A few years ago Wetmechanic Gary Gray and I interviewed my pal Cory Doctorow, the peripatetic author, hep cat, technogeek, futurephiliac, etc, etc, in the lobby of a hotel in Boston. We podcast the interview (in 3 parts) here on Wetmachine. (I’m too lazy to look for the links now, but you know how to use that search tool.) Anyway, Cory’s a good guy to interview because he has lots and lots of interesting things to say and he’s friendly & good natured. But conversations with Cory are half-duplex. (A term that any ancient geeks reading this post will remember. But for you young’uns I’ll explain: in full duplex communications, both ends of a link can send and receive messages. In half-duplex, one party sends and the other party receives. What I’m saying is that Cory is smart and nice and funny and interesting, but he doesn’t listen to a fucking word you say. (Or, in any event, he doesn’t listen to a fucking word *I* say.))

My favorite part of our conversation is where we’re talking about the costs and benefits of societal change, especially change brought about by technological advances. We’re talking about the possible end of the art form known as “the movie” as we know it today. What if digital duplication and peer-to-peer technologies make it economically infeasible for a studio to invest the sums necessary for a “real” movie like those we’ve become accustomed to for three quarters of a century or so (think: Lord of the Rings)? Cory makes the observation that with the Protestant Reformation came the end of the era of great cathedrals: because of the Reformation, no more grand cathedrals will ever be built. Cathedral-making is an art form that died because it had to die. But in exchange for that lost art, Cory says (I’m paraphrasing from memory), we got the Reformation. And then he asks “Was it worth it?”

If you listen closely, you can hear me responding, “that’s an interesting question.” (I know you’re not going to go find and listen to the podcast, but just pretend, OK?) Indeed, I thought it was a very interesting question. I was actually thinking about the costs, in blood and war and terror and murder and rape and rapine and starvation and hatred and blind tribal ignorance, that came with religious wars that accompanied the Reformation. And I was thinking about the mysterious awe-inspiring beauty of the (admittedly somewhat perverse) art form of the cathedral. And I was wondering, for the first time, what might have happened to the art form of the cathedral if the Reformation had never happened. I’m a technophobic & nostalgic guy, after all. I was thinking, “what if ever more and more beautiful cathedrals had been built?”

For Cory, of course, it was a rhetorical question, not a real question, and the answer was “yes”. Yes, losing the art form of the cathedral was an OK price to pay in exchange for the Reformation. Cory didn’t even hear, much less respond to, to my ambivalent response. He just steamrollered right over it. Of course the trade-off was worth it. Of course the new art forms that arise when old art forms are killed are “worth it”. The emergent art forms will offer new and unanticipated beauty and splendid insights into our human condition. So, he said (paraphrasing again), the old art must die so that that new and even more profound art can emerge.

As my 4 long-time readers might guess, I was skeptical about this. For I am given to worrying all the time about the wanton destruction of culture in the name of a bogus and ephemeral “progress”. I’m very skeptical about “progress.”

But then I saw the video embedded below, which I found on Spocko’s website — (and Spocko, in fact, actually discovered it on Cory’s own site Boing Boing). And now I’m starting to think, “Cory was right.” Not because this video is more beautiful and satisfying than (name your favorite movie (or cathedral)). But because this is a new art form. It’s shocking. It’s breathtaking. But it’s not shocking in the elitist “Épater la bourgeoisie” sense. It’s shocking because it’s so entrancing and fun, while at the same time implicitly raising a thousand deep questions (and I don’t even speak Korean). It’s just so unexpected, so friendly, so welcoming and so beautiful that I really can’t find words to respond to it. Sure, it’s just a little music video, and Lord knows a music video is not a new thing. But for now, tonight, this one feels to me like someting really really big. As big as the Iranian revolution on Twitter; or, more precisely, it’s an artistic exploration of the possibilities implicit in that revolution. And a big part of the reason for that is that it’s so human, so un-Godlike, so small.

UPDATE Below the fold, a minor elaboration.
UPDATE 2 On Ultrasaurus, Sarah Allen blogs about this post. I like what she has to say, and am impressed that she went back and actually listened to the interview.

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Leveraging Law & Order For Cell Phone Jamming.

Ever since the FCC explicitly banned cell phone jammers back in 2005, a company called Cellantenna has been working its little heart out to get Section 333 of the Communications Act declared unconstitutional or otherwise get the FCC to legalize cell phone jammers. (Not surprisingly, CellAntenna hopes to sell cell phone jammers, among other equipment.)

CellAntenna’s latest scheme is to focus on the issue of unauthorized cell phone use by prisoners. I’ll confess, I think the bigger problem is stopping the smuggling in the first place or keeping prisoners under observation so they cannot use cell phones. Or — if I wanted to be real daring — set up detectors and tap into cell phone calls made from prison cells (guards should so not be using their cell phones on duty, so they don’t worry me — set up secure areas where prisoners are not permitted if there is a real issue).

But even assuming a real problem, I don’t see that this gets CellAntenna where it wants to go. If state and federal penitentiaries want to petition the FCC for special permission for a waiver of Section 333, that should not be too difficult. But that’s a rather small market in the grand scheme of things.

Folks hoping for legal cell phone jammers anytime soon should not hold their breath.

Stay tuned . . . .

The Realpolitic of Bits — More of Cory Doctorow’s conversation with Wetmachine

As mentioned here, Cory Doctorow (“world’s most wired human” etc), recently spent an hour talking with me and wetmechanic Gary Gray. In part two of our talk you’ll hear Cory say, “what the mafia likes is high-margin goods” and “there is no more thankless job in the world than being the Pecksniff who tells people that what they want is bad.” He also waxes eloquent on: cathedrals after the Reformation: the collapse and possible restoration of the serendipitous market for books: the making of films suited to the economics of the internet, and more.

You’ll also get to hear me mumbling, muttering, interrupting myself, and being generally inaudible but nevertheless somehow compelling. As a bonus, Wetmachine fanboys and -girls (I know you’re out there!) who play close attention will even hear the legendary Gary making an observation about movies and symphonic music!

The book that I recommended to Cory was Illicit by Moises Naim. When I was referring to my own books, which you can find by looking to the left side of this entry, Acts of the Apostles is the first, more accessible book, and Cheap Complex Devices is the less accessible one that I wrote special just for you smart people. The book I have under development is called The Pains, and you’ll be hearing more about it soon.



Today was my boss’s last day, and, ironically, my first anniversary. Julian Lombardi will be Duke’s Assistant Vice President for Academic Services and Technology Support. He’ll be responsible for the university’s IT customer service and development.

They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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