Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Cory Doctorow's introduction to his recent SF short short story "Printcrime" explains that it stems out of a talk attended by a friend at which a British recording industry exec talked of the "industry's great and hysterical spasm." It's assumed by this that he means the gradual chipping away of DRM by consumer dissatisfaction and lagging sales, and the inevitable formation of a new form of intellectual property law/media copyright. The recording exec claimed that this "great and hysterical spasm" of the recording industry would become the template for virtually every other industry that deals in trademarks or patents once the development of rapid prototypers (wanna know how to build one?) and 3D printers becomes viable. For those who don't want to click through the links, these are machines, in existence now and being developed for personal use, that "print" actual objects. That's right, just like the replicators on Star Trek.
Doctorow, really one of the most interesting SF authors--among other things--working today, finds the connection between music copyright and 3D printers incredibly strange. In one of his characteristically witty historical analogies, he says that to worry about the future of trademark and patent law in the face of object-on-demand technology is "as if the railroad were looming on the horizon, and the most visionary thing the futurists of the day can think of to say about it is that these iron horses will have a disastrous effect on the hardworking manufacturers of oat-bags for horses."
Perhaps this is a problem today with SF and futuristic thought in general. Politicians began using phrases like the "information superhighway" (Al Gore's pre-global warming pet project/marketing campaign) ten years ago. When SF concepts and the discourse of speculative thought enter the political and popular domain outside of any traditional generic conventions, what is there for SF to do? When advertisements for new technologies have the strange ability to prefigure or even simulate our interaction with these as yet unreleased tools, how can SF react with counter prefigurations of future technologies? And how does any futurist deal with objects whose complexity can only be explained by teams of tech people?
Steampunk, a subgenre of SF that deals with Victorian-era technologies, seems to serve as a valve for some of these frustrations in many interesting ways, especially the challenge of dealing with overdetermined technological complexity. Steampunk Magazine is one online magazine working with this stuff. It looks back to a moment when technological objects were still intelligible as objects, when their development and evolution could be seen as moving in many different directions, when one didn't have to read through an entire wiki in order to build a tool that made more objects.
(P.S., the lolbladerunner was done by Jamais Cascio)