Thursday, December 8, 2011

SPL Shelf Life [adult]

©ontext: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting and Politics in the 21st Century by Cory Doctorow

My twitter feed recently offered me a tiny, perfect, 140-character-strung gem – one of those rare moments someone manages to capture in words what many other people have been feeling nebulously off about for quite some time. Twitter user @jasongorman tweeted “I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the 21st century is based on a short story by Philip K Dick.” The retweets spread like wildfire through a cyberscape made tinder dry by apparent police brutality in the eviction of various Occupy protests, and Apple's release of the uncanny Siri on its iPhone 4S - a voice activated app with eerie accuracy answering search queries and unsettlingly snappy answers to cheeky questions. If Dick's name doesn't ring a bell, he was the fellow who wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, upon which the dystopian sci-fi epic film Blade Runner  was based.

Cory Doctorow is – to my mind, anyway -  Dick's heir apparent. A prolific writer of science fiction with steampunk and cyberpunk elements, Doctorow also co-edits a fantastic blog at and does a fair amount of freelance work for a wide variety of publications, including The Guardian, Locus, and Publishers Weekly. His freelance work, like his fiction, is passionately concerned with copyright and issues surrounding access to information, as well as maker culture, the role of the public sphere in a mediascape dominated by corporate electronic media, and especially privacy rights.

In ©ontext, Doctorow further unpacks his opinions on his favourite topics. For those who suspect a book full of essays on copyright, privacy and citizenship in the digital age might be boring: You lose. Doctorow may have hardcore geek cred, but he keeps his language plain and free of terminology, so  even the most technophobic reader can grasp the arguments. Most of the essays are only a couple pages long, which keeps them accessible to those new to the topics. Doctorow's precise use of plain language and obvious engagement with his content pull the reader along happily through pieces on the wider social significance of so-called tech issues like net neutrality, intellectual property, file sharing, and data security. Why should you care about these things? Well, bad information policy kills democracies! And maybe kittens! Okay, maybe not the kittens. Well, unless the article to which the vet must refer in order to cure said kittens isn't Open Access, and the other online journals got too expensive... Then won't we all feel like a bunch of jerks for not paying attention sooner. Won't we just. ©ontext is a timely, engaging invitation to readers to start participating in these important conversations. After all, the more of our information winds up in the cloud, the more vulnerable we'll be as people, cultures and countries to the information management policies of the companies who own the cloud. 

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on December 8th. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.

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