Chances are you fell in love with technology the day you took some tool that didn’t quite work for you and made it better—better suited to you and your idiosyncratic needs and uses. Then you shared your improvements and made other people’s lives better too, and what sweeter feeling is there?
Cory Doctorow explains why the right to configure is the signature right of the 21st century, its promise latent in the very idea of a URL, a persistent identifier that can be use to combine, filter, munge, and mash any asset, stream, file, or pointer connected to the world’s giant, electronic nervous system.
Configuration is security: the ability to put useful but misbehaving code in a sandbox, the right to fuzz the inputs and find the unexpected outputs, the right to spoof an untrustworthy system rather than entrusting it with sensitive data.
Configuration is under attack: lawmakers want to limit our ability to execute working crypto; the entertainment industry wants to stop mash-ups; the tech giants don’t want to be scraped, ad-blocked, or filtered.
The right to configure is the right to speak, to be heard, to study, to learn, to improve, to resist, and to collaborate. Configurability is being flensed from the web by corporations seeking to stifle competition, by states looking to control their populations, by well-meaning, poorly informed decision makers who think that any problem involving computers (that is, every problem!) can be solved by selectively breaking computing itself.
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction novelist, blogger, and technology activist. Cory is the coeditor of the popular blog Boing Boing and a contributor to the Guardian, the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Wired, and many other newspapers, magazines, and websites. He was formerly director of European affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards, and treaties. Cory holds an honorary doctorate in computer science from the Open University (UK), where he is a visiting senior lecturer; in 2007, he served as the Fulbright Chair at the Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.
Cory’s novels have been translated into dozens of languages and are published by Tor Books and simultaneously released on the internet under Creative Commons licenses that encourage their reuse and sharing, a move that increases his sales by enlisting his readers to help promote his work. He has won the Locus and Sunburst Awards and been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and British Science Fiction Awards. His latest young adult novel is Pirate Cinema, a story of mashup guerrillas who declare war on the entertainment industry. His latest novel for adults is Rapture of the Nerds, written with Charles Stross and published in 2012. His New York Times best seller Little brother was published in 2008. Its sequel, Homeland, was published in 2013. His latest short story collection is With a Little Help, available in paperback, ebook, audiobook, and limited edition hardcover. In 2011, Tachyon Books published a collection of his essays, Context: Further Selected Essays on Productivity, Creativity, Parenting, and Politics in the 21st Century (with an introduction by Tim O’Reilly), and IDW published a collection of comic books inspired by his short fiction called Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now. The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, a PM Press Outspoken Authors chapbook, was also published in 2011. His forthcoming books include Anda’s Game, a graphic novel from FirstSecond.
Cory cofounded the open source peer-to-peer software company Opencola, sold to OpenText in 2003, and presently serves on the boards and advisory boards of the Participatory Culture Foundation, the Clarion Foundation, the Glenn Gould Foundation, and the Chabot Space & Science Center’s SpaceTime project. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly called him “the William Gibson of his generation.” He was also named one of Forbes magazine’s Web Celebrities every year from 2007 to 2010 and one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2007. On February 3, 2008, Cory became a father. The little girl is called Poesy Emmeline Fibonacci Nautilus Taylor Doctorow and is a marvel that puts all the works of technology and artifice to shame.
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