question is, what is the answer to bad speech? I was just having this discussion with a friend last weekend. There is a reporter who writes for a tech journal who really doesn't like me personally or EFF and who writes really kind of base-less and genuinely false attacks. He wrote an article about how EFF has never won a case, which is untrue. And he went on to list all the cases we'd lost and the cases that he claimed we lost either weren't cases or weren't ours or were ones that we'd won. It is just amazing. And he wrote another piece--you know you've read hatchet pieces about me and so on--and he said, "Well you know you write for an English paper, why don't you bring a libel suit?" because in England of course they've got very strong libel laws.
And I said, "Well you know, I really think that the answer to bad speech is more speech." I think that what I should do is maybe write an article about how this guy is a liar and that maybe that will help discredit what he does. But I don't think that the answer to someone who annoys you should be the right to stop them from speaking. That is a bad test for whether or not something is socially good or socially harmful; [to] be intervened upon by the government.
In particular I don't think that whether or not something is truthful should be the basis for this because there is so much where truthfulness is in a gray zone. There is so much that is neither true nor false but rather somewhere in-between and moreover there is a lot of stuff where the truth doesn't emerge until after a discussion begins.
So someone says, "This person's deeds indicate that they are a racist."
And someone says, "This is untrue. There are lots of reasons he might have done this, you know."
"This person was a member of the Klan."
"Well, there are lots of reasons to have joined the Klan that weren't racially motivated."
"Well, I say the guy is a racist."
"Well, I say he isn't."
And then you have a discussion about it. I think that if you can't have that discussion you never find out what the truth is, right? And [what] if the penalty for getting it wrong... is a lawsuit that is quite punishing? In the UK in particular libel lawsuits can be very punishing. It really turns the free press and consequently our ability to know the truth. In our zeal to protect ourselves from lies we end up undermining our ability to know the truth.
RHM: The first thing I thought of when I read [about this act] was [that] anybody who spent any time [online] knows the troll that comes on--somebody who is bored and starts an argument and then when it comes back on them says, "Well I am going to sue you." I saw... this little bit of added legislation as more artillery.
Doctorow: I think that is exactly right. In the UK there is a guy--I won't name names--who basically has made a career out of getting into fights with people on the internet and then threatening to sue them and threatening to sue their ISPs over what they end up to saying to him after he provokes fights with them.
IPs have shut down certain Usenet groups and have taken things out of their archives... and their message boards because of this. There are a lot of ISPs that I know of who are very leery of even hosting message boards. I know someone who works for a large media company [whose] message boards were getting a million messages a day and they were seriously proposing that they should have every one of those messages moderated by a human being to ensure that none of them were libelous or pedophiles fishing for a victim.
RHM: Did the person then turn around and say, "Yes, now can I have additional head count to do that?"
Doctorow: This is exactly what they were doing. That is precisely what they were doing. They were figuring out if they could afford to host, not only host the message board but also to hire an entire firm of moderators to sit there and go through all the stuff.
RHM: And being a moderator is not a pleasant job usually.
Doctorow: No, no and... the cost of being a firm that runs a million-message-a-day message board is actually relatively low. There are lots of people who might enter the market to do that, but if you have to add to that the cost of hiring enough people to moderate every one of those messages, it basically means that you go from having a million firms that might create one of those services and add market value and deliver lots of social worth and create new jobs and so on, to like five. Five companies who are in a position, who might have the impetus to found a million-message-a-day message board system and hire moderators to read every message.
RHM: And you've also diluted the message.
Doctorow: Yes, well that is true, too.
RHM: All right--[let's talk about] the EFF. Even though you've recently quit your job there you are still a Fellow and you--as I said before--have been an activist long before that. What do you see as the most memorable fight that you've helped wage? What do you think was the most important thing that you stood up and said either, "Yes, this must happen" or "No, this can't happen?"
Doctorow: Definitely the broadcast flag. My first day on the job was going to the first meeting at which the broadcast flag was discussed. And so it really defined what I did at EFF. I did lots of other things while I was there but that was just the one thing that was a common thread throughout.
The work I was doing in Europe on DRM standards was the European equivalent to broadcast flags. And the broadcast flag is a great example of people saying, "Well, you know, this seems pretty reasonable. All they are saying is that people shouldn't be allowed to redistribute TV shows that they get off the airwaves on the internet to an unlimited number of people." And the problem is that in order to enact that, you have to also force... anyone who wants to deliver a new television platform to get permission from the entity who previously fought against the VCR and who has said things like, "Getting up to pee during the commercial break is a form of theft."
RHM: And, to follow, what do you think is the most important fight that you will fight in the future?
Doctorow: I think it continues to be DRM.
RHM: It is still going to be DRM?
Doctorow: Yes, absolutely. I really believe that the question of whether we, whether the platform, whether the hardware, whether the network... allows anyone to participate or requires participation--or conditions the ability to participate on your assurance that you will not disrupt anyone's business model. Is it the business model that is going to be the one that determines whether or not the network is ultimately a tool for liberation or a tool for control?
RHM: If we have a little time left, [I'd like to ask a couple of questions] about your stories. [They] are set in future worlds where everything is wired, data is mined, and people are pretty much just a collection of bits, whether they are housed in meat or not in meat. Yet all of these things are advances in technology or uses of technology that you seem to be pushing back against in the real world. How do you reconcile that? How do you feel about that? Are you interested to see what happens so much that it needs to happen or is it simply inevitable?
Doctorow: I think that in order to be a technology activist you have to be an optimist and a pessimist. You have to be an optimist in that you believe that technology can be a tool for genuine liberation and for... positive social change and for democracy. And you also have to believe... that it's not pre-ordained and that it could go wrong and that when it goes wrong it could be really terrible. So you can't be a fatalist and believe that the future of the world is pre-ordained, that technology will necessarily make us into better people. You have to rather devote your energy to seeing to it that those positive outcomes from technology come to being.
RHM: I do want to ask about the Creative Commons licenses right quick. I saw that you released Someone comes to town, someone leaves town under the Developing Nations license. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Doctorow: Yes, sure. The license basically says if you live in a country that isn't on the World Bank list of financial countries, you can make copies and you can make journalistic work. You can make films, you can make translations, you can do whatever it is you feel like doing. And that to me was kind of a no-brainer. There were a couple of reasons I did it. There is a kind of ethical reason which is that I think that these countries are in deep trouble largely because their wealth has been systematically removed and exported to the developed world. Certainly it is hard to say on the basis of raw materials, for example, that most African countries should be considered poor countries. It is just the way that those raw materials get exploited that seems to make Africans into poor people or Latin Americans into poor people or Asians into poor people.
And so I can't see any good reason that we shouldn't do what we can to help given that we've done everything that we could to hurt. And if there's someone who has the opportunity to make some money by printing one of my books and distributing it locally, why the hell not? It's not as though the money available to me for the Nigerian rights to my books is a sum that I'm ever going to miss. Once you calculate the cost of my agent going to Frankfurt to the book fair, meeting someone from a Nigerian publisher, doing the deal, taking his 15%, sending me the check, the bank taking their piece of it and so on, I'll be lucky if I see a couple hundred bucks. And honestly I would much rather that people read my stuff than that I get the $200 from some Nigerian publisher. But there is also, I think, a good, solid economic reason to do it and that is that some of these countries might just successfully industrialize and if they do they will have to start paying for licenses.
It's rather unfortunate but the best and the brightest of every country in the world leaves poor countries [to] go to rich countries to work on average. And when they get there, their consumption habits are often dictated, as all of ours are, by the things that they learned to love when they were living at home. And so if I turn out to be the author that is most widely read among the best and the brightest in the Ukraine for example, then when those people move to America, there is every chance in the world that they will seek out my books and buy them, which I think would be great news. So I think that there is an ethical case and there is a commercial case. And between the two I just couldn't think of any reason not to do it.
RHM: The one thing I wanted to talk to you about more than anything else was Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I read it a while ago, [before] my first trip to Disney.
Doctorow: Which one?
RHM: In Florida. Right before we left--I don't even think I knew you were speaking at the Summit yet--I went back and re-read Down and Out... and I made the friend who was going with me--who hates all scifi--read it. She loved it. But we spent the entire time we were [at Disneyworld] talking about how everything worked as opposed to just seeing it on the surface. Every interaction there is scripted and planned--a very utopian, utilitarian idea.
[It's utopian] like the concept of whuffie--in Disney you almost never see money. I know you've talked about and have used whuffie in [other stories]. Where did that come from? Did it come from Disney? Did it come from the way places handle karma [as currency]?
Doctorow: Observing Slashdot and other places where you see reputation economies at work. But I think that one of the things about whuffie is that it's a great Gedanken experiment for science fiction, a classic kind of Gedanken experiment... because you can imagine handling the magic technology that gives you the perfect reputation economy. Then just explore what reputation economy is about instead of getting yourself all bound up in how the mechanics of whuffie would work.
But the mechanics of whuffie are I think transcendentally hard to manage. Just for example: finding out what you think about everything that you see is transcendentally hard. I mean there are like entire religions founded on trying to get people to accurately and honestly confront how they feel about the stuff around them. So saying, "What do you think about television shows?" is not a simple question, it tends to be fraught with a lot of social factors and what you think you should feel about this television show, who is asking, and why they are asking and whether you feel this way about the show itself or the subject of the show or about an actor on the show or you are just in a good mood right now and so on, and then going on with really hard problems.
There is also the really hard problem of how do you find out what someone means when they say, "I feel good about this" or "I feel bad about this." Are they talking about a song? Are they talking about a specific performance of the song? Are they talking about the artist who performed the song? Are they talking about the lyrics on the song? And so on and so forth. There are all of these disambiguation problems that are really hard to make. And so whuffie is predicated on the idea that you can know how everyone feels about everything. I don't even think that you can define everything, let alone find out how everyone feels about it.
But even if it did work, one of the other things that I didn't get into much in that novel but in the short story that followed it and the one that appeared on Salon on Truncat, I did talk a little bit about the problems with a reputation economy. Reputation economies are powerfully normative and in that sense they embody some of the worst elements I think of the cash economy. The more unpopular your ideas are, the harder it is to get them heard. And the whole point of a democracy is to actually try and reverse that dynamic and to create spaces in which unpopular ideas get the same hearing that popular ideas can and that hard concepts and things that are hard to face up to aren't eclipsed by simpler explanations. And so I am a little ambivalent about whuffie.
RHM: But you are not ambivalent about Disney?
Doctorow: No. Well, yes.
RHM: Me, too.
Doctorow: I've just come from a weekend in Disneyland Paris.
RHM: Is it different [than the US versions]?
Doctorow: Oh, very.
RHM: Do they have a Haunted Mansion there?
Doctorow: They do, it is called the Phantom Manor. And it is a Wild West themed haunted house.
RHM: Oh, wow. I'm a Haunted Mansion freak.
Doctorow: Oh, good.
RHM: That was... the thing that I wanted to see more than anything else. And we got there and it was closed for renovation. It re-opened the last day of our trip. We hadn't planned on going back to the theme park at all that day; we had an early flight.
Doctorow: Did you ride it?
RHM: Oh, yes. [My best friend] took one look at my face and she knew that [we were] buying an extra day pass to the Magic Kingdom. They were actually waiting for [a fire inspection] when we got there. One of the butlers, gave us the spiel: "Go away!" But we stood there for an hour, waiting. We started up a conversation with him and he actually let us ride it through.
Doctorow: It was nice that he didn't make you get off.
RHM: His name is Pat and he is awesome. [Thanks, Pat!]
Doctorow: That's awesome. I like that little corridor that you ride around if you don't have to get off. It is pretty cool. It is almost worth turning up in a wheelchair just to ride through that little corridor... although you don't get to go through the stretch room if you do that.
RHM: Right, but we had already been through the stretch room several times. We had probably gone through five or six times before [Pat] noticed that we kept coming back. I said, "Well I am trying to ride it as many times as I can before we have to leave." And he said, "Oh, well next time--don't get off."
Doctorow: Yes, we turn up in wheelchairs just to ride around.
RHM: All right, let's knock out this last question: We are asking all the Summit speakers one question. It is kind of a silly question but just a short one: What is your favorite country song? And if you don't have one you should totally make one up.
Doctorow: It would definitely be a Bob Wills song.
Doctorow: Bob Wells of the Texas Playboys. It is "Roly Poly" by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, for sure.
RHM: Okay, now I am going to have to go look that up on iTunes.
Doctorow: It is pretty obscure. Do you know allofmp3.com? [It's] a slightly dodgy Russian service that you can buy music through.
RHM: I could probably find it.
Doctorow: I think they've got it. They seem to have a big collection. Bob Wills is the father of country swing, which is country jazz fusion.
RHM: Is that related to rockabilly, like a distant cousin?
Doctorow:No, it's like 1930s stuff. Actually you know what, I take it back. It's a Hoosier Hot Shots song. They do have "Roly Poly." It's a Hoosier Hot Shots song and it's "From The Indies to the Andes."
RHM: From the Indies?
Doctorow: To the Andes in his undies.
RHM: From the Indies to the Andes in his undies?
Doctorow: "From the Indies to the Andes in his undies and he never took a shave except on Sundays." Or, "He never took a shave except on Mondays. He had nothing there to eat but chocolate sundaes, which was a very, very daring thing to do."
RHM: That sounds right up my alley.
Doctorow: It is a country song and it's got a slide whistle in it.
RHM: Oh, that's cool.
Doctorow: Slide whistle and zither.