I just finished reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and I really enjoyed it. I basically agree with the NY Times review that several of the characters were somewhat underdeveloped, and the novel was a bit slim, but the society it envisions is just amazing to think about.
What we’re looking at is technological change that has brought about the end of scarcity and death, the two things that basically drive our capitalist society. Anything can be made almost instantly at very little cost, and everyone lives forever. We move to a reputation-based economy, where everyone’s wealth is based on their Whuffie score, a measure of the conscious and subconscious feelings of everyone in the world. Since everyone is hardwired into a wearable, no, an implantable, a computer in their brain, they are all interconnected in a massive peer-to-peer network. There are goods and bad to this, as the author Cory Doctorow talks about in this absolutely fascinating O’Reilly interview.
He talks about the book and the future, but mostly about how the ideas of the book are reflections of dot-com ideals and the changing markets of today. One choice quote:
[T]he recording industry has a story of, “We do two really important roles. One is to make music available and the other is to compensate artists.” But one of the things we know is that 80 percent of all of the music ever released isn’t for sale anywhere in the world. And another thing we know is that 97 percent of the artists signed to a recording contract earn less than $600 per year off of it. So Napster doesn’t have a better track record at compensating artists, but it sure as shit had a better track record of making music available.
It’s a good read, and goes to my earlier comments about copyright. Doctorow is optimistic, and I am too.