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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reader's Diary #915- Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Debbie and I watched a show not long ago on which a woman was complaining about a make-it-yourself frozen yogurt bar. "If I wanted to make it myself," she whined, "I'd do it at home." As if we all have stocks of various berries and fruit, granola, honey, chocolate and other syrups on hand all the time. Couldn't this woman see how awesome it is to get exactly what you want? On the other hand...

I've been noticing lately that the ads in the sidebar of websites I'm visiting are based on recent purchases I've made. I bought some glasses online, now I get ads from Clearly Contacts. I bought some kids clothes, now I get ads from Zulilly. I know it's time to purge my cookies, but I can't bring myself to do it. I find these ads fascinating, but I know most people find them creepy. So what's the difference between the make-it-yourself yogurt bar and the personalized ads? There's a fine distinction between choosing what we want and getting what we want. The former lets us feel like we're in control. Though life has certainly been made easier, we still want to feel like we're doing something, that we're accomplishing something, no matter how minor.

If I was to pinpoint exactly what this discussion has to do with Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I'd draw a blank. But I know the book inspired it. Set in a futuristic Disney World, it revolves around a man named Jules who has, like others before him, come to work in, and live in, the amusement park. It's true that everyone's brains are permanently online and that scarcity and even death have been eliminated, but Disney World has not progressed to the same extent. Sure animatronics and other special effects have advanced, but there's a nostalgia that has kept the park grounded to some extent. Jules seems to want a moderate approach; keep imagination alive, but with a healthy acknowledgement of legacy. Unfortunately for him, not everyone agrees. Some are spearheading revamps of park attractions with cutting edge direct-to-brain interfaces. Why have a robot ghost simply jump out at you at the Haunted Mansion  or have someone narrate a ghastly tale, when you could get the whole creepy ghost backstory dumped directly into your thoughts? Why stop there? Trigger your brain so that you get a fun dose of fear. Jules is not impressed. Eventually, no one would even need to go to the park, he fears. But complicating Jules' plans to prevent this from happening is the fact that he's been murdered. Funniest line in the whole book:

It was the first time I'd been murdered, but I didn't need to be a drama queen about it.

Remember, death has been eliminated. So, when someone like Jules is murdered they simply use a backed up copy of his mind and implant it into a cloned body.

Needless to say, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is full of jumping off points for many a fine ethics and philosophy of technology discussions, which is precisely what the best sci-fi should do. However, I found my thoughts firing so rapidly and in so many different directions that sometimes forgot about the plot of book. I assume this means that the story itself isn't that strong.

Implanted thoughts and experiences? That reminds me of Total Recall. Hey, if they're ever able to do that, couldn't they plant the memory of 10,000 piano practices? Would that person then know how to play? Would it just eliminate the need for school? If we all got the same, huge amount of knowledge implanted, would we all be equal? Then who would do the crappy jobs?

Oh wait, who does Jules think killed him? Is he in charge of the Haunted Mansion upgrade? I've forgotten. Kind of got sidetracked there for a minute. At least it was an interesting diversion.

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