Here’s a reading (MP3) of the first part of my story “Petard: A Tale of Just Desserts” from the new MIT Tech Review anthology Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling. The anthology also features fiction by William Gibson, Lauren Beukes, Chris Brown, Pat Cadigan, Warren Ellis, Joel Garreau, and Paul Graham Raven. The 2013 summer anthology was a huge hit — Gardner Dozois called it “one of the year’s best SF anthologies to date, perhaps the best.”
My latest Guardian column, Adapting gadgets to our needs is the secret pivot on which technology turns, explains the hidden economics of stuff, and how different rules can trap you in your own past, or give you a better future.
Depending on your view, the stuff you own is either a boon to business or a tremendous loss of opportunity.
For example, your collection spice bottles in your pantry means that I could possibly sell you a spice rack. On the other hand, it also means that I can’t design a special spice rack that only admits spice bottles of my own patent-protected design, which would thereby ensure that if you wanted to buy spices in the future you’d either have to buy them from me or throw away that very nice spice rack I sold you.
In the tech world, this question is often framed in terms of “ecosystems” (as in the “Google/Chrome/Android ecosystem”) or platforms (as in the “Facebook platform”) but whatever you call it, the discussion turns on a crucial different concept: sunk cost.
That’s the money, time, mental energy and social friction you’ve already sunk into the stuff you own. Your spice rack’s sunk cost includes the money you spend on the rack, the time you spent buying fixings for it and the time you spent afixing it, the emotional toil of getting your family to agree on a spice rack, and the incredible feeling of dread that arises when you contemplate going through the whole operation again.
If you’ve already got a lot of sunk costs, the canny product strategy is to convince you that you can buy something that will help you organise your spices, rip all your CDs and put them on a mobile device, or keep your clothes organised.
But what a vendor really wants is to get you to sink cost into his platform, ecosystem, or what have you. To convince you to buy his wares, in order to increase the likelihood that you’ll go on doing so – because they match the decor, because you already have the adapters, and so on.
(Image: David Joyce, CC-BY-SA: Story, Lumix G1 Adapter Breakdown, Chad Kainz, CC-BY)
The summer annual features stories “inspired by the real-life breakthroughs covered in the pages of MIT Technology Review,” including “Petard,” my story about hacktivism; and “Death Cookie/Easy Ice,” an excerpt from William Gibson’s forthcoming (and stone brilliant) futuristic novel The Peripheral.
Other authors in the collection include Lauren Beukes, Chris Brown, Pat Cadigan, Warren Ellis, Joel Garreau, and Paul Graham Raven. The 2013 summer anthology was a huge hit — Gardner Dozois called it “one of the year’s best SF anthologies to date, perhaps the best.”
The 2014 edition is out this month, available direct from MIT Tech Review.
We’re getting together to talk about Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future , a project that Stephenson kicked off — I’ve got a story in it called “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”
The project’s mission is to promote “Asimovian robots, Heinleinian rocket ships, Gibsonian cyberspace… plausible, thought-out pictures of alternate realities in which… compelling innovation has taken place.” Tickets are $5.
I’ll be joining thousands of fans and hundreds of presenters at Loncon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, later this week. I hope to see you there!
Weds, Aug 13
* 18h: Group signing at Forbidden Planet, Shaftesbury Ave, with Chris Achilleos,
Phil & Kaja Foglio,
V. E. Schwab,
Mike Shevdon and
Thurs, Aug 14
* 15.00-16.30 – Panel: Digital Vigilantes, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL);
with: Kin-Ming Looi, Lilian Edwards, David Dingwall, Neil McKellar
Fri, Aug 15
* 11.00-12.00 – Panel: The Pleasures of a Good, Long Info-Dump, Capital
Suite 7+12 (ExCeL); with: Jack William Bell (M), Kim Stanley Robinson,
M. Darusha Wehm
Sat, Aug 16
* 12.00-13.30 – Panel: Fresh Perspectives: Comic Books for Young People,
London Suite 3 (ExCeL); with: Emily Wagner (M), Inko, Kaluas AE
* 14.30-15.00 – Reading, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)
* 16.00-17.00 – Kaffeeklatsch, London Suite 5 (ExCeL), with Anne Lyle
* 20.00-21.00 – The Sidewise, Prometheus, Seiun and Golden Duck Awards,
Capital Suite 8+11 (ExCeL)
Sunday, Aug 17
* 09.00-10.00 – Stroll with the Stars, front of Aloft (ExCeL), with:
Judith Clute, John Clute, Farah Mendlesohn, Joe Haldeman, Gay Haldeman,
Elizabeth Hand, Tricia Sullivan, Jonathan Strahan
Monday, Aug 18
* 12.00-13.30 – Panel: Brave Young World, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL);
with: Heather Urbanski (M), David Farnell, Gillian Redfearn
* 13.30-15.00 – Panel: Young Adults in Fandom, Capital Suite 10 (ExCeL);
with: Kelley Armstrong (M), Monika Drzewiecka, Meg Frank
The UK parliamentary farce over #DRIP showed us that, more than any other industry, the political machine is in dire need of disruption.
In my latest Guardian column, How the Kickstarter model could transform UK elections, I suggest that the way that minority politicians could overcome the collective action deadlock of voters being unwilling to “throw away” their ballots on the parties they support, and so holding their nose and voting for the mainstream party they hate least, or not voting at all, by taking a page out of Kickstarter’s playbook:
Here’s how that could work:
“Yellow Party! Well, I love what you stand for, but come on, you haven’t got a snowball’s chance. It’s throwing away my vote.”
“Oh, I’m not asking you to vote for me! Not quite, anyway. All I want you to do is go on record saying that you would vote for me, if 20% of your neighbours made the same promise. Then, on election day, we’ll send you a text or and email letting you know how many people there are who’ve made the same promise, and you get to decide whether it’s worth your while.
“The current MP, Ms Setforlife, got elected with only 8,000 votes in the last election. If I can show you that 9,000 of your neighbours feel the same way as you do, and if you act on that information – well, we could change everything.”
This threshold-style action system is at the heart of Kickstarter (pledge whatever you like, but no one has to spend anything unless enough money is raised to see the project to completion) and it’s utterly adaptable to elections.
In democracies all over the world, voting is in decline. A permanent political class has emerged, and what it has to offer benefits a small elite at the public’s wider expense.
Skyboat Media produced this great little documentary about Wil Wheaton’s recording sessions for the audiobook of my novel Homeland, in which he had to read out Pi for four minutes straight, read out dialog in which the narrator had a fanboy moment about meeting Wil Wheaton, and many other fun moments.
I am delighted and honored to announce that my novel Homeland has won the Prometheus Award for best novel, tying with Ramez Naam’s excellent novel Nexus. I am triply honored because this is the third Prometheus I’ve won — the other two being for Little Brother and Pirate Cinema. My sincere thanks to the Libertarian Futurist Society; I’ll see you at the Worldcon in London this year to accept it!
In my latest Guardian column, What Canada’s national public broadcaster could learn from the BBC, I look at the punishing cuts to the CBC, and how a shelved (but visionary) BBC plan to field a “creative archive” of shareable and remixable content could help the network lead the country into a networked, participatory future.
The CBC, at least, has only limited delusions about the importance of commercialising its archives, especially when that comes at the expense of access to the archives for Canadians. Canada is a young nation, and the CBC has been there with Canadians for about half of the country’s short life. The contents of the CBC’s archives are even more central to the identity of Canadians that the BBC’s is to Britons.
If the CBC is to be cut and remade as a digital-first public service entity, then a Canadian Creative Archive could be one way for it to salvage some joy from its misery. There’s nothing more “digital first” than ensuring that the most common online activities – copying, sharing, and remixing – are built into the nation’s digital heritage.
What’s more, the CBC’s situation is by no means unique. In an era of austerity, massive wealth inequality, industrial-scale tax-evasion and totalising market orthodoxy, there’s hardly a public broadcaster anywhere in the world that isn’t facing brutal cuts that go to the bone and beyond.
All of these broadcasters have something in common: they produced their massive archives at public expense, for the public’s benefit, and have made only limited progress in giving the public online access to those treasures.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — a pro-establishment, rock-ribbed bastion of pro-market thinking — has released a report predicting a collapse in global economic growth rates, a rise in feudal wealth disparity, collapsing tax revenue and huge, migrating bands of migrant laborers roaming from country to country, seeking crumbs of work. They proscribe “flexible” workforces, austerity, and mass privatization.