Work is Over, If You Want it
Advance review of Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
As more and more people lose their jobs to robots and computers, and more wealth gets collected among fewer people, the day may come when people just exit the system. This is the near future that Cory Doctorow envisions in Walkaway.
If you can use a 3D printer to print any small plastic object you like and have been able to do so for more than a decade, how long will it be until looms can 3D print you any shirt you like, or a food printer will be able to string together proteins to make you whatever you’d like to eat? If you can print whatever you need, whenever you want it, why would you worry about a job or money?
100 years ago, advances took workers off of farms because more efficient practices made them unnecessary, today factories close in droves, not just to because jobs move abroad to cheaper labor markets, but also because they’re replaced by machines better suited to dangerous, our simply grindingly boring work. Today, as self-service kiosks have already begun to replace waiters and machines often do a better job of diagnosing diseases than doctors do, the future of little-to-no human work as William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
So what does a world of walkaways look like? People who want to live off the grid today are associated with tents and outhouses, but Doctorow looks a little further in the future and sees scavengers living more richly than any “normies” who are still buying copyright-protected goods and trying to participate in the larger society.
Walkaway, makes you wrestle with the ideas in it. The society Doctorow imagines sometimes exhilarates and, other times, horrifies. The book pulls you through like a thriller and but it also offers all the best qualities of a book of future philosophy arguments in the tradition of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Star Trek.
Doctrow’s world is too close to the real world to be a fantasy, instead, it’s a compelling world–I want to live in now. Doctorow starts the book with the aphorism “Live like it’s the first days of a better world,” I suppose its good advice, for those who wish to be the creators of a more just society, but I’d just rather live somewhere nearer the middle days of a better world.