Cory Doctorow and the Robot

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Today I had the great pleasure of attending the live recording session of the Copper Robot Podcast, hosted by Mitch Wagner. The guest was the one and only Cory Doctorow, voice of freedom, innovation and sensibility in the 21st century.

If you don't know who Cory is, you should. He's an award-winning Science Fiction author and also the editor of Boing Boing, one of the biggest websites on the web today. My man-crush derives neither from Boing Boing nor Cory's excellent Science Fiction adventures, but instead from his tireless efforts to save humanity from digital rights enslavement. Every day Cory explains to all who will listen the paradoxes and trap-doors we seem to be falling into as we gradually tie up all intellectual property with overzealous control regimes.

In spite of the event taking place at a very odd hour for SL events (causing Mitch to rise from slumber far earlier than he biologically should) the attendance was massive. Many SL notables were present, including Simone Stern, Stroker Serpentine, Pete Linden, Pavig Lok, CallieDel Boa, Ordinal Malaprop, Hiro Pendragon, Joshua Fouts, Eureka Dejavu, Mo Hax, Opensource Obscure, Pardox Olbers, Fleep Tuque, Lotte Linden and countless others.

Cory spoke for just over an hour before real life re-absorbed his virtual presence. But we did get a chance to ask a few questions, and he promised to return next year to do a questions-only show. Above Haley and I speak with Cory and the Copper Robot. (The Robot is on the Left.)

Cory described how he came to be editor of Boing Boing (as a temporary fill-in while the original editor took off on vacation, and ended up being a full time gig). He lives mostly in Europe these days, causing various timezone shenanigans with his normal Boing Boing editing cycle. The significant result of EuroCory is that Boing Boing posts are more analytical/follow-up instead of breaking news.

Cory described issues that arise when you're running a truly big-ass website like Boing Boing. As you might expect, he receives numerous comments regarding content, often including requests not to write about totally innocuous topics. He's mystified why people don't simply read another website - it's not like there's a shortage of things to browse. Some people just like to complain, I suppose.

Cory spoke about different methods of kick-starting the economy by leveraging radical business approaches. For example, he proposes to liquidate non-functional industrial-age operations to free up capital, then redistribute the capital to entrepreneurs who can, for example, take over empty malls and invent new businesses. However, radical also means politically challenging. Who knows if Cory's fascinating ideas will become reality? I deeply appreciate his explorations into new business models because we desperately need some in this new century.

Cory believes the software sector has been vastly expanded through the use of free (open source) software. He described a free software "substrate" that permits many more people to participate in the construction of software that would not otherwise have been able to do so. Many SL programmers would no doubt agree with this, having used open source software for most of their careers.

One of the discussion topics was the notion of change. Today's education has the unfortunate assumption that things stay the same. In other words, the things you're taught when you're 14 are simply not going to be there when you graduate. And that's just the start of it - things keep changing. Cory himself claimed to have had multiple careers during his lifetime. You must change, and to change you must take risks and be able to learn as you travel through life. There is no job for life, other than constant learning.

Cory spoke of the Hacker Ethic, which is an unconscious urge within all of us to rework the world to better meet our needs. The software substrate, accompanied with the speed of the Internet has permitted this urge to be fulfilled for almost anyone who desires. Cory calls it, "The Golden Age of Hacking". It's what causes creators to create, and is the ultimate engine that drove the creation of the world known as Second Life.


Peter Stindberg said...

BoingBoing (and Cory) is actually what brought me into SL. Back then in late 2005/2006 there was quite some coverage of SL on BoingBoing, especially focusing on events (music, lectures). When I first looked at SL the mandatory fee was an obstocale for me, but later in 2006 only giving CC details was enough so finally I signed up.

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