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Eastern Standard Tribe

Eastern Standard Tribe - Cory Doctorow My first experience with cyberpunk is probably the 80’s TV show Max Headroom, and a few years later, the Japanese movie Akira. I know I’m supposed to mention Neuromancer here, but I never read it, so sue me. When I first discovered these stories, I was fascinated by the prospect of a semichaotic high-speed digital future where power, status and wealth were all a function of one’s dexterity with technology and information. I guess my invulnerable 20 year old self identified with the heroes, and imagined that I too (an engineering student) was a master of data and technology. That turned out to be far from true, but cyberpunk was an accessible sort of science fiction to me… far off, but not so far off as stuff like Star Trek, and exciting because it seemed plausible that I might actually live to see a sort of cyberpunk future one day. And so I have. But now the idea of nonstop breakneck change- a simultaneously insane yet controlled world highly attuned to the flow and analysis of information, where technology so pervades our habits and substance that it is never clear whether all the gadgetry around us is liberating or confining- all makes me feel very tired, and very sad. I wonder why it didn’t before.Eastern Standard Tribe is set in 2022 and could defensibly be called a cyberpunk story, but just barely. Arthur Berry is a freelance User Interface engineer (or some such term, I may be slightly off). He develops applications for existing products, and dreams up ways to make technology more friendly and practical… an anti-cyberpunk protagonist in a cyberpunk world. One of his ideas becomes a business proposal which drives the plot, but that’s really the extent of technology’s role in this book. And I love that.The book is really more preoccupied with this idea of tribes… social organizations members freely gravitate to, based on common interests, rather than proximity. It is all about the disappearance of geography in the telecommunications era, which makes it perhaps the most perfect book to read and write about on GoodReads. Well, we are a tribe, aren’t we? A big one, to be sure, with internecine squabbles, and a few oddbird members we’d maybe prefer not to meet in real life… but at the end of it all, GR is very much my tribe, the same way the Eastern Standard Time (Zone) is for Arthur Berry. This book wasn’t my first introduction to the ideas that society seems to be reorganizing into mini interest-based communities. I think that’s one of the big themes of Infinite Jest, and I dwell on this quite a bit in my review of that book.