Author Cory Doctorow Talks Tech, Trotsky, What He's Reading, and Why He's Giving Away His Books For Free

Categories: Literary

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Are you for the increase in technology and the risks that it brings us along with the perks and perceived advantages?

Well let's start by saying technology is a fact, so even if it's a bad thing we're not getting rid of it. But I think on balance, technology is a good thing and I think it's a good thing not least because it makes it much easier for us to form groups and work together.

When I was an activist in the 1980s, the majority of my work -- 98 percent of my work --was stuffing envelopes, writing addresses and putting stamps on them, and 2 percent was figuring out what to put in the envelopes. And with the internet, you get all the envelopes and the stamps for free, and that leaves you with a lot of time to do everything else. That's a net benefit. The rich and powerful have always had the ability to buy organization. What the internet does is lower the cost of organization so that everyday people can make use of it. The fact that technology also makes it easier for us to be spied upon, isn't an inherent fact of technology, it's how its been designed. And we can demand better designs from it.

Do you think the future of privacy with technology looks pretty bleak, or do you think it will change and people will start demanding more privacy and more protection?

Well, I'm an activist, which means that I have to on the one hand, believe that things will get worse if they don't change, but on the other hand believe that things can change if people demand better. So it's both. If we don't do our job, if the world isn't alarmed to the potential risks, and doesn't demand better, then things will get worse.

You know, privacy and a lot of these other problems, they're like many other public health problems like obesity or smoking, in that the real problem with them is that the action and the consequence are separated by a lot of time and space. It's hard to get to good at things if you don't get immediate feedback. Nobody would smoke if every puff made a tumor sprout, but the fact that the tumors appear 70 years later makes it really hard to learn from your mistakes. Privacy is another one of those. We make privacy disclosures now, and years later they come back and bite us in the butt. Well it's very hard to get better at things when there's that much time and space between them. Imagine trying to get better at baseball, if you swung the bat, but you only find out whether or not you hit say a month after the fact. It doesn't work.


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