Monday, December 03, 2007

WishBox - Author's Notes

I hope you enjoyed the WishBox story. I would like to dedicate it to Frederik Pohl, science fiction writer extraordinaire.

Without overchewing my own story, there are a few points I'd like to make. First off, I hope this story makes you think. Consider it a thought experiment in economics and human psychology. Note that the full title includes the phrase "An Abundant Fable". I suppose a literary critic may take me to task for that, as this is not a "fable" in the traditional sense - there are no anthropomorphized animals, plants or objects. Perhaps the word I should have used was parable, which is used to categorize brief stories that illustrate moral lessons. That doesn't seem to fit quite right either - too preachy, and with a overstated sense of self importance. Perhaps I simply meant fantasy, not in the sense of hobbits and dragons, but in the "don't get hung up in the details, just go with the flow" sense.

Let's focus for just a minute on the word "abundant". Abundance in the story comes from the WishBox, which creates an environment of unlimited physical goods. In our modern world, we have many different kinds of abundance - as more of our economy turns to digital media, or intellectual "property", it turns out the WishBox is no mere fantasy, it's reality. Want a complete copy of Shakespeare's writings? Let me copy it to your memory stick.

This saga is playing out now. The writer's guild is striking because the ideas they created (the scripts and stories), are being endlessly copied and commercialized by businesses, and the writer's want their cut of that abundance. In other industries, people are still more accustomed to only getting paid for their immediate work - in the technology sector, it's common practice for inventors of patents (ideas), to sign those over to the company which hired them to perform the work of inventing. That abstract notion becomes non-physical property, which the company may then "resell" without limit, and without further compensation to the original creator.

Okay, enough of that digression - I expect virtual property is another topic I'll ramble about in the future. Let me finish this conclusion with one final observation related to abundance.

Back in paragraph two, I was discussing possible categories for my story. People like to make categories - they provide convenient labels for dealing with abundance. Sometimes, they don't quite fit, especially in creative fields, where people become aware of artificial categories and make conscious efforts to break them. In music, we have the genre system - again, convenient, but problematic in the details. If we are living in an age of intellectual abundance, how are we going to deal with it? Will corporations paint us into tiny boxes and tell us what content to consume? Will individuals be liberated to speak directly to their markets? If so, how will they find their market (i.e. how will their market find them)? And what kinds of economic models will allow this to happen? These are issues I hope to expand on in future posts.

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