I did a pair of appearances at the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference in NYC as part of the tour for Homeland -- the first a solo talk for writers, the second a panel with Henry Jenkins and Brian David Johnson. The latter is online now, as well as an interview.
I wrote a guest editorial for the Raincoast Books site, in honour of Freedom to Read Week. It's called "Libraries, Hackspaces and E-waste: how libraries can be the hub of a young maker revolution," and it's about the role of libraries in the 21st century:
Every discussion of libraries in the age of austerity always includes at least one blowhard who opines, "What do we need libraries for? We've got the Internet now!"
The problem is that Mr. Blowhard has confused a library with a book depository. Now, those are useful, too, but a library isn't just (or even necessarily) a place where you go to get books for free. Public libraries have always been places where skilled information professionals assisted the general public with the eternal quest to understand the world. Historically, librarians have sat at the coalface between the entire universe of published material and patrons, choosing books with at least a colorable claim to credibility, carefully cataloging and shelving them, and then assisting patrons in understanding how to synthesize the material contained therein.
Libraries have also served as community hubs, places where the curious, the scholarly, and the intellectually excitable could gather in the company of one another, surrounded by untold information-wealth, presided over by skilled information professionals who could lend technical assistance where needed. My own life has included many protracted stints in libraries — for example, I dropped out of high-school when I was 14 took myself to Toronto's Metro Reference Library and literally walked into the shelves at random, selected the first volume that aroused my curiosity, read it until it suggested another line of interest, then chased that one up. When I found the newspaper microfilm, I was blown away, and spent a week just pulling out reels at random and reading newspapers from the decades and centuries before, making notes and chasing them up with books. We have a name for this behavior today, of course: "browsing the Web." It was clunkier before the Web went digital, but it was every bit as exciting.
"Homeland" is as dead serious as "1984," as potentially important a "novel of ideas," with a much more engaging central character and an apparently inexhaustible supply of information on everything from brewing coffee to sneaky surveillance and how to defeat it.
Mr. Doctorow is bang up-to-date (as Orwell never was) on the uses of rapidly changing technology, both good and bad. If you want to keep up, there's a four-page appendix on how to protect your privacy and use the Net productively—so long as you're allowed, that is.
My latest Publishers Weekly column, "I Can't Let You Do That, Dave," is a look at the dangers of redesigning our computers to boss us around instead of doing what they're told and trying to help us:
Contrary to what’s been written in some quarters, Aaron Swartz didn’t attempt to download those journal articles because “information wants to be free.” No one cares what information wants. He was almost certainly attempting to download those articles because they were publicly funded scholarship that was not available to the public. They were scientific and scholarly truths about the world, information that the public paid for and needs in order to make informed choices about their lives and their governance. Fighting for information’s freedom isn’t the point. It’s people’s freedom that matters.
All of which makes the publishing community’s embrace of DRM and its advocacy for badly written, overly broad legislation to support DRM, fraught with peril. Since Frankenstein, writers and thinkers have recoiled in visceral horror at the idea of technology overpowering its creators. But when we actively build businesses that require censorship, surveillance, and control to thrive, we make a Frankenstein’s monster out of the devices that fill our pockets and homes, and the network that binds them all together.