📚 Walkaway

Read Walkaway by Cory Doctorow


Communist Party

Not entrapeneourahip, post-scarcity

“We’re not going to entrepreneur our way out of anything. This isn’t entrepreneurship.” “Anti-entrepreneurship’s been tried, too — slacking doesn’t get you anywhere.” “We’re not anti-entrepreneur either. We’re not entrepreneurial in the way that baseball isn’t tic-tac-toe. We’re playing a different game.” “What’s that?” “Post-scarcity,” said with near-religious solemnity.

Play on ‘party’ associated with Communist Party

“What about ‘communist’?” “What about it?” “That’s a label with a lot of history. You could be communists.” She waved her beard at him. "Communist party . That doesn’t make us ‘communists’ any more than throwing a birthday party makes us ‘birthdayists.’ Communism is an interesting

Meta, a drug for the status quo

“Meta,” she said. “Or something like it.” He’d heard of it. It gave you ironic distance — a very now kind of high. Conspiracy people thought it was too zeitgeisty to be a coincidence, claimed it was spread to soften the population for its miserable lot. In his day — eight years before — the scourge had been called “Now,” something they gave to source-code auditors and drone pilots to give them robotic focus. He’d eaten a shit-ton of it while working on zepps. It made him feel like a happy android. The conspiracy people had said the same thing about Now that they said about Meta. End of the day, anything that made you discount objective reality and assign a premium to some kind of internal mental state was going to be both pro-survival and pro-status-quo.

Putting on a mask to prevent detection

“Seth, masks!” Hubert, Etc shook his friend. There had been a good reason for Seth to carry both of their masks, but he couldn’t remember it. Seth sat up with his eyebrows raised and a smirk on his face. Tucking chin to chest, Hubert, Etc swarmed over Seth and roughly turned out his pockets. He slapped his mask to his face and felt the fabric adhere in bunches and whorls as his breath teased it out and the oils in his skin were wicked through its weave. He did Seth. “You don’t need to do this,” Seth said. “Right,” said Hubert, Etc. “It’s out of the goodness of my heart.” “You’re worried they’ll walk my social graph and find you in the one-hop/high-intensity zone.” Seth’s smile, glowing in the darkness of his face, was infuriatingly calm. It vanished behind the mask. That was the stupid Meta. “You’d be screwed then. They’ll run your data going back years, dude, until they find something. They always find something. They’ll put the screws to you, threaten you with every horrible unless you turn narc. Room 101 all the way, baby –”

Jacob Redwater’s surveillance

“My father spies on me,” Natalie said. “That’s why he’s here.” Jacob shrugged. “It could be worse. It’s not like I have your phone tapped. It’s just public sources.”

You All Meet in a Tavern


The menu evolved through the day, depending on the feedstocks visitors brought. Limpopo nibbled around the edges, moving from one red light to the next, till they went green, developing a kind of sixth sense about the next red zone, logging more than her share of work units. If there had been a leaderboard for the B&B that day, she’d have been embarrassingly off the charts. She pretended as hard as she could that her friends weren’t noticing her bustling activity. The gift economy was not supposed to be a karmic ledger with your good deeds down one column and the ways you’d benefited from others down the other. The point of walkaways was living for abundance, and in abundance, why worry if you were putting in as much as you took out? But freeloaders were freeloaders, and there was no shortage of assholes who’d take all the best stuff or ruin things through thoughtlessness. People noticed. Assholes didn’t get invited to parties. No one went out of their way to look out for them. Even without a ledger, there was still a ledger, and Limpopo wanted to bank some good wishes and karma just in case.

Theory versus practice

In a gift economy, you gave without keeping score, because keeping score implied an expectation of reward. If you’re doing something for reward, it’s an investment, not a gift. In theory, Limpopo agreed. In practice, it was so easy to keep score, the leaderboard was so satisfying that she couldn’t help herself. She wasn’t proud of this.

That’s what walkaway is …

In a gift economy, you gave without keeping score, because keeping score implied an expectation of reward. If you’re doing something for reward, it’s an investment, not a gift. In theory, Limpopo agreed. In practice, it was so easy to keep score, the leaderboard was so satisfying that she couldn’t help herself. She wasn’t proud of this.

Being Generous

“Out here, we’re supposed to treat generosity as the ground state. The weird, gross, selfish feeling is a warning we’re being dicks. We’re not supposed to forgive people for being selfish. We’re not supposed to expect other people to forgive us for being selfish. It’s not generous to do nice things in the hopes of getting stuff back. It’s hard not to fall into that pattern, because bribery works.”

Being a walkaway is …

Limpopo surveyed the boys’ baskets, trimmed to more modest proportions. She nodded. “This discussion usually gets to parenting and friendship. Those are the places where everyone agrees that being generous is right. Your chore list is to ensure that everything gets done. The kid who spends her time watching her sisters to make sure they have the same number of chores is either getting screwed, or is screwed up. It sounds corny, but being a walkaway is ultimately about treating everyone as family.”

Limpopo on statistics and C

“I don’t look at stats. Which is the point. I couldn’t write the whole thing on my own, and if I could, I wouldn’t want to, because this place would suck if it was just a contest to see who could add the most lines of code or bricks to the structure. That’s a race to build the world’s heaviest airplane. What does knowing that one person has more commits than others tell you? That you should work harder? That you’re stupid? That you’re slow? Who gives a shit? The most commits in our codebase come from history – everyone who wrote the libraries and debugged and optimized and patched them. The most commits on this building come from everyone who processed the raw materials, figured out how to process the raw materials, harvested the feedstock, and –”

Limpopo on not being like an Ayn Rand novel

We can live like it’s the first days of a better world, not like it’s the first pages of an Ayn Rand novel. Have this place, but you can’t have us. We withdraw our company."

Limpopo on his:

“That feeling of happiness and intensity you get? Did you ever wonder whether it was something we were meant to experience more than fleetingly? Take orgasms. If you had an orgasm that didn’t stop, it’d be brutal. There’d be a sense in which it was technically amazing, but the experience would be terrible. Take happiness now, that feeling of having arrived, having perfected your world for a moment – could you imagine if it went on? Why would you ever get off your ass? I think we’re only equipped to experience happiness for an instant, because all our ancestors who could experience it for longer blissed out until they starved to death, or got eaten by a tiger.”

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Rethink what it means to be alive

The local Dis didn’t know about her instance-sister in Jacob Redwater’s bolt-hole, but that Dis left Gretyl with a letter to other Dis instances, encrypted with a key protected by the private pass-phrase Dis had used in life. The local Dis accepted the file, decrypted it, thought about it for a computerish eyeblink. “This is crazy.”

Freedom and cognitive liberty

“Don’t worry, when we simulate you, we’ll ensure you’re in a state that’s comfortable with the idea. Ha-ha-only-serious. It’s like Meta, being like this. Sometimes I dial back and watch the lookaheads, see how close I am to the edge of full panic. It’s interesting to tweak that shit in realtime. You haven’t known freedom until you’ve experienced cognitive liberty, the right to choose your state of mind.”

Zottas do suveliwnce to themselves

Zottas do surveillance to themselves. It’s not done to them. You could build a house like this with no sensors, retro, with strings running along the walls to tinkle bells in the servants’ quarters. You could line the walls with copper mesh and make it a radio-free fortress.

Natalie faced with the challenge of what to do when walking away is not an option.

This woman wasn’t her enemy, she just had a job. Natalie didn’t care. She swung a wild roundhouse the woman easily sidestepped. Had she smiled a little? It was weird to be here, silent except for breathing, her father’s muttering from the bedroom. Wordless intimacy. She swung again. Again. If she’d had a gun, she’d have shot the woman, her father, herself. What does a walkaway do when she can’t walk away?

Helping people is the best world.

She [Limpopo] bridged in Etcetera. “Jimmy, you’ve come a long way since we met, but you’re still coming along, if you don’t mind my saying. I came back to help you because helping people is what you do, whether or not they’re in your thing, because that’s the best world to live in.”

On being an idealist:

“First days of a better nation,” Jimmy said. “If you could see them now, what would you say to them?” His feet crunched irregularly through the snow. Limpopo could tell that he was stung by what she’d said. “If they were trying to kill me, I’d say don’t shoot. I’m an idealist, not a kamikaze.” “Fair point. What if you had them at a table?” “I wouldn’t say anything. I’d offer them dinner. Or I’d just go about doing what I do. I’m an idealist, not a preacher.”

Clothes printed old:

All the clothing had a printer-fresh smell, still offgassing pigment-infusions. When she looked closely, she saw the dirt and the gray and even the faded ROOTS letters all printed on, the dirt betraying itself with minute compression artifacts. These clothes had been printed to look like they weren’t brand new.

Normal and resistance:

Epilogue: Even Better Nation

You’d be amazed at how quickly you get over it. Normal is hard to resist. Everything becomes default, no matter how new."


The B&N Podcast: Cory Doctorow and Will Schwalbe

Cory Doctorow suggests the differences between disaster and dystopia is often defined by what people do when things breakdown. And things always breakdown. He defines Walkaway as ‘techno realism’, where the particulars maybe wrong, but the shape of the future is right. Having said this he points out that the future is always contingent. Reflecting on predictive novels, Doctorow suggests that the thing you get from a book is an authors fears and aspirations, while a reader’s bookshelf tells you which of these resonated with them. In the end he argues rather than being optimistic or pessimistic, he would describe himself (and with that his novels) as hopeful.

Netzpolitik-Podcast 160 mit Cory Doctorow: Dystopie kann doch jeder

Cory Doctorow at the Wheeler Centre

Another discussion, including a reading from chapter two.


In ‘Walkaway,’ A Blueprint For A New, Weird (But Better) World

Jason Sheehan on NPR

His novels read less like speculation than prediction — a hardcore nerd’s careful read on technology and biology and entropy, impeccably sourced and, in their own way, as real and present and hopeful as the augury of a Bizarro World Cassandra with carpal tunnel and grease under her nails.

It’s the story of a utopia in progress, as messy as every new thing ever is, told in the form of people talking to each other, arguing with each other and working together to solve problems. It’s all about the deep, disturbing, recognizable weirdness of the future that must come from the present we have already made for ourselves, trying to figure out what went wrong and what comes next.

The economics of Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway

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