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Book Review: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

Posted in Book Reviews, Geeking Out, Technology by engtech on February 01, 2007

Cory Doctorow is a writer from Toronto. He is well-known for being co-author of one of the most popular blogs on the planet (BoingBoing), his association with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and for his stance against copyright. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was his first novel and one of the first books to be simultaneously released in published form and as an online free download.

While I could have done without the focus on Disneyland, there were several key ideas in his book I found interesting. The story takes place in a “post-death” society. Scientists have discovered how to “back-up / brain dump” the human brain so that all the experiences that make up a person can be copied into a new body — which are easily available thanks to cloning advancements. Death becomes meaningless as you only lose the time since the last back-up (days or weeks). As would be expected, medicine takes a complete nosedive; why try to heal a body when it is so much easier to grow a new one?

mickey mouse obi wan star wars
photo by shadowplay

Everyone is online all the time with a “heads up display / HUD” that provides them additional information about the things around them. In this post-scarcity economy where material goods are abundantly available currency has been replaced by “whuffie” — a quantitative measure of how you are viewed by society. Think of something like micropayments where if you write a popular song people can give you a small portion of their whuffie and the riches come from reaching many people.

“Whuffie recaptured the true essence of money: in the old days, if you were broke but respected, you wouldn’t starve; contrariwise, if you were rich and hated, no sum could buy you security and peace. By measuring the thing that money really represented – your personal capital with your friends and neighbors – you more accurately gauged your success”.

Whuffie is a measure of reputation, and as a blogger I saw this as a natural offshoot of the blogging microcosm. Whuffie is like attention.You write good content to get hits, links and to increase your influence. Linking to someone is like giving them whuffie. Having a high Wuffie score gets you exclusive invitations, free stuff and a general level of respect. Whuffie promotes a society where people perform actions to make them more popular.

This is where the focus on Disneyland takes place. The book is about in-fighting between several of the factions who control the rides. I felt pretty “meh” about all of the Disney stuff but I really enjoyed the concepts of this futuristic society and I’d recommend the book for that alone.

You can read the book online. There is a short story quasi-sequel to “Down and Out” called Truncat that was published on Salon.com

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4 Responses

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  1. Ilya Lichtenstein said, on February 05, 2007 at 9:37 am

    I like the view of the book as something of a parable. After all, in the Internet, rebirth is only a server backup away.

  2. […] January 8th, 2007 Read the full review at //engtech […]

  3. […] at how much I enjoyed it. I’ve read two of his other books, Eastern Standard Tribe and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and found them disappointing although full of interesting ideas. Overclocked succeeds where the […]

  4. […] These connections lead to so many successful ideas, that he can’t possibly execute on them himself – because the time it takes to implement them would take away from the information processing that is his true talent. He makes a career of giving away his ideas and surviving off of the reputation gain and support of his sponsors he’s made so successful. Very much like Doctorow’s concept of whuffie – reputation as currency. […]

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