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An Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/07/15


Cory Doctorow is an Activist, Blogger, Journalist, and Science Fiction Writer. He discusses: philosophies appealing to him; a good grasp of the near future or lack thereof; Participatory Culture Foundation; the Clarion Foundation; the Metabrainz Foundation; The Glenn Gould Foundation; Alice Taylor and their love story; marriage and its change for personal perspective; Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow; three biggest changes in the next 50 years; timeline for the modification of more than half the human population; and the potential for the levelling off the accelerating technological changes.

Keywords: activist, Cory Efram Doctorow, journalist, science fiction, writer.

Interview with Cory Efram Doctorow: Blogger, Journalist, and Science Fiction Writer (Part Two)[1],[2],[3]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview. *

*This interview was conducted in two parts with the first on April 12, 2016 and the second on July 1, 2016. *

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What philosophies appeal the most to you – general, political, social, economic, aesthetic?

[Laughing] Gosh. You mean like logical positivism or utilitarianism, or whatever? I do not know. I do not know that I have a main, core general philosophy that I think is best., politically, I favor evidence-based policy, but you still have to ask yourself evidence in support of what. Is it utilitarianism? I do not know. I do not know that I have a name for it. There are elements of anarcho-syndicalism and Marxism that I find compelling.

A book that had a huge impression on me this year was a book called Austerity ecology, and the collapse-porn addicts. It was a Marxist critique of the Green Left, which squared a lot of circles for me because I am a believer in material culture, and an enjoyer of material culture. I think physical things are cool, and I like them, and they bring me pleasure, and beautiful things bring me pleasure. The Green Left has conflated anti-consumerism with anti-materialism.

Leigh Philipps’ idea is that I do not need to step back from material abundance into a material austerity in order to save the planet, who’s name I am blanking on. He talks about how high technology and its material abundance are the only way we can imagine both accommodating the human population as it is and what is will become, and the Earth. That organic farming is code for let’s kill 3 billion people, and still not have enough food for everybody. It is only through GMO and nuclear power, and the Left has historically been the movement for material abundance for all.

The Left’s critique of the wealth of the rich was not that the rich had too much, but rather everyone else had too little. The Marxist left, viewed the capitalist system for improving material efficiency in material production so that the material abundance could be realized for all. And he makes many great little easily conveyable points like: “Capitalism and markets — because they favor firms that have lower costs — have radically reduced the material and energy-inputs into our physical goods, and continue to do so with virtually no end in sight.”

The downside of something like Uber or self-driving cars in a market economy is that all of the dividends of increased productivity and automation accrue to the forces of capital, but that’s an economic phenomenon and not a technological one. The upside is that we are getting more people to more places and more comfort with less environmental consequences, and that if we can solve the labor side what you end up with is an enormous benefit to everybody. And solving the labour side is an economic question that relies or presumes that the technological side is allowed to go on. He also notes that Walmart and Amazon of how non-market forces can be used to allocate resources extremely efficiently. These are not internal market places. They are command and control market places.

That nevertheless manage to move material products from one place to another very, efficiently, and so I guess I am a post-Green leftist. And I guess my view is that technology humanity’s servant and not its master but that it takes a political world for that to be the case. I do not know if that makes sense. It is the intersection of all of these other things. I think the two-dimensional left-right diagram or chart, graph, is insufficient. I think you need a right-left, centralist-decentralist, technology-anti-technology, material-spiritual, multidimensional shape to plot political ideology or life ideology correctly.

I am a believer in self-determination, but I am also a believer in collective work and collectivism, and particularly in the same way that being gifted privileges a certain cognitive style or certain intellect without regard to any objective criteria for what is the best intellect. I think that the idea of meritocracy is a self-serving, self-delusion. That meritocracy starts from the presumption that you can get rid of all the people whose skills are possessed by lots of people and take the people whose skills are more rarely distributed in the general population and that those people can have a perfectly good life,

The reality is that it does not matter how excellent you are at being a nuclear physicist or a brain surgeon,

If you are someone cleaning the toilets, you are going to die of cholera. I am skeptical of the meritocratic story, and, again, I do not know exactly what you would call that political philosophy. Egalitarianism? Not because I think we are all different. I do not know. Humanism? I am an atheist and a materialist. I am a believer in Enlightenment methodologies. I am a believer in the scientific method. And the idea that our own cognitive processes are subject to delusion and self-delusion. That self-delusion is particularly pernicious problem for our cognitive apparatus and only by subjecting ourselves to adversarial peer review can we figure out what is true or not or whether we are kidding ourselves. I do not know what you call that philosophy.

2. Who besides you might have the best grasp of the near future?

I do not think I have any real grasp of the near future. I think science fiction writers are Texan marksman. We fire a shot out there and then draw a target around the place where the pellets hit. Science fiction makes a lot of predictions, and if none of them came true that would be remarkable, but that does not mean we are any better than a random number generator. I think that the near future – the way to find out about the present anyways, which is the moving wave front in which the past becomes the near future – is to look at all of those futuristic stories that we are telling that represents the futures that may be, and find the ones that are resonating in the popular imaginations, and that tells you about the subconscious fears and aspirations lurking in the public.

I think that the reason that Millennials who were literally not born when Terminator and The Matrix came out are still talking about the Red Pill and Skynet because the idea of transhuman, immortal life forms that treat us as inconvenient gut flora is fantastically resonant in an era when the limited liability corporation has become the dominant structure for guiding our society. In the same way that Frankenstein had its popularity in England tells you an awful lot about the aspirations and fears of technology becoming our master instead of our servitor of the people that read it and watched it on the stage at that time. I do not think anyone is good at the near future, but I think the keen observer is the one who acknowledges that and instead of predictions tends to observations about what’s popular.

3. You serve on the boards of the Participatory Culture Foundation, the Clarion Foundation, the Metabrainz Foundation, and The Glenn Gould Foundation. Let’s run the foundations in order: why the Participatory Culture Foundation? What does it do?

Participatory Culture Foundation is an umbrella under which a group of now not-so-young, but then young, activists that I, liked and continue to like and admire were doing a bunch of projects. They started off as an activists group called downhill battle. It was founded by the music industry’s attempts to regulate the internet and have gone on a wide variety of projects. And they created 501(c)3 in order to have an umbrella to do fundraising through, and to organize their projects, and asked the people who have advised them over the years to join the 501(c)3 board as a brain trust, which I was happy to do.

4. Why the Clarion Foundation? What does it do?

The Clarion Foundation overseas the Clarion writing workshop, which is the workshop I went to when I went to Michigan State. It was formative in my own writing career, and I teach it every couple of years. When the Michigan system was defunded by their state level government and Clarion lost its home at MSU, and started seeking new accommodation, it restructured as a 501(c)3 and asked me if I would join the board. I joined to be their technological know-how person. Arts organizations are a little short on technological prowess. Since then, I have filled that role and done some fundraising for them. I do teach at Clarion every couple of years. I am working out the logistics for teaching in summer 2017 with my family now.

5. Why the Metabrainz Foundation? What does it do?

Metabrainz Foundation overseas something called Metabrainz, which is a metadata system for music that’s open. It was founded in the wake of a now-forgotten scandal. There was something called CDDB or CD Database. The way that it works is that every time you stuck a CD in your computer. You would be prompted to key in the track listing for it. That would go into CDDB, which was organized as an informal project. And then a company called GraceNote took the project over, and made that database proprietary for access to it and freezing out new media players, and you may have noticed that the market for media players has all but vanished in the wake of that – in part because of other phenomena to do with lock-in and platform strategies.

But also, in part, because that metadata resource that made music sortable and playable was cut off. That the commons had been enclosed, and Metabrainz is formed to create an open repository of metadata that was user generated and crowdsourced, and to lock that open in the bylaws of the (c)3 so that it could never be enclosed, so that people would have the ability and the confidence to contribute to the project knowing that it would never be enclosed. It has been successful since and has built a database whose metadata is reliable in ways that GraceNote and other databases have never been, and can be accessed with audio fingerprinting algorithms to automatically generate trackless things and other information.

It is a good example of information politics. How political structures, and how economic structures, and how data handling practices can lock services open and make sure that you can have new entrants and new competitors as opposed to locking them closed and pulling up the ladder behind someone who was scrappy a couple years ago and has now developed as a player.

6. Why The Glenn Gould Foundation? What does it do?

That’s one of the ones that lies largely dormant. Gould died without any heirs. Glenn Gould was obviously this famous pianist, and they started an arts foundation and put on a conference that attracted some great talent, but, unfortunately, no audience. There were 80 performers and maybe 60 tickets sold. And they asked me if I would join the board, and I did. Then, they said, “If we have any secure events, we will contact you as a support member.” As far as I know, they haven’t done that.

7. You married Alice Taylor. How did this love story begin and develop into the present?

We met when I was working for Electronic Frontier Fund (EFF). I attended a meeting in Finland that was organized by Tim O’Reilly and Joe Eigo and Marko Ahtisaari (son of the former Prime Minister in Finland). It was called the Social Software Summit. I was at the time a smoker, as was Alice. I came in from San Francisco and had a carton of duty-free cigarettes with me, which we proceeded to smoke together over the course of the conference. It was mid-Summer and the Sun never set. We sat on the roof of the hotel bar. This 12-story hotel in the middle of Helsinki. It is the tallest building in Helsinki. It was KGB headquarters during the occupation.

We stayed up all night. It was romantic, and it kindled a long-distance love affair, which was less doomed than other long-distance love affairs might have been because I was already planning to take this job as European Director at the EFF, which would have me relocating to London. And about six months later, I moved to London and we took up the relationship in person and moved in together about a year later, and had a baby together in 2008, and got married later that year, and are still together to this day.

8. How does marriage change personal perspective on life and its progression?

Well, I guess it forces you to, especially coupled with parenthood, take account of the priorities of other people. When you decide that you’re going to set aside your own pleasure activity or downtime for personal development time to achieve professional goal, suddenly, that decision gets a lot harder. You have to take account of other people’s priorities. I think it makes you more empathic and better at taking other people’s point of view. I think it is required that you be more empathic about other people’s complaints about you. Of course, you have a best friend and sounding board from someone who keeps you intellectually honest who is always there, and I think that makes you more rigorous and smarter, too.

9. On February 3, 2008, Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow came into the world with Alice Taylor and Cory Doctorow as her new parents. How does parenting change personal perspective?

I think it makes you have more of a stake in the future. I certainly have always thought that it will be terrible for people who come after me if our worst mistakes go on unchecked, but now there is a much more personal and emotional element to it. It also makes you, I think, a lot more cognizant of the suits and nuts of cognitive development. Having lived through your own cognitive development gives you a certain amount of perspective on how people think and how other people think, and how you often thought, and how you changed, but parenthood makes you confront it on a daily basis as an actual project with consequences.

You need to figure out how to get another human being who lacks your experience, but isn’t dumb by any means to agree to do the things that are the right things to do including acquiring knowledge and experience and context and the ability to put it all together. That is a humbling thing, and that is a continuous challenge, but it is also exciting and rewarding. I also think, at least for me, it eliminated my ability to be objective or to emotionally distance myself from the peril or consequences of children who suffer. And so that is in movies and books, where I find it intolerable now, when children are used as plot devices. Not intolerable intellectually, but emotionally, and having strong emotional reaction to the plight of children who are badly off.

The refugees today. I have always worried about the refugee issues, but there is new dimension when you think of a parent in that situation at least for me. That I was not or never had before I was a parent. I am only 8 years in. There is only more to come. I am sure.

10. What seem like the three biggest changes in the next 50 years without appropriate international preparation?

With that caveat that science fiction writers suck at predicting the future, I think that climate change is on its way, and we have already released so much carbon into the atmosphere that there will be catastrophic effects felt as a result – regardless of what we do. And so our arguments now or challenge now is to see the cataclysmic consequences of that early carbon release and take motivation from it to do something about it before subsequent carbon releases some along that do even worse damage to the planet and to us, and to the living things that we care about.

I think that there is a similar thing happening in our information ecology. That we’ve had 25 or 30 years of surveillance capitalism and mass data gathering on us, and I think the leaking of all that data is more or less a foregone conclusion. Anything that you collect is likely to leak, and I think that given that breaches are cumulative in their harm. That having a little bit of information of you leaked is bad, but it can be pieced together with the next little bit of information so that it can be significantly worse, and so on and so on.

So what we are not arguing about is not whether or not all of that data is going to leak and we are all going to feel the consequences of it, but if we are going to learn from it early enough to not collect too much more information in much more detail from many more sources as computers disappear into our skin and as we put our bodies into computers more often, as our houses we live in and our hospitals have computers that we put people into and so on. So, I think both of these are related issues as they deal with long-term consequences and immediate short-term benefits.

And problems with markets and marketability of things that have long-term consequences and the force to internalize the consequences of their actions. They both have to do with regulatory barrier, and they both are related to mass wealth inequality. One of the things that has driven wealth inequality is corruption, and the ability of the elites to fend off fakes and attempts to make them internalize the costs of their bad decisions, and that corruption is also driven by mass surveillance and mass surveillance allows corrupt states to perpetuate themselves longer because surveillance can be used to find the people that are most likely to make changes to status quo and neutralize them by telling the cops who to take out or by allowing for the disruption of their organizing or activism. And so, I think those two issues are related, and I am interested in how do we decarbonize surveillance capitalism as much as the question of how we decarbonize industrial capitalism as well.

I guess the third is the line between surveillance capitalism and political surveillance. They are intimately related. On the one hand, because of the otherwise destabilizing impact of mass wealth disparity can be countered through surveillance and also because surveillance is much cheaper and easier to attain because markets have offloaded the costs of surveillance from the state to the individuals who are under surveillance. You buy the phone and pay for the subscription that gathers the data about you, and so the state does not have to bear that cost. During the Cold War, the Stasi had one snitch for every 60 people. Now, the NSA manages the to survey the whole planet at the rate of about 1 spy to about every 10,000 people.

11. How long until more than half of the human population is significantly modified, genetically, with augmented thought processing, with continuous blood monitoring and drug administration or the like?

Gosh, I have no idea. I think that my generation assuming that industrial and technological civilization does not collapse. All of my generation will have some medical implant if we live long enough. We are logging enough ear-punishing hours that we’ll all have hearing aids. The numbers on what percentage of people are legally blind by the time they die is a crazy number. It is like 89% or something. The life limit that will use some prosthesis, heads up display, or goggles as we become legally blind is high. It depends on what you count such as wheelchairs and so on. We are already cyborgs to some extent, but in terms of direct germ plasm modification. I have no idea.

That seems to me like a real wild card. Bruce Sterling has made a compelling case is an incredibly dumb idea because the chances are that we’ll come up with better germ plasm modification and you’ll be forever stuck with this year’s mod. Given how much of our metabolic and maybe even our cognitive function is regulated not by our own cells, but by our microbial nations and given how much easier it is to manipulate of a single celled organism. Maybe, what we’ll we do is manipulate our microbes rather than our germ plasms.

12. Will accelerating technological change ever level off?

I honestly have no idea. I think that things like Moore’s Law tend to be taken as laws of physics rather than observations about industrial activity. Moore’s Law is more of an observation than a prediction, and I do not know that we understand entirely what underpins it. I also think that when we look at something like Moore’s Law. We say the power of computation is doubling every couple of years or 18 months. What we mean is not only are we getting better at making faster computers, but we are also choosing the kinds of problems that computers that we know how to make faster are good at, and so it may be that as computing power becomes cheaper or cooler.

Then we can add more cores rather than faster cores, that we decide that we solve the problems that can be solved in parallel rather than serial is problem that we think of as an important one without ever consciously deciding it. That’s where all of the research is because that’s where all of the productivity gains are. We never even notice that we are not getting much better at solving problems in serial because we end up figuring how to solve problems that matter to us in parallel and pretending we do not see the problems that aren’t practical in parallel.


  1. Doctorow, C. (2016). Crap Hound. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Activist; Blogger; Journalist; Science Fiction Author.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 15, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018:

[3] Photograph courtesy of Cory Efram Doctorow and Jonathan Worth Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

[4] About Cory Doctorow (2015) states:

                Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing ( and the author of many books, most recently IN REAL LIFE, a graphic novel; INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE, a book about earning a living in the Internet age, and HOMELAND, the award-winning, best-selling sequel to the 2008 YA novel LITTLE BROTHER.

            One paragraph:

                Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing ( and the author of the YA graphic novel IN REAL LIFE, the nonfiction business book INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE< and young adult novels like HOMELAND, PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in Los Angeles.

            Full length:

                Cory Doctorow ( is a science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing (, and a contributor to The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He is a special consultant to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (, a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. He holds an honorary doctorate in computer science from the Open University (UK), where he is a Visiting Professor; in 2007, he served as the Fulbright Chair at the Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

                His novels have been translated into dozens of languages and are published by Tor Books, Titan Books (UK) and HarperCollins (UK) and simultaneously released on the Internet under Creative Commons licenses that encourage their re-use and sharing, a move that increases his sales by enlisting his readers to help promote his work. He has won the Locus and Sunburst Awards, and been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and British Science Fiction Awards.

                His two latest books are IN REAL LIFE, a young adult graphic novel created with Jen Wang (2014); and INFORMATION DOES NOT WANT TO BE FREE, a business book about creativity in the Internet age (2014).

                His latest young adult novel is HOMELAND, the bestselling sequel to 2008’s LITTLE BROTHER. His latest novel for adults is RAPTURE OF THE NERDS, written with Charles Stross and published in 2012. His New York Times Bestseller LITTLE BROTHER was published in 2008. His latest short story collection is WITH A LITTLE HELP, available in paperback, ebook, audiobook and limited edition hardcover. In 2011, Tachyon Books published a collection of his essays, called CONTEXT: FURTHER SELECTED ESSAYS ON PRODUCTIVITY, CREATIVITY, PARENTING, AND POLITICS IN THE 21ST CENTURY (with an introduction by Tim O’Reilly) and IDW published a collection of comic books inspired by his short fiction called CORY DOCTOROW’S FUTURISTIC TALES OF THE HERE AND NOW. THE GREAT BIG BEAUTIFUL TOMORROW, a PM Press Outspoken Authors chapbook, was also published in 2011.

                LITTLE BROTHER was nominated for the 2008 Hugo, Nebula, Sunburst and Locus Awards. It won the Ontario Library White Pine Award, the Prometheus Award as well as the Indienet Award for bestselling young adult novel in America’s top 1000 independent bookstores in 2008; it was the San Francisco Public Library’s One City/One Book choice for 2013. It has also been adapted for stage by Josh Costello.

                He co-founded the open source peer-to-peer software company OpenCola, and serves on the boards and advisory boards of the Participatory Culture Foundation, the Clarion Foundation, the Metabrainz Foundation and The Glenn Gould Foundation.

                On February 3, 2008, he became a father. The little girl is called Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow, and is a marvel that puts all the works of technology and artifice to shame.

Doctorow, C. (2015, July 30). About Cory Doctorow. Retrieved from


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