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For The Win

May 6th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Technology · No Comments · Life, Technology

Another book I recently finished is For The Win by Cory Doctorow.   At nearly 500 pages it is a substantial read, but I got through it really quickly, which is usually a sign that I am enjoying it.  Given my circumstances it is hardly surprising that I enjoyed a story of oppressed workers organising themselves to prevent exploitation by gangmasters.

As you would expect from Cory Doctorow there are lots of juicy little details about the technology and some great concepts of how the internet may evolve and blur the lines between online and offline.  It is also a glimpse into the different cultures around the world and how they might start to interact, with the younger generation growing up to have the sort of contact with other nationalities that their parents would never have imagined.

I have read a few books during the last month, and built up quite a backlog of reviews to write.  I am probably not doing them justice by doing the reviews now to take my mind off the impending election day, but I did make a conscious decision that I wanted time to let this book sink in before writing about it.  Here is what I wrote about this one:

For The Win is like science fiction set 5 minutes in the future. Parts of it reminded me of the classic cyberpunk novels, although it is a lot more plausible.

Lots of small details in the book tie in with snippets of information I have come across before. That is a bit of a worry: if they are correct and sort-of verified it makes the rest of it more likely to be realistic, and some of the lives described in it are not happy ones.

The background of the story is the globalisation of culture and entertainment, in the form of online games in the mould of World of Warcraft. The games have generated grey market and black market economies where in-game resources are traded in real life for real money. This has led to people in developing countries being employed to generate or harvest those resources to sell to people in richer countries.

The story concentrates on several groups of such workers, almost exclusively children, in different countries and how they use the infrastructure of the internet to organise themselves across national borders and language barriers to try and improve their conditions which are little more than high-tech slave labour.

There are some fascinating little lectures on economic theory and globalisation incorporated into the story in a way that doesn’t intrude too much. In fact one of the characters in the book manages to explain basic economics more concisely and better than an economics book could.

I don’t know how accurate the depictions of life in the slums of Dharavi or under the oppressive Chinese regime are, but they feel right and the idea of workers from those countries joining with workers in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and other places having discovered that they have more in common with each other than with other layers of society in their own countries is heartening for an old lefty like me.

As the story progresses the workers in different countries not only forge alliances with each other, but their trade union of workers in virtual industry makes alliances with traditional unions in ‘real’ industries. It points the way to a potential future where the reaction to globalised industry is the globalisation of labour.

I found the whole book extremely thought-provoking, but felt a little disappointed by the lack of a conclusive ending: I really wanted to know what happened to those characters. Maybe I’m old-fashioned that way.

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