Cory Doctorow and Akil Augustine discuss Canada Reads contender Radicalized
Canada Reads 2020 takes place July 20-23
Ahead of the debates, Augustine and Doctorow talked about the messages found within the book, which is a collection of four science fiction stories.
Radicalized explores ethical questions surrounding how technology is abused on both personal and corporate levels.
Watch Augustine and Doctorow's conversation above or read a condensed transcript below.
Akil Augustine (AA): First off, why did you write the book?
Cory Doctorow (CD): So this was my Trump anxiety book. I was working on a novel, which is coming out in October. It's called Attack Surface. It's a very good book too.
AA: Plug. Plug. Plug.
CD: I was working on this book and the news was coming at me fast, as it does. And every time I took a break, I was just being bombarded with headlines. I couldn't figure out whether new things were happening or headline writers were re-pushing the stories I had read yesterday. As a writer, when I'm feeling anxious, I try to make narratives — neat, tidy stories. So I started writing these things absolutely therapeutically. That's how it came about. It was not an intentional book. I did manage to finish the novel on time, too.
AA: I know you sell books. You write books. But what was the goal? When you write something like this, is there something you're trying to achieve?
CD: Sure. So you know I work on all these abstract and technical issues. We should mention the book is four novellas about people taking control of their technology in difficult situations. One's about a refugee, one's about a superhero, one's about a prepper and one's about a dad who watches his wife get cancer that's treatable but the insurance company won't treat it.
AA: That one resonates with a lot of people.
CD: Oh yeah, I hear about that a lot of the time. All of these technical issues that underpin these stories, they're really abstract. They're really complicated and kind of boring, right?
AA: No, they're not.
CD: Well, but the technical issues are.
CD: If I go to you like, well let's talk about circumvention of technical protection measures and whether or not that should be limited to instances in which there's bona fide copyright infringements. Like, zzzzzzz.
AA: But if you tell me, you know you're not going to be able to use your bread or your toaster or your refrigerator...
I want to get people all fired up about things that will eventually be on fire when they're still smoldering.- Cory Doctorow
CD: Yeah, that this is gonna be a means for wealth extraction. If you put the meat on the bones, if you take these dry abstract questions and you turn them into really vivid stories about people living and dying by them, then you not only create a sense of urgency for things that feel like they're a long way away and not very immediate in your life when the world is on fire, but it also means that as these problems become sharper — because if you ignore a problem, it just gets worse — we've got a vocabulary for talking about it.
As we're recording this now in January, there was just this super viral thing on Twitter where this guy bought an HP printer, bought some HP printer cartridges and then a couple of months later he noticed that there's this $4.99 recurring charge on his credit card. He's like, "I'm going to cancel that." He gets an email from HP saying, "You are no longer subscribed to your ink cartridge so it won't work."
AA: That's basically your book. The first story.
CD: I mean, HP has been doing this for like 20 years. This is just the latest mustache-twirling supervillain plan that they've come up with. But everyone who's reading that news article who's also read the story is like, "I understand this now. This isn't just this one isolated incident. This is part of late stage capitalism, right?"
And then when you see the Ford government defeating a private member's bill for a right to repair that would allow independent mechanics to service cars and you see Abbott Labs out in Silicon Valley shutting down independent software to read the data coming off of glucose monitors used by people with diabetes because they claim that data is proprietary — even though it's the data from your blood — then it all starts to become not just a bunch of isolated incidents. This is one issue. This is one fight and I know how this fight ends if we don't fight it well because I read that story. So that's what I'm trying to get at. I want to get people all fired up about things that will eventually be on fire when they're still smoldering, so that we're not all on fire when it's time to deal with them.
- Cory Doctorow on Radicalized, the problem with superheroes and writing speculative fiction in a jaded world
AA: Are you a writer of warnings?
CD: Warnings, but also I want it to be a program for technological self-determination. So it's not just like, "This is going to be terrible." The other half of this is, "This will all be so great if we don't screw it up." When you seize control of the computation around you, when you make the device answer to you instead of pushing you around — the reason we like these things is because they do stuff for us. They free us up from drudgery and allow us to have more authentic relationships with the people around us and to devote ourselves to the things that matter. But when they hijack our attention, when they hijack our pocketbooks, then they do the opposite of what we got them for. I want people not just to be scared of how terrible things might be, but also excited about how great we can make them if the technology becomes something that is under our control.
AA: And that's one of the subtle differences I find between what you've done and the series Black Mirror, which is something that I often compare your book to. It seems like there's a little bit of sprinkling of, "Maybe we don't all die at the end," from you, as opposed to Black Mirror.
I got into technology because I was excited by it, not because I was angry about it.- Cory Doctorow
CD: Sure and Charlie Brooker is really great and that show's amazing.
AA: It's dark.
CD: I got into technology because I was excited by it, not because I was angry about it. And what I'm angry about now is that glorious web that we built with our own hands, that was a billion different websites each of them a little smallholding by someone doing something weird and individual. Now it's like a mall with the same 22 stores and half of them are going out of business. I want to actually live in a world of texture and difference, where we're not all crammed into this one size fits all thing.
CD: And you've got the competitive spirit. I was saying, I went to hippy summer camp where we played co-operative volleyball so there'd be no winners or losers. You actually care about winners and losers in sports and that's your whole thing. You've got the killer instinct.
AA: They would've kicked me out of that camp.
CD: Yeah, maybe.
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