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Matter Duplicators

The following is a Forward, written by Neil Gaiman for the book, “Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free” by Cory Doctorow. GoodreadsAmazon


From “Business as Usual, During Alterations,”
by Ralf Williams (Astounding Science Fiction, 1958)
George shook his head slowly. “You’re wrong, John. Not back to where we were. This morning, we had an economy of scarcity. Tonight, we have an economy of abundance. This morning, we had a money economy—it was a money economy, even if credit was important. Tonight, it’s a credit economy, one hundred percent. This morning, you and the lieutenant were selling standardization. Tonight, it’s diversity. The whole framework of our society is flipped upside down.” He frowned uncertainly.
“And yet, you’re right, too. It doesn’t seem to make much difference. It’s still the same old rat race. I don’t understand it.”

I bought a box of SF pulps when I was in my late teens from one of my father’s friends, who kept them in the garage. English editions of Astounding Science Fiction, for the most part. Stories written by authors whose names I barely recognized, despite being a science-fiction reader from about as soon as I could read.

I paid more than I could afford for them.

I suspect that one story paid for all of them, though.

It’s a thought experiment. Until recently I’d forgotten the opening of the story (aliens decide to Mess With Us) but remembered what happened after that.

We’re in a department store. And someone drops off two matter duplicators. They have pans. You put something in pan one, press a button, and its exact duplicate appears in pan two.

We spend a day in the department store as they sell everything they have as cheaply as possible, duplicating things with the matter duplicator, making what they can on each sale, and using checks and credit cards, not cash (you can now perfectly duplicate cash—which obviously is no longer legal tender). Toward the end they stop and take stock of the new world waiting for them, and realize that all the rules have changed, but craftsmen and engineers are more necessary than ever.

They realize that companies won’t be manufacturing millions of identical things, but will need to make hundreds, perhaps thousands, of slightly different things. That their stores will be showrooms for things, and stockrooms will be history. That there will now be fundamental changes in 1950s-style retailing—including, to use a phrase that turned up well after 1958, a long tail.

Being Astounding Science Fiction, the story contains the moral of 95 percent of Astounding Science Fiction stories, which could perhaps be reduced to: people are smart. We’ll cope.

When my friends who were musicians first started complaining sadly about people stealing their music on Napster, back in the 1990s, I told them about the story of the duplicator machines. (I could not remember the name of the story or the author. It was not until I agreed to write this foreword that I asked a friend, via email, and found myself, a Google later, re-reading it for the first time in decades.)

It seemed to me that copying music was not stealing. It was something else. It was the duplicator machine story: you were pressing a button and an object appeared in the pan. Which meant, I suspected, that music-as-object (CD, vinyl, cassette tape) was going to lose value, and that other things—mostly things that could not be reproduced, things like live shows and personal contact—would increase in value.

I remembered what Charles Dickens did, a hundred and fifty years before, when copyright laws meant that his copyrights were worth nothing in the U.S.: he was widely read, but he was not making any money from it. So he took the piracy as advertising, and toured the U.S. in theaters, reading from his books. He made money, and he saw America.

So I started doing Evenings with Neil Gaiman as fund-raisers for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and learning how to do that—how to make an evening interesting for an audience, with just me and a stage and things I’d written, partly because it seemed to me that one day it might not be as easy to make money from selling stories in the traditional way, but that business might still continue more or less as usual, during the alterations, if there were other things I could do.

And so as the nature of music-selling changed utterly and fundamentally, I just stood and watched and nodded. Now the nature of book publishing is changing, and the only people who claim to know what the landscape of publishing will look like a decade from now are either fools or deluding themselves. Some people think the sky is falling, and I do not entirely blame them.

I never worried that the world was ending, because as a teen I’d read a thought experiment in an SF pulp published two years before I was born. It stretched my head.

I know that the view is going to be very different in the future, that authors are going to get their money from different places. I am certain that not all authors can be Charles Dickens, and that many of us became authors in order to avoid getting up on stages in the first place, and that it’s not a solution for everybody or even for most of us.

Fortunately, Cory Doctorow has written this book. It’s filled with wisdom and with thought experiments and with things that will mess with your mind. Once, while we were arguing, Cory came up with an analogy that explained the world we were heading into in terms of mammals and dandelions, and I’ve never seen anything quite the same way since.

Mammals, he said, and I paraphrase here and do not put it as well as Cory did, invest a great deal of time and energy in their young, in the pregnancy, in raising them. Dandelions just let their seeds go to the wind, and do not mourn the seeds that do not make it. Until now, creating intellectual content for payment has been a mammalian idea. Now it’s time for creators to accept that we are becoming dandelions.

The world is not ending. Not if, as Astounding Science Fiction used to suggest, humans are bright enough to think our way out of the problems we think ourselves into.

I suspect that the next generation to come along will puzzle over our agonies, much as I puzzled over the death of the Victorian music halls as a child, and much as I felt sorry for the performers who had needed only thirteen minutes of material in their whole life, and who did their thirteen minutes in town after town until the day that television came along and killed it all.

In the meanwhile, it’s business as usual, during alterations.


Another excerpt: NPR.org
GoodreadsAmazon

Free Speech isn’t a protest

I believe that political discourse should always exist – if not for myself, at least for the population at large. Personally, I think politics is quite pointless. We are powerless to actually change anything. At best, we can put our email address on an online petition. I’m not sure how far that really goes.

Aside:
I’m also aware that this is a toxic trend of feeling jaded or apathetic, which isn’t doing anything to further politics. I’m actually quite interested to see what politics will look like 20 years from now. I wonder if a lot of the baggage we see in the system now will be gradually carried over, or if there’s such a thing as a clean slate with new generations of leaders.

In common life, we use politics as a basis to argue with each other; and it goes no deeper than that. Politics is a common topic that people within borders can talk about, and it’s very easy to have an opinion. Clearly mine are very liberal, but that’s probably just because of the media I’m exposed to and where/how I was raised. The same goes for you.

Back to the point!

I think “free speech” is too often a political term. It shouldn’t be. We only hear about free speech when it’s referring to the suppression of protest or differing opinions. Sometimes it’s used as an argument to defend hateful speech. In any case, free speech is discussed and fought for only when threatened.

That’s like talking about lights only in the context of darkness. If we did that, lightbulbs would trigger an underlying emotion of danger. Lightbulbs are meant to combat darkness, and the danger that darkness can foster.

If we talked about light in that way, yes we might make some excellent progress toward having well-lit streets and making people feel safer at night. What’s not being discussed? Laser shows! Holograms. Movies. Neon signs. Light shows. Fireworks. Those cool bedside lamps that simulate the sun and wake you up ever-so-scientifically.

What if that’s what we’re doing to the idea of free speech?

Yes, free speech means that people should be allowed to communicate even the most dissident opinions. [Insert my political bias: Honestly, if you’re a body of power and you’re afraid of dissident opinions, then clearly your model of operation isn’t that sturdy.] Free speech should also be encouraged for no particular motive other than to hear people’s thoughts!

Human beings, like all organisms, are born, they mature, reproduce, care for their offspring, and die. Unlike all organisms, humans can externalize the little neural thunderstorms that happen all the time: ideas. We form concepts from observing patterns. We make decisions. We learn. We teach.

My meandering point:

Communication is what makes us human.

Typically we do a very good job of doing this. We have a hard time not doing this. Communication always happens in our homes, our closest circles. As I just wrote in the post prior to this one, I think we need to expand this outward. We’re in a lazy habit (I’m guilty too) of simply consuming things.

We confuse the internet with our TVs and Radio. (Yes, radio is dead, but the model is not.)

I’m glad that the internet can facilitate high-quality entertainment that we’re used to getting on the TV, but we don’t need to fall in line with that type of experience only.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I want to bring back the era of “your shitty blog.” Who cares if no one reads it? The act of writing helps you communicate better in other domains as well! Blogs, chat rooms (hey Slack!), and rambling tweets.

Do it.

Do it more.

Bonus

When you see something that you really feel like hitting the RT/Share/Reblog button on, take a pause. Go ahead and share it if it encapsulates something really well that you want people to know about, but also, follow that up with a tweet or post of your own.

Why did you hit the share button?
What does it make you feel?

That’s where you can inject a bit of yourself into the internet. Don’t just do it in a comment field. 

Your thoughts deserve to live on their own.

Observations

An observation and its moment are equally unique. Language is a time capsule for observations.

I’ve felt very awake in my awareness of new observations. Most preciously, I heard feedback about who I am at work. My advisor shared with me a collection of peer observations.

I am always ready to defend my idea of myself. Seeing how rare it is to have considered observations about myself from those I respect, I forced my guard down. I listened.

Later the same week, I happened upon a composer. I heard an inspiration and felt again nostalgia of the unknown. Ryuichi Sakamoto somehow introduces me to the past and carries a limp trail of the future with each phrase.

Each musical sentence is brief. I can imagine each bit standing alone in conclusion. Yet each turn is a natural extension. Most valuable to me: the space between is where my mind wanders.

Putting my observation into language is slowing down the experience. Music and reading and watching are all conversations. The spaces in the moment you craft is where the exchange between the observer and the moment happens. The music, book, video, pastoral view will not respond to me. But the following moment will be different after the space between allows me to wander.

His solo piano feels like Eric Satie, which in a direct way, inspires me to play piano again. The nostalgia is for being in Japan, and the many parts of my life when I watched a touching movie or show from Japan. These descriptions are failing my visceral mash of memory.

Finally picking up a book has added another feature of inspiration to my week. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a self-evident title. I don’t expect to be enthralled with an academic book. I’m absorbed in it, and I no longer believe it’s “academic.” It’s a fascinating treatise on cutting the fat. Say what you say, while respecting the reader.

I’m certain that all of the above reads awkwardly. I’m doing things differently.

I’m trying short sentences. I’m trying to say everything. I think the idea of a short sentence is not to force it to a certain length,
but to remove every bit until you can remove no more.

Like a beginner, I see myself mimicking the author’s style. I’ll soon find room for his advice and my voice in the same sentence.

What you don’t know about writing is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to grasp.
Try to discern the shape of what you don’t know and why you don’t know it,
Whenever you get a glimpse of your ignorance.
Don’t fear it or be embarrassed by it.
Acknowledge it.
What you don’t know and why you don’t know it are information too.
Verlyn Klinkenborg (more excerpts)

I’ll leave you here. It feels good to be inspired again.
It’s amazing to have three inspirations at once!

Design Career Inspiration

I recently watched a documentary about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli called The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness1. It’s a beautiful movie, and I recommend everyone who has a career of “making things” watch this. No, you don’t have to be familiar with his films, but it may be more interesting if you watch The Wind Rises2 beforehand.

I found myself pausing this movie to write down a few quotes that really struck me. This also happened within the context of a weekend where I happened to be reading a design publication that got me thinking about my own work. The design magazine was, of course, more explicitly focused on my own industry and happened to call out one of my major qualms with working at design agencies in general: they exist to serve big corporations, but the employees within are always dreaming about smaller, more beautiful things they could build.

A photo posted by Rob Brogan (@robrogan) on

As seems to be the theme for me this last year, I find myself in an adolescence of design where I’m of course working (I’m an Interaction Designer) but I feel there’s little control over what I work on (projects come from the company of course), and I don’t exactly know what I’d ideally work on. Some inspiration that came out of this documentary was that (1) doing good work, work that you want to be a part of is of utmost importance, and (2) the people you do this with are very important.

Toshio Suzuki, Producer, Studio Ghibli —

I’ll say this, based on my experience. In your work, obviously, you’ll meet many people. But ultimately, it’s about who you work with. Only those who choose the right people to work with will be able to do the work they want.

I understand they go hand-in-hand, but thus far I haven’t found the two to overlap in one place. I guess that’s what I need to be more aware of, and always seeking out.

Hayao Miyazaki, Establishing Studio Ghibli —

We’re going to build a three-story studio […] Basically, our foremost objective here is making good films. No guarantees of lifetime employment here.
But companies are just conduits for money. Its success isn’t our priority. What’s important is that you’re doing what you want, and that you’re gaining skills.
If Ghibli ceases to appeal to you, then just quit. Because I’ll do the same.


1. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness IMDB | Trailer
2. The Wind Rises IMDB | Trailer
Bonus: The Wind Rises Soundtrack: Stream