Monday, November 12, 2012

Book review: "Makers" by Cory Doctorow

I recently finished reading a good near future science fiction novel:
This novel addresses the issue of changing labor patterns based on widespread availablity of affordable production tools like smartphones and 3D printers. The key thesis is that the nature of work will be constantly changing, in large part due to technological change and demographic factors.
Another theme of the book is that shantytowns(Hoovervilles) become a common feature in American cities due to the non-affordability of conventional housing.
I think in the book the point is made that the adaptations that will need to be made by people will look nothing like traditional lifestyles. Some adapt and some fail and wind up living in shantytowns or living with room-mates. Of course, this isn't news to some observers but I thought the book did a nice job of illustrating some of the possible social structures that may result.
Yet another important theme in this novel is the concept that locations of resources or technological /cultural centers change, and workers will have to migrate to where the economic activity is happening.  The book addresses this by speculating that Silicon Valley becomes too costly and self absorbed to become aware of changes taking place in other parts of the country and of the world, and becomes thereby irrelevant to the people creating new technologies and processes.
One concern addressed in the book is the idea that we might not be able to think up new jobs as fast as the old jobs are automated and outsourced out of existence.   The time required to scale up a new industry can greater than the time required by competitors to undercut the economic logic of the new industry.
Overall, "Makers" is a more benign view of the future than those of post-apocalyptic science fiction, and seems more plausible. The novel provides plenty food for thought about key issues that face American society today.

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