Dandelions, steampunk and the future of content

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Henry Jenkins (HJ) in conversation with Cory Doctorow (CD) and Brian David Johnson (BDJ)

HJ

What happens when computing becomes so widespread we begin to wonder why we need it. Same question for publishing.

How do we think about the choices for different media – should content be film, book, etc?

Spreadable Media – rapid circulation – people have the capacity to pass content along – how we make those decisions?

New project: comics and graphic novels – visually dense and complex – colour and shifts in scale – 9 essays each published separately and serially – it at the end of the project it will be bundled and sold – all digital, never a print book.

CD

What we need to do pedagogy through literature is keywords – you need search words and also literacy about how to parse out the search results. Words in novels that have “just Google it” implied with it:

  • The first inkling of what a 21st century novel looks like – always assuming there’s access to a search engine
  • The old fear that using a calculator would make children’s brains lazy – now, good contemporary maths teaching always assumes there’s a calculator handy
  • Movies that weren’t just a stage play, that weren’t just a play with a camera pointed at it

BDJ

The Vintage Tomorrow project is done, now there’s an opportunity to expand and continue as an ebook.

How can we have these conversations about the future? Goal: to get as many people having these conversations as possible – through conferences, sci fi, non fi, videos etc, moving from fiction to non-fiction to video and so on.

HJ

Content travels through different ways

  1. Distribution: top down, controlled, corporations, paid
  2. Circulation: bottom up, messy, free, ‘unauthorized’ (cf piracy – short cut the arguments about value – unauthorized spreading of media means creator may lose cultural control, but gain cultural value)

(eg Susan Boyle, Gangnam Style – circulation far surpassed other media that had traditional distribution)

  • Circulation will surpass distribution as a way spread media

We need to change the way we think about how content travels – and every type of media moves differently.

CD

As mammals we are very invested in our reproductive system and progeny. This is very different to the reproductive strategies that Doctorow uses for his intellectual progeny.

We need to replace mammalian with dandelion reproductive strategies: dandelions don’t care about each seed, they care that every crack in the sidewalk has a dandelion seed in it. Doctorow wants to make sure everyone in the market to pay for a book has a chance to read his book.

BDJ

The type of stories we are talking about also talk back. Beatniks, hippies, each had a place where they went to express their identity (eg. San Francisco):

  • If you want to be a steampunk you just go online – embedded in steampunk is the ability to talk back and be heard – spreading  and broadening the conversation –the ability to personalize and share opinions is baked into steampunk

CD

Spreadable media relies on the cost of reproduction being so cheap as to be indistinguishable from free. It’s crazy that Facebook charges you to spread media to people who have already said they like you.

BDJ

Distribution/circulation is only going to increase because in the future everything can be a device – cars, buildings, our bodies.

HJ

Viral versus spreadable: viral implies irrationality, susceptibility, vulnerability, and leads to two reactions:

  1. The shrug – ‘I dunno, it just went viral’
  2. Monetising – people who will charge you to make it viral

SciFi was built as a genre to talk about ideas – it assumed a fan elite that is going to ask questions.

CD

Doctorow produces Sci Fi that predicts the present – he takes a ubiquitous tech that’s so huge, it’s hard to say what’s happening to each of us as a result (eg computer networks), then he makes that the totalising factor that affects the world – puts it in a petri dish to see what happens.

HDJ

The future is not an accident – Doctorow uses fiction and nonfiction to create a platform to express and explore opinion: SciFi with intent of having a point of view can have a huge effect.

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This is the future of the book, but not the one you were expecting.