I’ve started catching up on some favourite authors who I’d put down whilst trying to finish my own book and finally got around to reading Makers by Cory Doctorow. Right from the top, I think this is Cory’s best novel to date and his most accomplished. Makers is a generational musing on the idea of the hacker and how it has changed over last 20 or so years in a slightly stilted generational form which emphasises the time changes.
In the first part, we see Perry and Lester who invent things and an new economics, New Work. Initially it appears to work but bursts in gigantic bubble as it is commercialised, expanding far faster than anticipated. Bad decisions made for the best reasons come back to haunt the players as their worlds are adopted by players who don’t understand their ethic or technologies that they adopt.
Part 2 explores the consequence of that collapse and how the players deal with the commercalisation (or at least Disneyfication – he returns to his obsession with Disney and its rides) of the ideal. There are moments when his antagonism to the corporate antics of media companies does get in the way of the fine exploration of the way that the corporate creative economy tries to repackage commodified versions of the ideas without understanding their history. Sammy, the Disney exec, spends an inordinate amount of time trying to shut Lester and Perry down but eventually replicates their ideas but in locked format, leading them to rehack the idea and open it up again.
Part 3 follows the rise again of Lester and Perry getting back to the basics of what they like doing: making things. Suzanne, the blogger who has followed them since the beginning, charts them coming to an arrangement with Sammy.Perhaps nothing has fundamentally changed for either character, each living with their choices, but Doctorow uses them to explore the changing nature of hacking. Whilst Lester and Perry are true hackers and inventers, they open up the protocols to their rides for others to use and encourage remix culture. The nature of hacking therefore changes with the re-use of materials rather than seeing them making new things from scratch. Its a theme that Doctorow has come back to again, with the other editors, on BoingBoing and where he has an interest.
Doctorow also explores the idea of the changing society and is perhaps less optimistic, more sanguine about it that the earlier Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom or Eastern Standard Tribe. On his website he comments:
I wrote it years before the current econopocalypse, as a parable about the amazing blossoming of creativity and energy that I saw in Silicon Valley after the dotcom crash, after all the money dried up.
His view on society has certainly changed in the last few years, from what comes across as pehaps over optimistic to the pessimism of Little Brother. It seems here that he’s taken step back and to the better as his world is more nuanced.
It is still fresh and an exciting, thoughtful read. As ever there is a free download available on his website.