Dystopian novels of the future weigh down our bookshelves, and adaptations of those same stories increasingly dominate our cinemas. But in Walkaway (Tor), visionary technologist and New York Times bestselling author Cory Doctorow presents a different take on the world to come—one that suggests those more nihilistic visions of the future are wrong.
“Our theory about what people will do in disasters has been propagated by a lot of narrative that takes the lazy shortcut of ‘oh, my dramatic tension will come from the fact that as soon as something goes wrong, your neighbors will come over to eat you!’”
And yet history (the San Francisco earthquake, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina) is full of examples to the contrary. “I’m reminded of friends of mine in New York during the blackouts, who experienced such amazing amounts of kindness from strangers.” There is, Doctorow notes, a scientific, neurological basis behind this behavior: the human neocortex, the literal “new bark around our brains,” developed—and is largely concerned with—finding ways to form social relationships with others, i.e., with networking.
And technology—specifically, the internet—has facilitated those kinds of relationships, enabling us to network in ways that produce projects of staggering complexity, all at a minimal cost.
“Today we build encyclopedias and operating systems with the kind of organizational overhead we used to devote to running a school bake sale,” Doctorow says. “It’s amazing to think how little institutional overhead is needed to do really ambitious things.” Walkaway can be thought of as applying that trend to wider issues of governance. “Imagine a country that worked like that. Imagine a government that worked like that!”
Doctorow’s novel presents a version of that world, a world where everything that you want, everything that you need, exists somewhere and is routed to you with such efficiency that it almost feels like magic. “It’s something that’s in our grasp.... I think if the novel resonates with people, but they don’t why, it will have a lot to do with this idea.”
Today, 4:15–5 p.m. Cory Doctorow will be in the Autographing Area.