How To Survive The Next Depression, With Cory DoctorowS

If you're jonesing for some whimsical outlaw techie culture in your life - and who isn't? - then you need to start reading Cory Doctorow's new novel Makers, which is being serialized pre-publication on

I was lucky enough to score an early copy of Makers from Cory a few months ago, and it's a fun, smart thought experiment that basically asks the question: What if the people who read MAKE: magazine became activists who wanted to subvert more than licensing agreements? In a near future of economic collapse, unemployed hardware hackers start setting up guerrilla amusement park rides and making the good kind of trouble that earns people a little more freedom. And of course, sinister representatives from major entertainment corporations are hot on their tails . . .

Here's an excerpt from today's chunk, only the third out of 81. I love this speech, from one of the makers in the book, because it's a perfect blend of engineering nerdery and declaration of independence. The engineer Perry is explaining to his friend why he makes weird robots:

"It's like this: engineering is all about constraint. Given a span of foo feet and materials of tensile strength of bar, build a bridge that doesn't go all fubared. Write a fun video-game for an eight-bit console that'll fit in 32K. Build the fastest airplane, or the one with the largest carrying capacity... But these days, there's not much traditional constraint. I've got the engineer's most dangerous luxury: plenty. All the computational cycles I'll ever need. Easy and rapid prototyping. Precision tools.

"Now, it may be that there are is a suite of tasks lurking in potentia that demand all this resource and more-maybe I'm like some locomotive engineer declaring that 60 miles per hour is the pinnacle of machine velocity, that speed is cracked. But I don't see many of those problems-none that interest me.

"What I've got here are my own constraints. I'm challenging myself, using found objects and making stuff that throws all this computational capacity at, you know, these trivial problems, like car-driving Elmo clusters and seashell toaster-robots. We have so much capacity that the trivia expands to fill it. And all that capacity is junk-capacity, it's leftovers. There's enough computational capacity in a junkyard to launch a space-program, and that's by design. Remember the iPod? Why do you think it was so prone to scratching and going all gunky after a year in your pocket? Why would Apple build a handheld technology out of materials that turned to shit if you looked at them cross-eyed? It's because the iPod was only meant to last a year!"

There's an implicit critique of planned obsolescence here, as if the way something is engineered has a social meaning (which it does!). Making something that lasts is simply more socially beneficial than making something that bricks in 10 months.

Once again, Cory is at his best when sussing out the hidden social meanings in our technology, and bringing to life the hackers who challenge a system devoted to bad engineering.

Now you have lunchtime reading for the next few months!

via (also, a friendly maker reading the book has created special feed just for the novel, which you can subscribe to here).

Illustration by IdiotsBooks.