Sunday, January 24, 2010

I Want To Be A Maker: Ambivalence (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third in a series of three posts in response to Cory Doctorow's new novel, "Makers," available online for free, for hard copy purchase, or as an audiobook.


Innovation and progress in the face of Nostalgia isn't easy. Navigating uncharted territory is scary, and the book's epilogue sums this up nicely. Lester's mechanical computer and his and Perry's love of their baseball gloves shows that while clearly pioneers of the future, they are still on some level connected to the past. In their old age, this connection-- nostalgia-- holds their friendship together. When they go to the kitschy diner in L.A., Lester asks to sit at Orson Welles' table. "I like this place," Lester says to Perry, "Celebrities who usually eat out in some ultrmodern place come here. They come because they've always come-- to sit in Orson Welles' booth" (p. 405). Orson Welles, one of the greatest storytellers of the modern age is the link that holds humans together through story; through nostalgia.

For Lester, especially, progress is dangerous. It turns out that the bioengineered fatkins alterations that made the world's obese into sex-crazed bodybuilders ended up unsustainable. Most fatkins have died and the few that survive are on strict diets as their bodies eat themselves away. Lester's foray into the future of biological alterations-- leaving
behind the nostalgia for how bodies naturally process food-- was his destruction in the end. "How'd we get so screwed up?" Lester asks Suzanne (p. 411). "We're not screwed up," she responds,
"We're just people who want to do things, big things. Any time you want to make a difference, you face the possibility that you'll, you know, make a difference. It's a consequence of doing things with consequences."
For Suzanne, the risk of progress is worth it, even if it is at the expense of your self.

At the end of the book, Lester and Perry's final invention are robots that play catch with a baseball and vintage baseball gloves. Every few throws, a robot misses and the hard baseball smacks into the anthropomorphic bots, loosening their bolts and gears each time. "It is now officially a feature, not a bug," Perry proudly explains (p. 415). The flaws are built into the system to allow for future systems, a cunning acknowledgment that relying on nostalgia cannot sustain itself for very long. Entropy must exist to allow space for progress to evolve.

After all, doesn't that hold true for much of what we encounter in our lifetimes? Political systems, relationships, interests, careers, inventions-- it all exists in an ebb and flow, a stability->chaos->death->rebirth->stability cycle which we can accept or reject, ride or resist.

We are all change-surfers in some way, and our agency to ride the waves how we want is what gives us our humanity in the digital age.

Baseball glove image by
Robot image by

Part 1: Nostalgia
Part 2: Stories
Part 3: Ambivalence (this post)

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